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Muscle Memory Is a Real Thing?

  • 4 min read

by Matt Weik

For a long time, people have been talking about “muscle memory” and that your muscles have the ability to remember stimulus. For instance, if someone was sick or injured and had to stay out of the gym for any long period of time, when they went back in, they would be able to more quickly gain back any lost size and strength thanks to muscle memory.

Then all of a sudden people started applying some pressure to those who thought this way and mentioned that there is no such thing as muscle memory and that muscles did not possess the ability to retain information. That is… until now.

Your Muscle Has Been Found to Have a “Brain”

Researchers from Keele University have conducted a study that shows our muscle actually has a memory at the DNA level. These researchers looked at more than 850,000 sites of DNA and found that those individuals who exercise showed markers of differentiation when compared to the DNA of individuals who did not exercise.

One researcher mentioned, “In this study, we’ve demonstrated the genes in muscle become more untagged with this epigenetic information when it grows following exercise in earlier life, importantly these genes remain untagged even when we lose muscle again, but this untagging helps ‘switch’ the gene on to a greater extent and is associated with greater muscle growth in response to exercise in later life – demonstrating an epigenetic memory of earlier life muscle growth! If an elite athlete takes performance-enhancing drugs to put on muscle bulk, their muscle may retain a memory of this prior muscle growth. If the athlete is caught and given a ban – it may be the case that short bans are not adequate, as they may continue to be at an advantage over their competitors because they have taken drugs earlier in life, despite not taking drugs anymore. More research using drugs to build muscle, rather than exercise used in the present study, is required to confirm this.”

Another researcher was quoted saying, “If an athlete’s muscle grows, and then they get injured and lose some muscle, it may help their later recovery if we know the genes responsible for muscle ‘memory’. Further research will be important to understand how different exercise programs can help activate these muscle memory genes.”

This is extremely interesting and further research should give us a better idea of if one method of training is more beneficial than another on activating this “brain” in our DNA. Must you train for hypertrophy only, or can minimal resistance be enough to help both before and after a potential loss of muscle mass?

Either way, the findings of this study are extremely promising and should give individuals who are injured or laid up from the weights for a period of time a sigh of relief that all hope isn’t lost. By going back and putting in the time, it is possible for the muscle to come back fairly quickly.

I expect in the coming year (possibly two), that we will see more research on this subject as it can also possibly help those who have any type of muscle wasting disease such as ALS and MS.

Robert A. Seaborne, Juliette Strauss, Matthew Cocks, Sam Shepherd, Thomas D. O’Brien, Ken A. van Someren, Phillip G. Bell, Christopher Murgatroyd, James P. Morton, Claire E. Stewart, Adam P. Sharples. “Human Skeletal Muscle Possesses an Epigenetic Memory of Hypertrophy.” Scientific Reports, 2018; 8 (1).