Weighing In: Muscle Memory

DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT A HEALTH PROFESSIONAL OR A PERSONAL TRAINER. PLEASE CONSULT A PHYSICIAN BEFORE BEGINNING ANY EXERCISE ROUTINE.

Now that that is out of the way…

I started exercising when I was around 15 years old. I started small and gradually moved my way up. This went on for roughly ten years when I decided (not for good reasons) that I would stop.

‘What was the point’ was the major thought I was having.

Anyway, I stopped lifting weights because ‘that shit is heavy’, and I thought I had bigger fish to fry.

I’m glad to report that I ditched that way of thinking back in October of 2019, and have been very pleasantly surprised with the results.

So much so that I can’t exactly put my finger on why.

You see, I’ve always been told that muscle memory is real and that when you hop back on the horse so to speak you will be rewarded quite quickly. But the reality is there lacks a large body of knowledge about muscle memory and whether or not it is a thing.

But I can’t really explain it because in the span of about 4 months I’ve essentially regained all the strength that I lost. And please believe me when I say that I lost it, it very much went away.

So if I’m weighing in on whether muscle memory is real, I’d have to say yes, but there are many more factors involved which I will go into here.

I will go into depth on certain themes in fitness that you may be familiar with, they are.

  • Protein consumption
  • Supplement use (creatine monohydrate)
  • Overall calorie intake
  • Exercise routine (Hypertrophy)
  • The plateau effect
  • Consistency (times exercised in one week)

To make my points I will only use myself as an example and I will only use one body part (chest) as an illustration. This is mostly because 1) I have worked the hardest on chest since getting back in the gym 2) it is my favourite.

So here we go!

Protein Consumption

I think most people know you have to consume some form of protein for your muscles to grow. Whether that is in plant form, animal protein, or in supplements you have to feed your muscles.

Okay, so here’s the thing. I hate protein powders and supplements. Not that they do not work. It’s just they usually are chalky, make a big mess and don’t taste that great.

Side Note* – Please do not recommend me your favourite protein power in the comments, I care not.

Anyway, I eat a lot of protein on a regular basis so I don’t really feel I need to supplement it.

But what are the big brains in the world saying about how much protein you should be consuming for maximum muscle growth?

Well it goes something like this – depending on your overall size you need 20-30 grams of protein post resistance training, given that you consistently eat protein otherwise. The result will be favourable muscle growth.

I know some you think that is way low, and some others might think this is way high. To both of you I say, “relax bro.”

There are some fears that too much protein can have a negative effect on renal function, and is associated with elevated cancer risk.

According to this study, those concerns are generally unfounded.

Should you eat 200 grams of protein a day? Probably not.

Would having a protein shake after your workout hurt your kidneys? Also probably not.

So for right now I’m just eating what I usually eat and it seems to be working out fine.

Things might change however, if I find information that indicates I should change my behaviour. (Please comment if you have counter information! Academic research only please).

Creatine Monohydrate

Now this supplement I actually use. It’s also the only supplement I use because it’s derived from natural foods and only acts to give your muscles more energy for exercising.

But that’s an over simplification. Let’s get into some info.

According to this study, there is a positive relationship between creatine muscle uptake and overall performance. Meaning, it works baby!

Generally, you are always getting creatine from your food (in things such as red meats), but when you supplement with it your muscles directly get what they need to work longer and heavier.

Creatine is generally used for increasing maximum 1 repetitions (the highest weight that you can cleanly execute 1 rep at). And for this I know it works.

It is the most widely studied supplement in the world. If it was terrible for you there would be many studies showing that by now. There are not.

What the research does indicate, is that supplementing with creatine for roughly 13 weeks will increase lean muscle mass and strength.

The reason why it’s only 13 weeks is because if you keep taking creatine supplements for too long, there are diminishing returns.

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I have experienced this big time. I just got used to taking it in conjunction with exercising and stayed on for too long and plateau’ed (will talk more about this later on).

If you are going to take creatine supplements, you should know that it only works best if used for 13-14 weeks stints. You should take about nine months off from it at a time.

You should also be consistent with it because it’s not going to have an effect if you are only taking it every 4 days or whatever.

Additionally, some people believe in what is called a ‘loading phase’. This is where you take a shit load of creatine for one week then go to once a day.

