The magic of muscle memory

muscle memory

This physiological phenomenon will help you quickly regain your physique when gyms reopen

We’re all concerned about the impact that lockdown gym closures will have on our muscles and bodies.

Even if you’re diligently sticking to your home bodyweight workout plan, or have a few weights and bands available, we can expect to lose a certain degree of conditioning and strength.

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A rapid rebound

There is some good news, though. When gyms finally reopen, those who have conditioned their bodies over years, through systematic, periodised and scientifically-based training programs, will quickly regain muscle and strength.

This will happen at a much faster rate than someone whose body is less conditioned to training, or is starting to train for the first time. This is due to a phenomenon commonly known as “muscle memory”.

Muscle memory defined

Muscle memory, according to the most popular scientific theory, refers to the process where the neuromuscular system learns and ‘memorises’ specific motor skills through repeatedly training specific movement patterns (it’s called neuromuscular facilitation).

At the start of any new program, your nervous and muscular systems interpret most exercises as a new movement. In these instances, your neurons first develop the appropriate stimulation pattern to initiate the muscle contractions required for that specific movement.

This process takes time as there are numerous steps and additional processes involved. These include capillary regrowth into muscles so they can get more oxygen and nutrients from blood, and enhanced mitochondrial and enzyme efficiency to improve energy production.

Regaining the losses

As you progress in your training, through the incremental increases in stress that you place on your muscles, more neurons are incorporated into the contraction over time. This stimulates and recruits more fibres and you subsequently gains more muscle and strength.

And once you’ve created these neural and neuromuscular pathways, you don’t lose them altogether. This ability and capacity to recruit muscle fibres will remain to some degree following a lay-off.

This means the adaptive process is faster and more efficient when you eventually start training again, which is why experienced gym-goer will return to their previous strength and size sooner than someone who is less experienced.

It’s like riding a bicycle – once you learn how to do it, it is simply a matter of getting back on, giving it a few tries and you’re off again.

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

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