All About This Muscle Memory Thing

This post was spurred by the discussion found in the comments of “Eat To Gain Muscle, Part 3.”


I love muscle memory. I’ll confess that I’ve been on and off the exercise bandwagon many many times. Sometimes the layoffs were forced by injury; others were due to pure slackerness. I would usually do some lifting during these layoffs – 12oz. Heineken curls, at the least.


Fortunately, muscle memory was always lurking just around the corner, waiting for me to return to action . . . ready to work its magic. In no time it would spawn nearly effortless muscle growth.


Ok, so it was actually just a return of muscle that I’d lost from inactivity and poor diet, but it’s always encouraging to see such rapid gains when you start back up again.


Which brings me to today’s topic, what the hell is this muscle memory thing and where can I git me summa dat shit?


The basic idea goes like this: you eat right, bust ass for months in the gym, and you’re finally rewarded with a shiny new pair of biceps.


Naturally, you treat yourself to a little vacay down in Cancun. You happily display those hard earned biceps for the senoritas – all the while eating churros and sipping mohitos on the beach. A couple weeks later you come home soft and bloated. At least you got a nice tan.


“Eh,” you say, “I think I’ll start back up next Monday”.


But you don’t, do you? Nor the following Monday, or the Monday after that. Three months later you finally take a good look at yourself in the mirror and realize those shiny new biceps you had won have shriveled back to the floppy noodles your parents cursed you with. Not to mention your new gut . . .


So you finally muster the motivation to turn things around. You clean up your diet and hit the gym hard, but your spirits are low because you remember how long and difficult the journey to shiny-bicepland was. Nevertheless, you start plugging away — only to find your strength has dropped by half.


Now you’re really depressed.


And then – just as you had resigned yourself to a long slow climb back – a miraculous thing happens. In just a few short weeks you’ve somehow regained most of your strength and, surprisingly, your biceps ain’t looking too shabby.


So what the hell happened? Why did it take six months of grueling workouts and high protein eating to build those biceps the first go around, only to have them spring back to life in just a few short weeks the second time?


Muscle memory baby!


It’s like sorcery in a way. As soon as your body senses a return to the stress of training it can somehow miraculously pull muscle out of thin air, plopping it right back onto those biceps of yours.


It’s a wonderful magical thing, but the catch is you need to have built up some significant muscle in the first place . . . that’s why it’s called muscle memory, not insta-muscle-from-a-can.


In the next post we’ll be digging a little deeper into the mysteries of muscle memory. I’ll also touch upon my (crackpot) theory of muscle generations, and how we can use it to help gauge what kind of response we might expect upon our return to lifting.


So sit back, grab a couple churros, and get ready for the nitty gritty on this muscle memory thing . . .



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