Is Muscle Memory A Myth?

fitness-tips-for-menFirst things first, “muscle memory” refers to the retrieval of previously learned information that is applied with greater efficiency. In terms of strength training, it’s the idea that exercisers can rapidly return to previous levels of strength and muscle size after an extended period of inactivity.

You’ll commonly see “muscle memory” in action after an athlete is injured. Despite losing gains, the athlete may quickly recover to previous performance levels in significantly reduced time.

Let’s start with the obvious: Muscles don’t remember anything. As such, the term “muscle memory” is a bit misleading.

Your brain, on the other hand, does remember.

Think about your first few months at the gym. Or even your first year or two. There’s a lot to learn. You have to figure out what routine works best for you. You have to decide which machines or exercises are effective. You have to determine how much weight to lift. You need to learn form and balance. A great deal of time and energy is spent on your fitness learning curve.

When you return to the gym, you don’t need to re-learn the learning curve. It’s a one time thing, sort of like learning how to ride a bike. And that’s part of the reason why it’s much easier to make progress the second time around.

There may also be a biological component to muscle memory, having to do with cell nuclei which is detailed at long length here. In a very over-simplified nutshell, the extra muscle nuclei obtained by strength training seems to be very long lasting – even in muscles that are inactive for a long time. The extra nuclei enable the cell to rapidly start synthesizing protein for gains in size and strength.

All of this is great news, especially if you do fall off the workout bandwagon. It’s much easier to re-gain your gains the second time around. So what are you waiting for?

P.S. For a science-based, guaranteed approach to building muscle size, download Davey Wavey’s Foolproof Guide to Building Muscle. You’ll even get my 30-minute ab workout as a free gift!

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  1. Ahh, this makes a lot of sense. I became inactive when I started school. I saw noticed a significant loss in strength and mass. I recently started working out again and noticed that it took a very short time to get back to where I was, despite having been inactive for over 6 months. Thanks for this great article.

  2. The best example of muscle memory is spring training for major league baseball players. Even the most accomplished high paid athletes need to refresh their skills and reactions after a period of not playing their sport. Even though nowadays most stay in great shape in the off-season, the specific skills of fielding, pitching and hitting have to be re-practiced.