Muscle for life

“Muscle Memory” is Real and Here’s How It Works

“Muscle Memory” is Real and Here’s How It Works

It’s long been known that retraining muscle is easier than the first time around, but what’s the real story behind “muscle memory?”


If you’ve spent any amount of time lifting weights, taken a break for a bit, and then started back up again, you probably noticed that you seemed to regain  strength and size much quicker than the first time around.

Well, this isn’t your mind playing tricks on you–the acceleration in progress is a scientifically verified phenomenon often referred to as “muscle memory,” but what is actually going on?

Neurological mechanisms can explain the rapid regain of strength, but not muscle size. Do muscle fibers have some sort of “memory” of their previous, more conditioned states? Or is something else responsible for these effects?

Let’s find out.

Muscles Cells Are Specially Equipped to Grow

The answer to the muscle memory enigma begins with an interesting fact about muscle cells themselves: they are quite large and one of the very few multinuclear cells in our bodies. That is, they don’t contain just one nucleus but many.

As you overload your muscles with resistance training, new nuclei are added to the muscle cells, which then allows them to grow larger in size. In fact, the number of nuclei within the muscle fibers is one of the most important conditions that regulates muscle size.

Now, if resistance training causes the body to add nuclei to the muscle fibers, which then allows them to grow larger, what happens to our muscles when we stop training for extended periods of time?

I mean…we know what happens in the mirror–we slowly shrivel up and, eventually, look like we don’t even lift–but what happens physiologically?

Well, the answer explains what “muscle memory” really is and how it works.

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The Physiology of “Muscle Memory”

It was long believed that, after a having stopped training a muscle for a certain amount of time (“detraining,” as it’s known scientifically), the new muscle nuclei acquired during the training period were lost to apoptosis.

This accounted for the loss of size and strength that occurs during detraining and seemed to make good sense. We now know that’s wrong, though.

It turns out that while detraining clearly results in smaller, weaker muscles, the new nuclei added during the training period are retained for at least 3 months of inactivityIn fact, there’s evidence that these new nuclei are never lost, meaning that resistance training induces permanent physiological changes in muscle fibers.







Simply put: the idea that nuclei are added to muscle fibers as a result of training and lost as a result of detraining is false. In reality, it goes more like this:

  1. Muscles are subjected to overload and new nuclei are acquired for the first time. Through further training and proper diet, these nuclei synthesize new muscle proteins and thus, the muscle fibers grow larger.
  2. Upon detraining, the muscle fibers are resistant to atrophy thanks to the increased amount of nuclei. If detraining continues for long enough, however, protein degradation rates exceed protein synthesis rates and the muscles shrink in size…but the nuclei aren’t lost.
  3. At some later time, when training is resumed, the muscles rapidly grow in size because the step of adding nuclei is “skipped”–they’re already there, ready to synthesize muscle proteins again, rapidly increasing muscle size.

This is the why retraining is easier than the first training performed by those with no previous training history, and is the physiology of “muscle memory.”

Muscle Memory is Our Best Friend

I find this research pretty encouraging. It’s nice to know that the work we’re putting in now will pay dividends for the rest of our lives.

In fact, scientists believe that “filling up” our muscles with as many nuclei as we can while we’re young can greatly benefit us as we age because a) building muscle gets harder in our later years and b) persistent muscle loss is one of the most serious health risks associated with aging.

Furthermore, while a couple weeks of detraining is enough to slightly reduce the size of your muscles, you can rest easy knowing that a little time off won’t set you back.

Even if life gets in the way and prevents you from training for weeks or even months, you’ll probably find it easier to get going again when you know that returning to your previous state of fitness will be much quicker than the first time. And if you’re able to sneak in a little gym time, you can maintain size and strength with two workouts–or even one–per week.


What are your thoughts on muscle memory? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • EnellGmz

    Nice article mike! Let’s say you stop working out for a month and while that you lose muscle but also gain fat. While taking advantage of muscle memory do you regain the ability to lose fat and build muscle at the same time despite not being a newbie?

    • Ilham

      Hey EnellGmz,

      In theory you should, as I see no reason why the physiological mechanisms would change regarding fat loss if your a newbie or intermediate lifter. What is more important is the percentage of body fat that you carry.

