What is Muscle Memory?
Muscle memory is a fascinating topic that runs deeper than simply making your muscles look good at the beach. There are two types of muscle memory. Firstly, the kind that helps lapsed gym-goers recover muscle more quickly and, secondly, the kind that means you can still ride a bike after years out of the saddle. Let’s have a closer look at each category.
Muscle memory is, in essence, a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition.
When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort. This process decreases the need for attention and creates maximum efficiency within the motor and memory systems. You are essentially teaching a specific set of muscles a task or movement which becomes embedded in your memory. This could be cycling, typing keyboard, playing an instrument, etc.
Importance of Nuclei
When you start working out, the first effect training has on your muscles is not growth, but to create additional nuclei. Nuclei is a group of living cells in your body, which help control protein synthesis, metabolism and reproduction. The more nuclei you have, the faster your body will be able to reproduce, by turning protein into muscle and facilitate the development of more tissue growth.
For years, it was thought that once you stopped your regular workout routine, the nuclei in your body would die out and your muscles disappear with it.
However, recent studies show that your newly acquired nuclei are retained during muscle atrophy, caused by inactivity and tends to stick around for up to 3 months. Some research even found evidence to suggest these nuclei are never lost and claim; “resistance training induces permanent physiological changes to your muscle fibres”.
This is the main reason why training can seem easier for an experienced athlete, as opposed to someone who’s never touched a dumbbell.
When training is resumed, muscles are able to grow rapidly in size because the initial stage of adding more nuclei is skipped. Once the nuclei have woken up, they can set about synthesising protein very early on.
Add While You’re Young
Physiologists recommend filling your muscles with as many nuclei as you can while you’re young. You’ll still be able to run a marathon, just not as quick. You’ll still be able to lift weights, just not the heavy ones.
The type 1 fibres dominate when you get older, and the type 2 fibres – the fast-twitch fibres – tend to ease off, but they’re still there. Building muscle gets harder as you age, whereas maintenance is easy. Commit to it today and you can consider it a life long investment.
With these home workout exercises, you don’t even have to invest in an expensive gym membership.
Muscle Memory “On Your Mind”
The second part of your ability to benefit from Muscle Memory lies in your head. Our brain stores information of certain muscle movements in the Perkinja cells of the cerebellum. Its here the brain encodes information and records whether certain exercises are right or wrong. The brain then gradually focuses more energy on the correct action and stores it in your long-term memory.
Once its stored, you’ll require less of the brain to repeat the movememt, which is why it’ll start to feel more natural. This is how we learn to play instruments, ride a bicycle and various other life-long movements.
Catch a ball with one hand and you’ll subconsciously remember; catch it with your face and you wont.
Bad Muscle Memory
The amount of repititions it takes to create a muscle memory is still up for discussion. While some say it may be as low as 300-500, others have evidence that suggest that 10,000 hours is the magic number needed to make someone an expert.
That being said, just because a certain movement feels natural and you’ve successfully logged a muscle memory to your subconscious, does not necessarily mean you’re doing it right. There are such a thing as “bad muscle memory” which can prove just as hard to rid yourself of, as it was to develop it.
The only REAL WAY to correct it, is with hours spent doing it right.
Despite it being locked into our subconscious, muscle memory is also something we can consciously harness and has implications for the future of injury prevention.
By locking certain joints or muscles, during training, with use of tape or other support braces, athletes can experience improved control of joint positioning and form during workouts. The support brace’s contact with skin helps increase proprioception and makes it easier to repeat a movement the correct way.
This new knowledge could be hugely beneficial to prevent knee or back injuries during training.
So what is muscle memory? It’s the ability to build super strength and never lose it, to hone skills on the sports field and to injury-proof every exercise – all without ever having to think about it. Get to gym and start making the most of yours. It’s a no-brainer.