Muscle Memory: The Key to Recovering Lost Gains

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January 22, 2021 Guardian-Elite Fitness
Can our muscles really “remember” to perform a certain task? When we talk about muscle memory, we might be referencing a certain skill, such as riding a bike. A skill like riding a bike can be performed easily, even if you’ve not rode one for years.

What about when it comes to adding muscle through weight lifting? Can a person who has been out of the gym for an extended period of time get back to lifting weights and quickly pick up where they left off?

This is the question that most of us want to know when it comes to muscle memory.
“How long will it take to regain the muscle and tone I had?” It’s a fair question to ask. If muscle memory is real, then maybe it’s possible to re-start our former muscle gains without having to start from square one.

It’s true. Muscle memory is real. We’ll show you how you can use it to get back in shape and how long it will take to awaken your dormant muscles once again.

  • What Is Muscle Memory?
  • Is Muscle Memory Real?
  • How Does Muscle Memory Work for Bodybuilding?
  • How Long Does Muscle Memory Last?
  • How to Improve Muscle Memory

What Is Muscle Memory?

mind to muscle
The term “muscle memory” itself can be slightly misleading. Our muscles don’t necessarily “remember” anything. When it comes to a physical task, if you’ve already mastered the movement and form, you don’t necessarily have to re-learn how to do it again.

In fact, the Merriam-Webster muscle memory definition is

“the ability to repeat specific muscular movement with improved efficiency and accuracy that is acquired through practice and repetition.”

If you’re looking to get back into shape, or try to hit some old PR’s on the bench press, you might be less concerned about remembering how to do a bench press. Rather, you might be wanting to know how muscle memory can help you to regain lost muscle mass and strength quicker.

Is Muscle Memory Real?

You might be asking yourself if muscle memory is real. The answer is yes. There are two types of memory that we need to distinguish between when talking about muscle memory.

The first kind is called procedural memory. Basically, this is your brain remembering how to physically do something. For example, riding a bike, swimming, playing the piano or doing a back squat. That’s why it’s called procedural memory.

Another form of memory is our declarative memory. This form of memory has to do with our conscious ability to recall some fact or event. An example of this declarative memory might be recalling your childhood dog, the first car you drove, or the freaking password to your Netflix account you set up 5 years ago.

The form of muscle memory that we’re most interested in has to do with the cells within our muscles. We’ll explain what happens on a cellular level when we build muscle through hypertrophy.

How Does Muscle Memory Work for Bodybuilding?

man standing in front of muscle shadow
A cell in our body contains only one nucleus. During the muscle growth that takes place when we lift weight or perform strenuous activity, the cells in our muscles actually take nuclei from surrounding cells.

Even if you’ve stopped training and adding muscle, there still exists the excess nuclei in your muscle cells. This means that the muscle has the ability to “remember” a time when it was bigger and stronger.

What this tells us is that the old saying “use it or lose it” doesn’t apply to muscle growth and gain. The muscle cells that we’ve acquired through hypertrophy don’t just shrivel up and die, they are stored away for a time when they are needed again to support muscle growth.

It’s also important to remember, that hitting the gym and relying on muscle memory alone may not get you the gains you want. You’ll need to use some of that memory power to remember how to eat right for muscle gain. Our muscles need plenty of protein to grow and also to recover after a hard workout.

Memory a little hazy? Try out these 24 high protein bulking foods for muscle gain and recovery. Putting back on the muscle mass will require some protein and this food for muscle will help with that.

How Long Does Muscle Memory Last?

The good news here, is that studies are suggesting that through this banking of excess nuclei in the muscle cells will remain indefinitely. Although, they may shrink in size along with the muscle due to less exercise and muscle recruitment.

This means that those gains you once made in the gym are still there and ready to reappear if you decide to train and build muscle again.

This is a definite advantage over someone who has no training experience at all. They have to build their muscle from scratch so to speak.

If you find yourself in the position of wanting to get back to training and working out after a hiatus, then know that it will take some time, but not as long had you never started at all.

How long? It depends, but plan on it taking a good 3 to 4 weeks, if not up to 6 weeks to start to regain lost muscle gains and fitness levels.

Start light and work your way up. Possibly starting as low as 60% of your previous one rep max. It’s always easier to ramp up the weight or back off slightly if needed, but one thing no one wants is to get injured right as we resolve to start getting back into the gym.

How to Improve Muscle Memory

woman flexing muscles
The best way to improve muscle memory when it comes to muscle gain and fitness is to get to work. Hit the gym, lift some weights, get in a hard HIIT workout. They can all help to build muscle. The more you build muscle now, the more you will bank those extra nuclei in your muscles for future use.

If there comes a time when you quit going to the gym, or quit working out for whatever reason (like say a global pandemic) it will be easier to start again and pick up where you left off.