      Although because you will have increased protein production due to the physiological benefits of muscle memory, you may be able to use the energy stored in fat a lot faster, so perhaps decreasing the time it takes to lose the weight. That is assuming your not over consuming more calories than your body needs.

      • Michael Matthews

        Agreed. 🙂

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! The muscle will come back quicker but the fat may or may not be lost quicker. The only way I could see that happening is the additional energy used by the existing muscle nuclei.

  • Darren

    Muscle memory is awesome ! All praise muscle memory

    • Michael Matthews

      Haha 🙂

  • Jesiann

    Just read your article on training adequately. You say at the end of the article ” I recommend that you limit your weekly reps to the 50 to 75 range”. I’m following the One Year Challenge. Not counting warm-up reps, my max per workout is 30 reps. Am I wrong here? Your book suggest a ‘working rep’ is 8-10 so… I surely don’t want to be investing my time incorrectly. Loving the challenge but want to be doing it right for maximum results. Again, I thank you.
    Also, please add your email address to your response.

  • Bora Bora

    Hey Mike,
    Can we make a similarity with fat cells? I’ve read somewhere that they actually “shrink” and doesn’t disappear completely? Since storing fat was (is? ;)) an advantage, this can be possible… Just want to know more about the subject!

    • Parikshit Jaiswal

      yes it is true

    • Michael Matthews

      It’s true that fat cells shrink and expand, but generally don’t change in number. I’ve seen that we CAN increase the sheer number of fat cells but that’s only in the case of severe obesity.

      Unfortunately just because you lose fat before doesn’t mean it will be easier the next time.

  • Aisha

    I really believe this is true. I did gymnastics for four years and stopped at the age of 14. However, I took up pole dancing for fitness a few years ago and progressed to advanced level much more quickly than others. I even cracked the handspring within about four months, when most take years. My flexibility is still there too – with a little bit of training I can always do the splits. Whilst I have dipped in and out of fitness, there have definitely been times when I have not hit a gym for a year.

    • Michael Matthews

      That’s great! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  • Mike Sisco

    You’re a G Mike! Great stuff.

    • Michael Matthews

      Haha thanks man!

  • Nick

    I want to ask you this,what should your calories be after a cut that you lost some muscle?How much weight it would be good to gain monthly?I can’t find nowhere a recommended bulking weight for guys who have been off for some time or had lost muscle due to an injury?

  • Trey

    Hi Mike, i have a pretty important question that i think will be critical to the next move i make towards what i’m trying to accomplish and i trust the advice you give so i would appreciate a detailed answer as i’m not sure which approach to take, before the question let me explain where i’m at, i’m not new to weightlifting and been working out for years and have built up a good amount of muscle and have been working out off and on this year do to various projects etc and have been able to retain my strength and size most of the year and then recently i’ve been out the gym for almost 2 months now and have started to notice muscle shrinking and looking flat which as you mention in this article would be no problem to bounce back from BUT here’s the situation and also the question, i have some photos i need to be cut for at the beginning of 2015 and i was gonna go thru the cut process for 5 weeks or so to be ready, so the question is could i go head and just do my cut and build that muscle back over the weeks i’m cutting to get that size back do to muscle memory OR do i have to bulk some before i start my cut to build that muscle and size back where it was at, it wasn’t clarified in the article when it comes to buliding back original (not new) size and muscle before the detraining and shrinkage do you have to bulk or be in a calorie surplus or can you just get that size back during a cut? Like i said this info is crucial to my next steps here for the new year here so your help is really appreciated

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah you can cut and you’ll build muscle back that you had. Simple enough. 🙂

      • Trey

        Ok thanks Mike i really appreciate the help and sorry to be a stickler but just to confirm to make sure i got this, you can build back the muscle you had due to muscle memory even if you are in a calorie deficit because i know if your in a calorie deficit that you body doesn’t build muscle effeciently, does this not count with muscle memory because it’s not new muscle?

        • Michael Matthews

          My pleasure.

          Yes that’s right. It’s not IMPOSSIBLE to build muscle in a deficit. There are circumstances that make it possible.

