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Muscle memory: what is it really?

When you have already had a certain amount of muscle mass and then you stop training, you should be able to regain your level faster after this break due to muscle memory.

At least, that's often claimed. But does muscle memory actually exist? And if so, how does this work?

In this blog, we explain what muscle memory is and whether it actually works the way we think it does. Then we explain how you could benefit from it.

What is muscle memory?

In Dutch, muscle memory is simple, but since the term muscle memory has become a general term, we also use this term in the blog. Very simply explained, muscle memory ensures that you can regain lost muscle mass faster. We mean faster than if you did not have this muscle mass before.

Suppose you lose a significant amount of muscle mass because, for example, you break a bone in your arm. You cannot use the muscles in your arm for several weeks. As a result, they significantly decrease both muscle mass and muscle strength. When you then pick up strength training again, your muscle mass will grow faster than if you hadn't done strength training before. That is the effect of muscle memory on the muscle mass in your arm. So it ensures that you can get back to your old level faster than if you hadn't reached that old level before.

FUN FACT: Muscle memory is often confused with the ability to perform a particular movement that you learned a long time ago. However, this is the motor memory and not the muscle memory. In English, however, muscle memory often also refers to motor memory, while this is not the case in Dutch.
Muscle memory

How does muscle memory work?

Now that we know what muscle memory is, we obviously still need to understand how it works. Our body is very complex and there are also various complex processes that ultimately provide the effect of muscle memory. Below we explain how this process works and so that you can eventually regain muscle mass faster than if you have not had this muscle mass before.

Muscle fibers and muscle cell nuclei

Muscle memory starts with the muscle fibers in your body. Every muscle you have is made up of such muscle fibers. These fibers are rebuilt with muscle cells. All cells in your body have a nucleus, but muscle cells have multiple nuclei. A muscle cell nucleus is used to stimulate protein production and in this way ensures the growth of muscle fibers and therefore the muscles.

When you exercise, tiny tears appear in your muscle mass. To repair this, your body directs the muscle cells to fuse with the muscle and repair the tear. In the long run, more muscle cell nuclei are formed. Perhaps you already understand how it works, but more muscle cell nuclei mean more protein production in the muscles. This in turn ensures that more muscle mass can be built up. That's muscle memory.

regain muscle mass

By the time you've been doing strength training for several years, you've probably built a good amount of muscle mass. This also means that you have a considerable additional amount of muscle cell nuclei compared to when you did not train yet. Now comes the good news, there is a good chance that these extra muscle cell nuclei will remain in your muscle fibers for the rest of your life. Research shows that these last for at least 15 years, but maybe forever.

When you have not done muscle strengthening exercises for a longer period of time, you will notice that your muscle mass begins to decrease. However, the muscle cell nuclei remain present. When you then start training again, your body will produce more protein in the muscles than if you did not have these additional muscle cell nuclei. At that moment, muscle memory ensures that you can quickly return to your old level.

All the benefits of muscle memory

The muscle memory that you have built up through the increase in muscle cell nuclei brings many advantages. This affects more than just building your muscle mass. Below we have worked out the most important benefits of muscle memory for you.

Muscle memory at a later age

Because research shows that there is even a chance that these cell nuclei will persist for the rest of your life, this can also offer benefits later in life. We all know that exercise is important, but as you get older, it may become even more important. That way you can stay fit even in your old age. An increased amount of muscle cell nuclei can ensure that you retain more muscle mass later in life than your peers. This allows you to keep moving better and your body stays fit longer due to the built-up muscle memory.

It's motivating

In addition, muscle memory is also very important to keep your motivation high. Suppose you can no longer train for a longer period due to circumstances. It's very disheartening to have to start all over again. Fortunately, that is not the case. You will notice that you build muscle mass fairly quickly and you can see results in a short period of time. This is of course very motivating to keep training so that you are back to your old level in a relatively short period of time.

Recover faster after an accident

When you break or tear something, it can take a very long time to repair. Muscle memory can speed up this process. In the event of a fracture, you cannot use the muscles surrounding the fracture for a longer period of time. With a muscle tear, your muscles not only have to recover from the tear, but you can also not use them for a long period of time. When you then start your recovery, it is possible that this process is a lot faster because of your muscle memory. This makes it not only interesting for muscle mass-building purposes, but also for such recovery after an injury or accident.


So we can conclude that muscle memory actually exists and thus brings benefits. By doing strength training, more muscle cell nuclei are produced, which stimulates protein production in the muscles. These muscle cell nuclei remain present for at least 15 years, but possibly even for the rest of your life.

When you start training again after a long absence, this increased amount of muscle cell nuclei can ensure that more protein is produced in the muscle. This allows you to build muscle mass faster than if you did not have these muscle cell nuclei.

Muscle memory can also play an important role in staying fit in old age or recovering faster after an accident. So it's certainly not a bad idea to pick up a set of dumbbells and do some muscle-strengthening exercises. Your older self will thank you.

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