News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Muscle memory can save your physique

Exercise enthusiasts always fear losing the physicality they’ve accumulated meticulously with sweat equity over months or years of constant struggle under the resistance of gravity.

Perhaps they’ve succumbed to injury, have a long vacation, or — worst of all — are summoned for jury duty. Fear not, there’s a phenomenon that will delight those anxious about losing time in the gym.

Muscle memory is a topic that many gym coaches and skilled learners talk about.

“It’s like riding a bike,” they’ll say. Learn the skill and return to it with ease. What about muscles’ adaptation to exercise and how they will return to those adaptations after some time off? Without the same stimulus a muscle or muscular systems will detrain rather quickly. A two-weeks lag brings drops in maximal strength; four weeks noticeable size; eight weeks and you could forget those muscles were ever there.

However, during all the time it took lifting weights to build the muscles, something else occurred. Muscle cells have nuclei, which are kind of like operating systems for the muscles’ physiological processes. They help with protein synthesis into new muscle tissue and regenerative effects. A more robust set of nuclei poses a greater ability to adapt to weight training.

When a person undergoes a period of weight training they develop more muscle nuclei. These nuclei are respondent to weight training and are under the guise of hyperreactivity to weight training. This means they will return to form much quicker than the time it took to gain in the first place.

Take, for example, a person who undergoes an operation: If they have been a lifter in the gym, developing numerous muscle-building programmed nuclei, they will recover so much quicker than a non-exerciser. It’s amazing to see how fast some professional athletes rebound after injury.

The timeline one is under for these adaptations has two factors. First, the actual nuclei stick around for up to three months. There is however a genetic phenomenon: This is where the DNA of a person’s muscles switches to producing more after being in a period of constant exercise for years. This is why an athlete may always have a more “physical” look to them. In studies of Olympians from generations ago, their muscularity was very different from the Average Joe’s.

Fear not if extended time away from fitness is a card life deals out. Muscle can be regained quickly. If you are less-than-motivated to strength-train, take these lessons and consider the implications. Next time an injury, surgery, or simply winter season comes, will muscles be lost forever? Know that a strong body is a capable and able body, otherwise its decay is inevitable.


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