          • Trey

            Ok thanks again Mike you’ve been a big help!
            P.S. You should put out some more info regaurding ab training, i think it would a big help since alot of people focus on getting abs now a days (other than just losing fat to get them)

          • Michael Matthews
          • Trey

            Yea i seen that article great info by the way, but i was saying like some additional info specifying more on ab training there were some good exercises you mention in there but kinda vauge on like a routine to do and stuff like how you did with like the chest or shoulders etc. I think that was the only info or article you had on it so just saying maybe a new article or some updated info would be great! Your the best dude thanks

          • Michael Matthews

            Oh okay cool. I keep it simple:

            1. Weighted exercise in 10-12 rep range like weighted cable crunches.

            2. Right into a leg raise movement to failure like hanging leg raises or capt’s chair leg raises.

            3. Right into air bikes to failure.

          • Trey

            Ok cool yea usually keeping it simple is better i know abs can get a bit complicated with so much information and tons of exercises but ok do all 3 and i guess that’s the circuit right? And do that how many times 6 or so? How long break in between?

          • Michael Matthews

            Exactly. Yeah that’s right. If you can do 3 of those circuits 3 x per week you’re doing well.

          • Trey

            Ok cool i guess i could do like mon, wed, fri on abs? Also what are rest times between sets or circuits rather?

          • Michael Matthews

            Yup. I like to rest about 2 min in between.

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  • ClubWolf

    Hi Mike,

    Straight to the point, to maximise muscle memory is lifting heavy in the 4-6 rep range best or is lifting slightly lighter weight in the 8-12 rep range best. Thanks!

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  • MissLinds79

    Do genetics possibly play a factor or can many years of sports and working out while your young lead to the ability to retain muscle even years after you stop? I have personally experienced this. At 12 years old, I discovered my passion and went from being lethargic to working my way up to the advanced swim team (2 hour practices 6 days per week). I did this along with the tennis team (I was a starter and played singles) until I graduated high school. Part of swimming training was “dry land” in which I also started lifting light weights but a ton of reps. In college, I couldn’t afford a gym my freshman year so I took up running. I was soon doing 5 miles per day/5 days a week and had my own 10lb Dumbbells so somewhat kept lifting. Then I continied to run and lift at a gym for the rest of my 4 year college career, including running a half marathon. After graduation I kept up with the gym and cardio at least 4 days a week all thru my 20’s and early 30’s with very occasional week break. Around 33 I completely stopped working out due to a stressful job, bad break-up, and nagging knee industry. I am now 35 and just starting to try and get back into a regular routine. Over the past 2 years I have occassionally hit the gym but I’d say it was on average once or twice every few months.
    Soooooo (sorry I’m very detail oriented) recently I went rock climbing with my boss for the first time an indoor facility and he plus the trainer kept commenting on my extremely defined upper body, particularly my abs and arms. They asked how often I worked out and they were astounded when I said it had been pretty much 2 years. Honestly I hadn’t really noticed I had kept all the muscle.

    At last, my question is how is this possible? Is it muscle memory from almost 20 years of regularly working out (age 14-32) in my youth or genetics or maybe both?

    • Definitely on both points–genetics matter and many years in athletics can “reprogram” your body, in a sense. Most of what you’re seeing is probably genetics though.

  • Brandon

    Hi Mike i have a question about muscle memory, I have not been working out (hitting weights) for about 6 months now which my muscles have shrunken and i’ve also gained weight in that time so of course i need to cut instead of bulk and get fatter, keep in mind i’ve been working out for quite some time 7+ years and have put on a good amount of muscle so i know when i start back the muscle will come back quickly due to muscle memory but here’s the real question. I’m gonna follow the protocol of hitting weights 5 days a week but when it comes to cardio i’m not sure because i have a pretty fast metabolism and even tho i will be doing HIIT cardio which preserves muscle, and i know i will burn the fat off pretty fast but will it hender my muscle coming back quickly if i’m losing fat/weight real fast? Thanks and a detailed answer would be appreciated

    • Cool on your plans. No some HIIT won’t be a problem. Keep it to 1.5 to 2 hours per week, max, and you’ll be fine.

      Let me know how it goes!

      • Brandon

        Ok cool and just to clarify, doing the HIIT cardio will help me cut faster than just the weights alone, while not affecting the muscle coming back quickly with muscle memory?

  • Blake

    Hey mike, i have been working out off and on since i was 13 and now im 34 and have had to stop for months at a time. I went from 230 when working out to 175 when i was not but it would only take me 4-5 months of intense training 5 days lifting 2 days cardio to get back up to around 230 again. People would often ask me if i was juicing because of my energy,strength and size growth. Is this unheard of for a person to gain mass and strength in such a short amount of time or is it the muscle memory from years of lifting or genetic?

