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Will I lose muscle without the gym? Muscle memory science explained

Let’s talk muscle loss…

A lot of you are worried that you’ll lose the progress we’ve made before the quarantine and that it’ll take you as long to get it back as it took to build it.

Not quite! Our body is a marvelous machine! It takes a lot of effort to build a tissue out of thin air (well mainly out of amino acids and consistent progressive overload – for the muscle tissue that is!), but once it’s built it gets stored in case it’s needed again.

When it comes to muscle tissue, we hear the term ‘Muscle memory’ thrown a lot. Does it exist? And if it does, how does it work?

The earliest scientific data on muscle memory referred to muscle memory as a neural adaptation, a skill that is gained when a movement pattern is learnt and performed repeatedly over time. Meaning if you learnt to squat or deadlift once, you won’t forget how to do it in the future; just like once you’ve learnt to ride a bike, you will never have to learn it again.

Now that doesn’t answer your question, I hear. And you’re right, the skill of performing the movement correctly is half the battle, what about the muscle size?!

According to Brusgaard et al.(2010) the mechanism that ‘brings the size back’ has a lot to do with the structure of the muscle cell itself. The muscle cell has multiple nuclei, unlike only 1 nucleus for any other cell in our body. A nucleus is a centre of control for a cell and each nucleus has a max capacity of space in a cell it can take care of. Now when the nuclei reach max capacity of cell space, more nuclei form, these newly formed nuclei will then expand the ‘territory’ they’re ‘in charge’ of. This process results in muscle growth. If you stop stimulating the muscle with training, it’ll shrink, but IMPORTANTLY, the nuclei that you’ve built with training in the past, WON’T disappear. Once the muscle is stimulated in the same way again, those nuclei will quickly start filling the cell space around them to reach capacity again.

How long it takes to get the size back? And how long can the newly formed nuclei remain in the muscle without training? It’s not clear. According to Seaborne et al. (2018) they last at least 7 weeks, with a potential to last for decades (however this hasn’t been tested).

If you want a more detailed overview of this, check-out this video by Jeff Nippard, also follow him too. He’s got some top content 👌

Most importantly, the main message from this article is that you won’t lose your muscle unless you become sedentary. And even if you do lose it, you’ll gain it back in weeks once you’re back at the gym. But why lose it?! If you’re stuck for ideas to workout or want something more interactive than just an Instagram video, click down below to join my Facebook group 👇

Don’t miss the live workout stream tonight at 6:30pm GMT https://www.facebook.com/groups/883124258790495/
(only available during Covid-19 outbreak UK)

Update: the workouts have now ceased. If you still need help, I have some resources available to download here.

Lots of love,
Victoria

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