There are two types of muscle memory; the first is when you use your muscles in a repetitive way over a period of time, so that the brain begins to remember that pattern and can do it without much thought.
Much like the chords of a song on a guitar, or even the way in which you ride a bike. This type of muscle memory is stored in the brain.
What has the brain got to do with muscle strength and size?
How can someone who has built up a level of strength and muscle mass, then lost it due to neglecting their workout for months, come back to regain it in a third of the time it took to develop?
This is the second type of muscle memory, and the brain isn’t actually involved at all. So how does it work?
To explain this, we first need to look at what a muscle is and how it works.
What are muscles made from?
Muscles tissue is made up from specialised muscles cells, which are also referred to as muscle fibres, called myocytes.
Myocytes are formed from smaller myoblasts, which are basically embryonic cells destined to become muscle fibres, all joined together to form the long tubular shape of the muscle fibres.
Each cell is made up of a combination of protein filaments that contain glycogen and oxygen, which is vital to the movement and energy of muscles.
One of the things that make muscle cells so unique is that because they are formed by numerous myoblasts joining together, they end up with numerous nuclei.
Each myoblast brings its own nucleus to the party, and they stay there and hang out. It is in these amazing little nuclei that the DNA is stored, as well as the information that the muscle cell gathers.
How do you build muscle?
When you train to build muscle mass and strength, you are actually stressing these muscle fibres, which causes them to be damaged and torn.
Your body then sets about repairing and rebuilding them, stronger and more resilient than before.
This is why they not only become stronger, but visibly larger as well. The ‘memory’ of this strength and mass is stored in the nuclei.
What is muscle atrophy?
When you neglect your training, and don’t exercise to maintain your muscles mass and strength, your muscles begin to deteriorate. You become weaker and your muscles begin to visibly shrink. This is called muscle atrophy.
Contrary to what had been previously believed, studies now show that it is not the entire muscle that atrophies.
As the rest of the muscle fibre begins to wither away, numerous nuclei remain intact, waiting for the time when you utilise your muscles once again and reinitiate your training.
Sure the muscles still need to be stressed so that they can repair and rebuild themselves stronger and larger than before, but the nuclei remembers this procedure so the process is quicker and slightly easier than before.