    • Cool! I like it! Probably a bit of both genetics and muscle memory. You bastard. 😉

  • Great article on this!

  • Mohd Alaiti


    I read all of your articles but I have a few questions. I work out at home so I don’t have a lot of equipment available for me. Only Dumbbells and their weights. I also have work everyday so I don’t have time to go to the gym.

    I work out 3 days a week. M-W-F. Same exercises every work out day with a full days rest in between. Rest on weekends as well.

    My workout consists of:

    4 Sets diamond push ups. 10 reps each
    4 Sets Inclined push ups. 10 reps each
    4 Sets Inclined dumbbell press. 10 reps each
    4 Sets Flat Dumbbell press. 10 reps each
    4 Sets Flat Dumbbell Flys. 10 reps each

    I take around 1 minute rest in between each set. I don’t increase the weights after each set. I leave them the same.

    I do this workout the first thing in the morning at 7 am and it takes me around 30-35 minutes to complete it. My weight is around 63 KG with height around 172 cm.

    Is this considered a good workout for my upper body as a whole?

    I’m trying to concentrate more on my Chest and Arms.

    If I add 4 sets of Dumbbell curls to workout my arms, will it be enough to build biceps/triceps or do I need more exercises/routines ?

    As I said above, I don’t have much time to exercise so i’m trying to find the best possible work out routine that will get me a great upper body look with minimal exercise time. (Around 30-40 minutes per workout session).

    Maybe you can help me adjust my routine so that I can get a great upper body with the very short time that I have as workout everyday.

    Hope you reply soon.

    Thank you. 🙂

    • Mohd Alaiti

      sorry. I reposted by mistake

  • James Programmer Jeffery

    I’ve always wondered about this. Thinking about it at the biological level, muscle cells have a structure. Is it possible that when you train and tear those muscles they regain a new structure, and once they gain a new structure they can’t go back to the old structure. Sort of like a deflated balloon, it will never go back to it’s silky smooth form as it was before it was inflated. And using that analogy, a deflated balloon requires less pressure to inflate the second time around. Is it possible that muscle structure’s deflate when not trained, but still regain their previous structure? I’m high, I’m probably talking nonsense.

  • Kris Wilkinson

    Hi, I have a question, I started the gym when I as 18 years old. I put on good size and was fairly shredded (I was around 15st 7lb 7-10% body fat. 5ft 11in tall). I’m now 28 but haven’t trained for 18 months due to buying a house, settling down, getting a dog etc. I’ve lost a TONNE of muscle weight, gained a layer of body fat and generally look shit. I’ve had my second wind, put myself on a high protein diet and a 10 week training plan that focuses on lifting heavy one week then high reps lower weights the next. http://www.menshealth.co.uk/food-nutrition/muscle-foods/eat-to-get-ripped-144983

    I guess my question is, will my muscle memory have a good memory?? haha



    • Kris Wilkinson

      to add to the aboved

      2nd gym session and diet day under my belt. Weighed in at 14st 7lb with BF% of 16.5% 🙁

    • Haha yeah you’ll do fine. You’ll gain muscle back quickly especially if you focus on heavy, compound lifting.

  • Kimonimo

    Haven’t trained for 10 years. Went to the gym again yesterday and immediately bench-pressed with 30 kg Dumbbells in both hands. Yup, muscles got memory alright.

  • Jan123

    Hey i have a question my father has been working out heavy for about 4 years when he was 15-19years, but now he is 48years old, and at around 40 years old he lost all his muscle mass due to stress, he went from 95kg to 70kg , his current weight is 83kg but he is skinny fat and weak now and i really want him to start working out again,,will he able to regain his muscle mass since it has been so long and how long do you reckon it will atleast take him to get in decent shape if he is goign to be serious into working out etc.?

    • Sorry to hear about your dad.

      How much time it will take depends on genetics, how strict he is, etc. But yes, he will be able to regain muscle for sure, and it’ll be faster than most thanks to muscle memory.

      He should start with my book, BLS. Check it out:


      • jan123

        Thanks for the reply, and you are probably the the first of the youtubers/people I would watch an 1hour long video of information and read 40 pages , im glad i found your channel :D.

        • No problem!