This method has largely been debunked by gym bros (I know it’s not science but it’s what we got).

Once a day after or before your workout will work fine and NO you are not juicing, so don’t act like a roid head or whatever.

Calories

I think it might be really obvious you need food energy to generate maximum muscle yields. If you don’t eat enough, you’ll lose weight and that might include muscle mass in some instances.

Because this is such a DUH thing, I’m only going to cite one study that perfectly illustrates my point. Essentially what they found is this.

In two groups of obese women who were all fed the same thing (3,369 kj, 80 g protein, 97 g carbohydrate, 10 g fat) for 90 days with one exercising, they respectively lost the same amount of weight. But! The Group that exercised demonstrated higher gain of fastwitch muscle fiber.

No need to beat this like a dead horse. Eat right, look good.

Exercise Routine

watch – Lots of good advice!

Okay so for major strength muscles, for instance your chest, it’s important to do a range of sets at different weights and repetitions.

What do I mean by this?

Well, start out by warming up with a weight you can do 12-15 times no matter the exercise you have chosen. Then add weight, either 10 or 20 pounds depending on your abilities, and see how many you can do. It should be lower than your warm up weight by at least 3-4 repetitions.

Continue adding weight and see what you can do until you get to the 1-3 repetitions range.

Bad news for you is that you have to go all the way back down to the weight you started at. Because your muscles will be tired at this point it will be hard but satisfying.

As you progress you will see a volumizing of your routine, and you’ll be able to do more repetitions throughout its entirety.

Okay so that was the strength training opener. You should do at least 3 exercises in total with the remaining 2 being done in 4 sets at 12-15 reps.

Because you will be tired at this point just pick weights you know you can lift and pump them out.

I prefer to start out with flat bench, then move on to incline dumbells, and finish with some sort of fly.

The point of telling you all of this is that you should be exhausted by the end.

This will mean that if you try to do some pushups after all of this you simply will fail. And that is good.

It means your muscles will be sore and will need to repair themselves and hence will grow.

The Plateau Effect

The plateau effect is the enemy of everyone who likes going to the gym. And it’s what happens when you stop pushing yourself and get complacent.

It’s when you stop making big gains and are just slowly chugging away doing the same sets and reps you always do because your body has become comfortable.

When I think I’m in a plateau I like to switch up how many reps and sets, and which exercises I’m doing, just to freak out my muscles and give them something they aren’t expecting.

I really like the routines I’ve made for myself, but if I did them for too long I would be sure to plateau. So gotta switch it up every now and then.

Also…Unsolicited advice time – Having a friend come with you to the gym is great because they can push or spot you when you try something you might not do by yourself.

There’s no real sure fire way to get through a plateau, so watch out…

Consistency

Way back when I started exercising I did some research about how much was enough exercising.

It really depends on your goals. But the general school of though is that the maximum amont of times you can train one muscle group, with 1 day off in between, is 3 times in a week.

Now that being said, you should train a variety of muscles and not just your favourite, and you should not exercise something that is sore.

So the best plan of attack is to gauge yourself daily and ‘feel’ whether or not it’s a good idea to exercise and what.

The best thing to do is juggle between unrelated muscle groups so that you are never working out something that is sore and that the muscles you are working on get to rest for a day before getting hit again.

My experience has been lately that I do not need to hit a muscle more than twice in one week if I want to gain strength. Thus the whole idea of muscle memory.

My Experience So Far

So just using one muscle group as a bench mark I’ve gained more than a 100 percent strength since returning to the gym. It’s only been 4 months or so but I am astonished.

It seems that every time I exercise I’m able to squeak in any extra rep or two. Every two weeks or so I go up in weight as well.

Things are really turning out, and I think it’s because my body fat index is ideal for gaining muscle right now, and my diet and supplements are all working together excelllently.

When I think back to when I started exercising I remember the gains at first were huge and that’s somewhat what I believe is happening now.

When you start fresh (or after a 4 year hiatus) your body rewards you big time.

Is it muscle memory from when I was exercising before now, or is now just the perfect strength storm for me?

I guess I’ll never know because I’m not an expert in kinesiology or biology but what I do know is that I am back in the gym and loving it like I used to.

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