How does muscle memory work?

The term “muscle memory” is understood by experts as the unique ability of human muscles to remember changes in their own state (tonus) and reproduce these changes. All this is achieved by targeted restructuring of muscle and nerve cells. In order to develop this type of memory, it is necessary to systematically perform repetitive movements and give the muscles a load.

The nature of tone memory is directly related to the appearance of new nuclei in muscle tissue, and the frequency and intensity of training determine how strong muscle memory is. An increase in the number of myonuclei in muscle tissue directly affects their growth, so a systematic approach to exercise is the main factor in the development of muscle memory. This phenomenon is especially important for athletes, because it helps to keep themselves in good shape for a long time, to recover faster after injury or breaks in training.

The nature of the phenomenon

Muscle memory is concentrated in the so-called myonuclei located in the muscle fiber. They are acquired and developed during strength training, precede muscle hypertrophy, and are not lost after training stops. This was proved by the Norwegian specialist Joe Bruusgaard. In addition, he noted that muscle hypertrophy is also directly related to a significant increase in the number of myonuclei and effectively prevents muscle atrophy. Modern research has shown that these nuclei serve as an excellent substrate for long-term biological memory of cells. 

Considering that the possibilities for increasing the number of myonuclei in the elderly are significantly narrowed, it is advisable to start performing strength exercises from early childhood and not stop doing this throughout life. In their structure, myonuclei are composed of long fibers of muscle tissue and are formed as a result of the fusion of several different cells. In this way, cells are obtained that are significantly larger than all others.

New nuclei are formed in a person when he begins to exercise regularly. The more intense and longer these workouts, the more nuclei are formed in the muscle tissue. The process of their creation works on the principle of fixing the results of previous sessions of physical activity by current exercises.

In the human body, the vast majority of cells throughout life have only 1 nucleus. In this case, we are talking about the unique ability of muscle fibers to capture nuclei from neighboring cells. Such a process becomes possible with an increase in their size, which happens during training. We can say that satellite cells are the precursors of new muscle cells, into which they can gradually transform.

The development of muscle memory is due to the activity of three parts of the human brain: the cerebellum, motor cortex and basal ganglia. The cerebellum ensures the preservation of information about the exercises performed and contributes to its more comfortable perception. The motor cortex serves to consciously perform exercises and movements under load. The basal ganglia contribute to a more effective memorization of the order of exercises in training.

All information about muscle contractions is stored in Purkinje cells. In the case when the memory of movement is strong, the brain spends much less energy on starting and reproducing the work of muscle tissue. 

This mechanism can be easily illustrated by the example of a person who learned to ride a bicycle in early childhood. Imagine that he is currently 35 years old and has not ridden this vehicle for the last 20 years of his life. If for any reason he has to get back on the bike, then he will no longer need to re-master the mechanics of pedaling. A person will feel insecure for some time, but muscle memory will help to quickly overcome this uncertainty – the muscles will “remember” on their own how they need to work.

With age, human muscles gradually atrophy, and the process of restoring their memory is more difficult. That is why experts recommend at any age to maintain muscle tissue in good shape and give it a load. This will contribute to the accumulation of myonuclei for the future.

The Importance of Muscle Memory

Most often, people involved in strength exercises do it for some reason: to lose weight, “pump up” muscles for a beautiful figure, or simply to move more gracefully. Regardless of the goals of such training, the result comes faster when the exercises are performed regularly. Under such conditions, the muscles more easily remember what they want from them. 

It is very important to understand some features of the phenomenon of muscle memory. Firstly, it spreads and affects all manifestations of human motor activity: strength, agility, flexibility, reaction, etc.

Secondly, it should be borne in mind that memory does not disappear anywhere if training is stopped, since myonuclei continue to live in muscle cells in a standby mode that lasts at least three months. This effect allows you to accelerate the rehabilitation of patients after heart attacks, strokes, various injuries and other diseases.

How to develop muscle memory

There are a lot of myonuclei in professional athletes. That is why they quickly gain shape after injuries or long breaks in training. There are much fewer such nuclei in the muscle tissue of beginners who are just starting to do systematic weight training. After long periods of downtime, the recovery of their sports form is more difficult and longer.

The degree of formation of muscle memory depends on three important factors:

  • the general state of human health;
  • level of training;
  • individual characteristics of the human body.

Its development takes many months of regular training, necessary for the cells to remember the necessary information. Experts recommend exercising at the same time of day, and planning classes in such a way that the muscles have enough time to adapt to the loads.

It is important from the very beginning of classes to memorize and memorize the technique and order of performing the exercises correctly. This will avoid uneven distribution of loads, especially when working with weights. Otherwise, it will be difficult to “reprogram” the movements for correct execution.

For the development of muscle memory, it is equally important to diversify the load. This can be done by varying the number of sets and repetitions during the exercises. For example, at home, you can start classes with the following:

  • strengthening the press – 5-7 approaches;
  • squats – 25-30 times;
  • exercises: a bridge from the floor and a rack in the bar – from 10 to 30 seconds;
  • tilts with touching the floor – 8-10 times in each direction.

Even such simple, but everyday actions, following a strict sequence of tension and relaxation of different muscle groups, allow you to lay the foundations of good muscle memory in a relatively short time.


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