          Glad you’re enjoying the info.

          LMK if you have any questions. I’m happy to help. 🙂

  • Sp

    Hey I was training intense and in a huge caloric deficit for a year! I lost all my mass but for the past two months I’ve been eating a lot and back on track everything has blown up real fast my chest back legs shoulders except my arms.. I used to have 16 inches but now I’m 11 flat and 13 flexed which is a huge loss… Do you think that by training and being in a huge caloric deficit my muscle is completely lost or can it rebuild by muscle memory? Because it’s not like I wasn’t training it was because I wasn’t eating 🙁 please respond 🙂

    • Sorry to hear the mass you lost. Good you got most of it back!

      To get your arms back, I recommend lifting heavy and eating in a mild deficit. The muscle memory will definitely help get your size back.

      Yeah, if you’re in a deficit for too long, you will lose size. Don’t worry though, we’ll get it back. 🙂

  • Noor C

    Hey Michael!
    Thanks fr the article I was googling something similar!

    I had a torn ligament in my back in Feb and since then i have been working out less or not at all bcz it needed time to heal.

    I lost stamina gained weight my abs have starting sticking out again got my love handles back.

    I heard somewhere that since I’m not new to work outs and I will get bavk in shape soon as have started working out again. I wanted to know will it take as much time as it took the first time to notice change? When I started working out 3 Yrs ago it took a good 4-5 months to notice actual difference 🙁 will it be the same ths time??

    • NP!

      Sorry to hear about the ligament. :/

      You’ll be able to get to where you were much faster this time thanks to muscle memory. Don’y worry. 🙂

      • Noor C

        Thanks a tonne Michael !!

        Your reply really gave me peace of mind.

        I wanted to ask one more thing if u can answer – I’m doing kickboxing ths time will it help in reducing the love handles and waistline???

  • AJ

    Thanks for this. After almost a year of training and eating right, I had an accident that benched me for more than 3 months (multiple fractures from shoulder (acromion) and foot (metatarsal). After that, I started again, stopped again..rinse, repeat. The momentum is hard to regain although my strength returned barely 2 weeks after restarting.

    Thanks a ton for this article. It indeed is very accurate. 🙂

  • Ice

    In 2004 I was in a coma for 3 weeks I lost over 50 pounds but I was a weightlifter for 25 years I started to workout when I was released my strength came back with a vegence as so did my weight I got bigger and stronger so I believe in muscle memory now it’s 11 years later and I broke my arm I hate the feeling of not being able to weightlifter until its healed I just hope I get back my 20 inch guns at 51 like I did back when I was 40 thank you for your article.

    • Gotta love that muscle memory.

      Sorry to hear about the arm. Rest and get it taken care of.

      The muscle memory will be there for you when you’re able to train again. 🙂

  • David Connell

    This gives me a wonderful feeling, i somehow knew this was true but didnt know the science behind it. I wonder if bone density and the stronger tendons also help with getting the strength back quickly

  • Alexis

    About 3 years ago I started doing some heavy lifting on a very regimented plan that I was not ready for. Basically I put on a lot of muscle that didn’t feel natural on my small body I frame. Now anytime I pick up my work outs I gain the muscle back so quickly and it just doesnt feel right. Any advice for females for getting long lean muscle back instead of too much short muscle?

  • Mel

    I’m excited by this prospect. Up until 4 years ago, I did heavy weight training regularly and was very strong. I stopped training for the last 4 years during which time, I have had my 2 children. I lost a lot of muscle mass and strength during my break. A few weeks ago, I started training with weights again and I am noticing my strength increasing each session. I can also see changes in my muscles. The potential for me to get back to where I was is exciting and I’m glad I did build that base of muscle during my 20’s.

  • Jon

    What a relief. I stopped lifting for a year and a half after tearing my ACL. Overall I lost about 20lbs but somehow kept a significant amount of shape and definition. Can’t wait to get my actual size and strength back now!

    • Sorry to hear about the ACL tear and the loss of muscle as a result of it. 🙁

      Thankfully, the muscle will come back quickly. 🙂 Enjoy it!

