How long for muscle memory to kick in? You’ve probably heard of cases where bodybuilders are put out of the gym for months due to injury.
They lose high amounts of muscle mass and don’t look the same as they did before. Then they return to the gym and in a few short weeks they look the same as they did before.
The process of muscle memory is responsible for this. Let’s dive deeper into the facts.
How Long for Muscle Memory to Kick In?
It takes about 2-4 weeks of intense training to develop the neurological pathways responsible for muscle memory.
What Is Muscle Memory?
Muscle memory is the process of regaining muscle size and strength quicker than when you first gained it. When a movement is repeated over time, muscle-memory allows our body to remember it.
This decreases the effort it takes to do this skill. Examples include sports, driving, and what will be discussed in this article; strength training.
Think of the first time you played your favorite sport or drove a vehicle. It was very difficult and took a lot of mental power to do. Now, years later you can play this sport and drive without even thinking of it. Eventually, your motor and memory systems don’t have to work as hard to perform tasks.
How does this apply to strength training in the gym? The process is a little difference but has the same concept.
If you stop training for a period due to vacation, injury, or any other reason, it is a lot easier to regain that muscle when you return to training.
This is because strength training alters the physiology of your muscles. Neuromuscular efficiency is increased which strengthens the brain and body connection through muscle building.
When you grow your muscles in the gym, you are creating neural pathways in the central nervous system. If you take time off and then return to training, these neural pathways still exist, allowing you to quickly relearn these movements.
How Long Without Training To Keep Muscle Memory?
It takes about 2 to 4 weeks of training to create neurological pathways that result in muscle memory.
After about three weeks of not training, athletes can expect to start losing muscle. Your age and fitness level will play a role in how soon you lose your muscle mass.
Studies have shown that one week without doing any activity, (lying in bed due to sickness) can lead to muscle loss. As long as you are doing some sort of activity on your training break, this will not be the case.
Studies have shown that muscle memory can be kept up to 15 years in the body. The myonuclei are DNA cells found in muscles. Their job is to carry the DNA that constructs new muscle proteins.
Stem cells are cells in the body that can be developed into satellite cells which are used to help heal and repair damaged muscle fibers. These satellite cells attach themselves to muscle cells which helps repair broken down muscle tissue.
This causes muscles to grow back bigger and stronger. Once a satellite cell has given a nucleus to a muscle cell, it is there forever. This is where the process of muscle memory occurs.
If you stop training for a while, that satellite cell will still be there when you return to training.
It’s important to note that as you become more advanced in training, it gets increasingly difficult to build new muscle. This is because there are less satellite cells and muscles require more damage to create new satellite cells the more muscle you have.
Muscle Memory Variables
Everyone’s body is different. Certain people can take months off of training and come back and regain the muscle a lot quicker than others.
Genetics play a big role in how much muscle memory you will have.
Don’t compare your progress returning to the gym after an injury to a bodybuilder. They have elite genetics and the reality is that many of them are using performance enhancing drugs. You will gain muscle back faster than when you first started training, but it won’t happen at an alarming speed.
Tips To Keep Muscle
What are the best ways to keep your muscle so that you don’t have to worry about muscle memory?
Keep yourself free of injury and always try to do at least some physical activity if you cannot workout. This ensures that your muscles will still be getting some activation.
Some of the best ways to avoid injury include always using proper form, using weight that you can properly handle, and stretching before working out.
Nutrition has a major impact on maintaining muscle. You need to be eating a gram of protein per pound of body weight to ensure that your muscles are growing stronger.
Don’t forget about carbs. Carbs will allow you to have enough energy to push through difficult workouts, allowing you to breakdown more muscle fibers. Eating in a calorie surplus will allow you to gain the most amount of muscle.
Hydration is also important as water transports nutrients into your muscles and provides better contractions.
Your muscles need adequate sleep to grow bigger and stronger. Aim for 7 hours a night to boost protein synthesis and growth hormone release.
Overtraining exists and will negatively impact muscle growth.
Returning to the Gym
Obviously the best case scenario is to take as little breaks from training as possible. However, this is not realistic. Illness, injuries, and global pandemics all happen putting us out of the gym for periods of time.
What’s the most effective way to get yourself back in the gym and allow muscle memory to take the most efficient course?
- Start slow
You can’t expect to return and lift the same amount of weight that you were lifting before. This is a quick way to injure yourself. Keep the intensity low and slowly work back up to the weight you were lifting prior to your training break.
- Extra rest
You will notice that you get sore a lot more frequently after taking a training break. This is because your muscles aren’t used to being broken done as often. Remember that your muscles grow at rest. If you are sore, take an extra day of rest. It will only benefit you and your gains.
- Use patience
It’s going to be tempting to go as hard as possible to return to where you were before. It’s better to progressively work up to where you were before so that you don’t injure yourself.