Trained muscles remember

Andreas Lanz 26. June 2019

An illness or accident, professional or family-related obligations – all these events can obliterate the training progress you have achieved so far. Our body is undergoing a constant adaptation process. This also affects our muscles. If we train them, they build up – and they break down again if we no longer exercise them for a certain period of time.

This mechanism of the body ensures the internal balance, so that our energy balance is correct. Investigations show that even if we are forced to take a longer break from training, our previous efforts were not entirely in vain. The reason for this is the muscle-memory effect.

Imagine this effect like a memory that reminds formerly well-trained muscle fibres to remember how strong they once were. Muscles can thus react significantly better to training stimuli. This is accounted for by the previously learned movement sequences. Which means that experienced athletes can get right back to their old selves after a training break much more quickly than someone who has never worked out.

Everything in moderation

I was able to observe this phenomenon on my own body on several occasions. For example, my thigh circumference shrank by 15 centimetres within a week after my last knee operation. Through rehabilitation training alone, the difference was just four centimetres a mere eight weeks after the surgery. A fact that speaks in favour of strength training. Especially for anyone with a desk job, who spends most of the day sitting. The muscle memory effect is like a sort of insurance that is always worthwhile.

This does not mean that you necessarily need to head to the fitness studio five times a week. Instead, you should aim to stay realistic with your time management and try to invest 90 minutes twice a week. During this time, you train each of the major muscle groups.

For example, this could mean a multi-set workout (first twelve, then ten, then eight, then six repetitions) including the following exercises: squats, deadlifts, bench-pressing, rowing, shoulder presses, and pull-ups. Before strength training, the core muscles are activated by means of various stabilisation exercises. The workout is rounded off with a relaxed cool-down run on an ergometer (about 20 to 30 minutes) and gentle stretching.