  • Jehan

    I have a numerous fracture but I am healing quickly and will return to the gym in 3 months time. Before the accident I was deadlifting 380 lbs for 5 reps and been trading for at least 13 months. I was following this 4 day split called PHUL for the last 2 months and before that I did a full body workout icf 5×5 . If i return to the gym should do the same 4 day upper/lower PHUL workout or can i change my wokout to a new 5 day split targeting one muscle group per day. Will changing my workout slow my strength and muscle recovery . Some of the exercises obviously will be same but some will be different but generally similar muscles will be targeted .What does muscle memory tell us about this ? And in my case in how much time can i expect to reach the same strength level and muscle as before.

    • Jehan

      I meant humerous fracture . Sorry typing mistake

    • Jehan

      I had been training for 13 months before I got injured.

    • It’s really up to you. I don’t think you can go wrong either way so long as the split is programmed well.

      You will gain your strength and size back fairly quickly, yes.

      This may help you:


  • Ac

    I am currently out with a concussion injury and haven’t been able to train for 4 months. I have lost a lot of muscle and gained body fat but overall weight loss of over 1 and half stone! My body composition has changed and desperate to get back in shape in new year assuming I can get back to the gym. How long do you think it takes with hard work and sound nutrition?

    • I’m sorry to hear that. I’d say that you should be fully back on track within the first 4 to 5 months. Possibly sooner.

  • LWinfrey

    Hey Mike,
    I just completed a 31 day water and juice fast for spiritual reasons. During the fast I lost 34.5 pounds with that basically evenly split between fat and muscle. My BF dropped from 24 to 19.6% during the fast.

    How quickly should I increase my daily intake to get back to what my meal plan requires for a proper cutting diet? My daily target for calories is right at 2224. I just want to make sure that as I break this fast, I don’t step on the gas too fast and cause unnecessary weight gain. I know that some weight will come back on naturally, I just don’t want to put it all back on.

    I am breaking my fast with 6 meals of an apple and 6oz of 100% natural fruit juice diluted with 6oz of water. 3 meals of a simple salad paired with an apple and no dressing. 3 meals of steamed chicken breast (1-3oz depending on how it sits), 1/2 of a baked potato with no toppings, and a salad. These final 3 meals will be the same for likely several days with slowly increasing the amount of chicken in the meal. By day 7 I will work in eggs. I am tracking my intake very carefully so I know exactly how many calories I take in during this period.

    Any tips?

  • paul

    Hi Mike
    I was off any weight training for 2 years and went from 8% BF to about 18% Back at training now 1 month and can see changes happening but weight is staying the same. I am in a 500 to 1000 cal defecate do u think im getting muscle back from memory and burning fast at the same time? Disconcerting staying the same weight

  • Eduardo Da Silva

    I stopped working out for 1 whole year and now I have returned to the gym. How long will it take me to get back to were I left off? I feel super weak.

    • Glad you’re back! It depends on genetics, diet, training, etc.

      It will be much faster this time around to get to where you were before, though.

  • actionmanrandell

    no such thing as muscle memory. its all about Neurons. our neurons record the data and apply it thats why when you get on a bike after 20 years of not riding it you still know how to. it is easier the next time because our Neurons activate our muscle fibers

    • Did you read the article?

      • actionmanrandell

        Yes. and the article is wrong. it says muscle memory is real. which is an absolute lie. our muscles do not have memory capacity there is no neurons in our muscles and that makes impossible for them to remember. if you lost 99% of your Neurons you would lose most of your strength and would never be able to build it back up to the level you had before. rebuilding Strength has everything to do with your Neurons influencing your muscle fibers to activate. and statistics show that people who have memory loss actually lose strength.

        • Lol I was speaking figuratively. Of course muscles don’t literally remember anything.


        • Mr happy

          Ur an idiot lol I bet ur a little 120 pound key board warrior SMFH…. GET A LIFE U GOOF

          • actionmanrandell

            Actually i am not an idiot nor am i a 120 pound key board warrior(mind you its keyboard not key board you moron) what i said is an absolute fact. muscle memory doesn’t exist as our muscles do not have neurons in them. strength is built up when our Neurons regulate our muscle fibers and develop Neuro muscle memory

          • Hmced

            You know, you can still say what your saying without sounding like an arrogant little jerk.

