It happens to everyone at some point, that forced break to your fitness regime through work, life, injuries or whatever it might be that's thrown at you. Even if you've just recently started it can put a negative on things and feel like you're back at square 1.
It doesn't take long till we feel weaker and look like we've lost our progression. This can be disheartening if anything, 'it's going to take me months to get back to that level!'. We know we can't bank our fitness gains unfortunately, thus we continue our training to push for constant progress.
However, we do have one ally on our side, MUSCLE MEMORY. So what is muscle memory, why is it such a good friend to us? Well the phrase it's easier the next time applies here, we might lose strength and aesthetics but what we do keep is a key part of aiding in retraining.
What happens when we train?
Our muscle cells are quite large and one of the very few multinuclear cells in our bodies. In other words, our muscles have more than one nucleus and as we overload our muscles through our training, we create more nuclei for the muscle.
The greater the nuclei for the muscle cells and fibers, the more growth we have. So now we go through our spell out from injury (atrophy occurs), we see the loss of size and strength and we're back to the beginning right? Wrong..
Physiology of 'Muscle Memory'
Through the period of inactivity, the new nuclei that were created through our training remains. All those hours of hard work haven't been for nothing, far from it as although our muscles may have decreased, the nuclei count in the cells remains higher than previous.
So when we come to retraining after the spell out, our muscles begin from a stronger base and size and strength is grown back quicker than before.
Put it this way, if we start with 5 people unloading a van, we then through training get another 5 involved. The next time the van has to be unloaded, it'll be much quicker! Simple I know, but this has the same premises for our muscle growth through muscle memory.
We train properly providing our muscles with overload and keep our diet in check. Our muscle nuclei count grows.
Inactivity happens, we lose size and strength of muscle fibers but our nuclei count remains higher.
We return to our regime, starting from our higher base and 'skip' the step of building more nuclei to reach the same level as before.
Life will get in the way at times, this is inevitable and it happens to even the best athletes etc in the world. But take heart in knowing your training isn't for nothing, focus on training hard and pushing yourself to be better.
It's never too late to start and never too late to restart..