I’m sure you’ve had a period that stopped you from training for a while. Of course, this is annoying because you don’t want to lose muscle mass that you’ve worked so hard for. But what actually happens when you stop strength training and how long does it take you to regain your muscle mass after this period? One thing you are definitely going to help is muscle memory or muscle memory.
This may sound a bit misleading because, of course, your muscles have no real memory. They don’t remember what you ate yesterday, but they do remember something else that’s going to help you with this.
How does muscle memory work?
Muscle memory is the process that makes it a lot easier to regain your muscle mass compared to building your muscle mass for the first time.
In your body, this goes like this. When you stop exercising for an extended period of time, your body starts breaking down muscle mass. You don’t use it anymore, so it’s more efficient for your body to break it down because it takes quite a bit of energy to maintain it.
Tip: read in this blog how long it takes for you to lose muscle mass.
So your body is going to break down your muscle mass. However, one part remains out of shot, the cell nuclei. Muscle cells are slightly different from the average cell. A cell normally has one nucleus, but muscle cells have multiple. These do not break down after an extended period of inactivity.
Before all this can occur in your body, you will first need to build up some muscle mass. You do this by following a good training schedule and watching your diet and making progress in the gym. When you train your muscles will suffer minor damage, this may sound like something bad, but it is not!
These damages will automatically be repaired in your body if you get enough protein and calories, after which the muscle will become just a little stronger each time than before. To prevent damage in the future.
You may find yourself in a situation that prevents you from training. Think of an injury, holiday, quarantine or a lack of motivation. After a while, your muscles will become less full or even break down.
What good is this muscle memory in fitness?
But what exactly is the use of muscle memory? This phenomenon you will actually only experience if you have not been able to train for a period.
When you get back to work after this, you will find that you need much less time to get back to your old level. Of course, you still have to train hard for this, so don’t think of this as an excuse to take it easy!
Because you don’t have to rebuild the cell nuclei by training, you can skip a complete step in the process of building muscle mass. Here you can see that through muscle memory, you completely skip the process of the blue arrows.
So this can work to your advantage. You don’t really have to feel guilty if, for example, you go on holiday for two weeks without training or if you take full rest while recovering from an injury. Even if you lose some muscle mass during that time, you will find that it is a lot easier to get it back when you start again.
Of course, this is no excuse to take a break from training more often, but it does show that you can recover from an injury without any problems or skip a few workouts.
When can you use muscle memory?
When you are training consistently without taking long breaks, you will not actually have to use muscle memory. However, it will help you enormously when you find yourself in a situation that prevents you from training.
Nevertheless, you must have built up some muscle mass before you can use it. So it’s not something that’s going to help beginners. You will be able to experience this if you have been training fanatically for about 1 year or more, then you have most likely built up enough mass to use this.
Of course, the thought can be very motivating if you don’t have to start from scratch after a long break. You’ll be at your old level much sooner than the first time.
Different kind of muscle memory
For a long time, it was thought that there was a different process that makes you get to your old level faster and which has nothing to do with the number of cell nuclei in your muscles. This is about your motor skills.
When you start training, you start learning the fitness exercises, some are a bit easier but an exercise if the Squat takes a long time before you have mastered it properly. These movements are stored just as you remember how to ride.
It may be after a break that you have to get back there, but an exercise will never completely spoil you. This also gives you a big advantage over the first time you build up your muscle mass. You don’t have to take the time to learn an exercise again; this can be skipped.
Muscle memory or muscle memory in strength training
If you don’t train for a long period of time, your muscle mass will slowly break down. However, your cell nuclei will remain. If you start training again, you will not have to rebuild the cell nuclei, and you can skip this step in building muscle mass.
Also, you do not have to re-learn the exercises, the movements you will always remember. You may have to get in there, but you won’t learn the exercise. In this way, muscle memory can contribute to more (and faster) progression when picking up strength training after a period of inactivity.