    • Lcollins

      i think muscle memory has a couple definitions, and one of those is not covered in this article. When one builds muscle they will increase the size of the muscle fibers which then stretch the fascia enclosing the muscle. The hardest part of building muscle is breaking through that fascia because it is very tough. One may lose muscle, but when they go back to build it up it is easier because they no longer need to break through the fascia. Most certainly when it comes to true memory – yes, it’s in your head. You performed the action before and you will be able to do it again, e.g. Riding a bike. The whole nuclei deal seems to be somewhat under contention, but has some validity (at least in the short term). In my (unprofessional) opinion strength may not bounce back so quickly, but size can. No offense Michael Matthews, I obviously looked at your article for a reason and I appreciate it 😊

      • actionmanrandell

        nope there is only one definition, and it is all about neurons

  • Rob Cairns

    Hi Mike, Do you think muscle memory would let you build muscle in a small defecit or at maintanance? So at the end of my cut do you think I will be able to gain back the muscle I’ve lost without bulking? I’m wanting to maintain that bodyfat indefinitely, similar to what you’re doing, I think.

    • Oliver

      You can’t build muscle without surplus calories, regardless of muscle memory, however, you will gain it back quicker. Covermodels do not maintain that cut look indefinitely, most of the time they do not look like that. They only look like that for the photos.

      • Rob Cairns

        You definitely can if you are new to lifting. Also, if you read more of mikes stuff, I think he mentioned he is more or less maintaining his bodyfat and he is very lean.

        • Maintaining around 8% is easy. 6%? Not so much.

        • Oliver

          You mean beginner gains? Sure that is one exception, but that doesn’t apply to you if you’re talking about getting back muscle you lost. You wouldn’t be a beginner in that case. For sure we can maintain BF% low, what I’m talking about it making gains in the gym and keep the BF% cut low (as in covermodel % which is usually around 6-7% tops). If you try to gain and stay that cut it will be pretty slow. Maybe Mike’s different, most models are only cover ready around the photo shoot because it’s not healthy or easy to make gym gains like that.

    • Yeah, you can definitely gain back the small amount you might have lost eating in maintenance.

  • Oliver

    what’s your estimation on time to get back to where you were if you were a lifter for more than 15 years and took 8months off without dieting? The general, seems to say the same time it took off or half, so 8months off means 4-8months to get back if you’re not a beginner and didn’t do something nuts in the off time, like going on an extreme diet.

    • I’d think you could be back to where you left off within 4 to 5 months.

      • Oliver

        thanks- I hope so!

  • Shawn

    Yes, for sure. I trained hard for years. Life got in the way and I didn’t train for long periods of time. Muscle memory ensures that I get good results even from just a few workouts per month. It’s amazing. My goal is to now start training regularly again. All the best everybody, good luck

  • Scott

    I would like your opinion.
    I worked out religiously in my 20’s but was looking for the model look. When I got married and had kids my lifting stopped.
    At about 40 I started up again, changed my focus to strength and mass and had good gains. I’m 5’9″ and was 225# with 9% bf. At 43 I went through cancer treatment leaving me at 135#. The treatment has been successful but my connective tissues have not been up to lifting until now. I’m now 48 and weigh about 180 (and am soft in all of the wrong places). Getting rid of the fat dosen’t really concern me as time in the gym will take care of most of it. What I am wondering is, after 5 years of being away from the gym, will muscle memory allow me to get most of my shape and strength back?
    I could still use the strength as I have an acreage which has been neglected due to my illness a needs a ton of work.
    Also, my 2 youngest boys are in high school and I would like to set a good example for them by showing what you can accomplish through hard work.
    I would just like your opinion.

    • Hey Scott! NP.

      To answer your question, yes. And you’ll get there faster than you did the first time assuming you train and diet properly.

      Thanks to muscle memory and being “new” to lifting again, you’ll be able to build muscle and lose fat at the same time. Check this out:


      Let’s show the boys what you can do! I look forward to seeing your results. 🙂

      Definitely keep me posted on your progress and write anytime if you have any questions or run into any difficulties. I’m always happy to help.

  • Patricia Terrell

    Great article and extremely reassuring as I get back into heavy weight lifting after being away for a few years. Fortunately, I’ve gained no more than 15 pounds, but people still see me as being fit, which is great news. Looks like the decades spent in the gym has served me well, but I’d better get busy as it is starting to wear off. So, I’m counting you muscle nuclei! Let’s get it done 🙂

    • Thanks, Patricia! That’s not too bad at all! With proper training and dieting and muscle memory, you’ll be back on top in no time. 🙂

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