The question many people weight training ask is how does muscle memory work and how can we capitalize on this in our workouts?
Well the answer may be a little more complicated than it seems but this article seeks to demystify the muscle memory phenomenon and provide you with strategies to make the most of your workouts even when you miss a few days or weeks.
Physiologically speaking muscle memory is also known as neuromuscular facilitation whereby our muscles memorize movements and through space and time.
To clarify this point lets take a look at someone who has an ankle break and has a cast placed on their ankle. After not using the muscles in the foot and calves for several weeks the person loses ability to completely flex and extend the foot.
Although this may seem like a major set back the muscles still remember how to do the movement and that person is able to walk again shortly thereafter.
Now let’s contrast this to learning an exercise for the first time, for example a biceps curl with a dumbbell. When we first learned how to do this our brain wants to do this exercise the easiest way we know how, by involving our shoulders and using our body to swing the weight up.
But we quickly learn from personal trainers (and health blogs such as this!) that we really need to keep our elbows tucked in to our sides and simply use the bicep muscle alone to flex and bring the weight up.
After all, doing it this way without any swinging motion is the most effective way of building the biceps muscle.
This one simple point is the basis of all our training. The more we train and understand what exercises our body responds to best the better we can perform and utilize our muscle memory to gain maximum results from weight training. In other words, even if you take some time off or away from the gym, when you come back a few weeks later you can still have that benefits of remembering how to do that exercise and quickly get back on the train of muscle growth.
Of course with every positive is a negative so we can also suffer from muscle memory. By this I mean that our body rapidly adapts to exercises and the immediate results that we see when getting back in the gym eventually slow down…unless…we add variation.
This is key, we have to remember to switch up our weight training routine at least once every 6 – 8 weeks otherwise we will plateau and lose motivation.
Professional athletes and trainers are very focused on this. Even if the exercise is as simple as bicep curls with a barbell, simply switching it up to dumbbells will be a significant variation to give us results again.
Remember, no matter what gets in your way of maintaining your training schedule it is never too late to go back. Consistency with variation is key, kind of ironic I know, but have fun with your workouts by trying out different routines all the time. Keep your muscles guessing and you will maximize the benefits you see with muscle strength, toning and fat loss.