Just WHAT IS "Muscle Memory"?

I am going to talk about something that a lot of us are probably curious about AND have misconceptions about: "muscle memory". I started to do a little research after I had the following two experiences related to memory:

1) After almost 3 weeks of NO squatting during my vacation to Thailand, I was back in the studio training and found myself almost forgetting HOW to squat.

2) Something random happened in the studio recently and I felt that eerie sensation of "deja vu!". A couple of us started to talk about what deja vu actually is and how the brain remembers (or thinks it remembers) things. Sometimes it seems like my muscles remember things too.

So what IS "muscle memory"?

There are sooo many articles online that either debunk muscle memory or proclaim the exact opposite - that it's real.  The coolest information I've found on muscle memory is from this YouTube video:


The animation is fun and it explains the science of muscle memory in a way that anyone can understand!  =)  I like what he said about how the term "muscle memory" can be misleading because muscle doesn't actually have memory.  It is absolutely true that individuals who take a break from training can jump back to where they left off in a relatively short amount of time. The reasons why someone is able to do that are:

1) Learned Behavior/Experience - you get better at what you practice because your brain and muscles coordinate through learned motor patterns. You keep playing an instrument, you get better at it.  You keep squatting for years and years, you get better at it. Practice makes perfect. The brain is an amazing thing. It remembers a behavior that you've done many times, even after you take a break from it for a bit. The longer the break, the harder it is to remember, but someone with lots of experience will recall better after a break than someone with little experience.

2) Muscle cells/Myonuceli - as you train and you get stronger and build bigger muscles, cells multiply. For the longest time it was believed that those new cells would disappear when training ceased, but new research shows that those cells stick around. So when you start to train again, you can build bigger muscles faster because basically you're skipping the whole step of having to reproduce those cells again. How amazing is that?!  

So why did I have a hard time squatting after a few weeks of being off?  Well, #1 for sure. Compared to most people on earth I'm an experienced barbell squatter, but I really only started squatting when I was in PT school and then I had to take a long break at one point due to a laberal tear in my hip. Over the last 8 months I've been able to rehab my hip with such success that I competed in my first Powerlifting meet in June of this year! So I guess it wasn't as big of a setback as I initially thought. I also know that if I had been squatting for decades already, I may have had an even easier time bouncing back.  So again, EXPERIENCE!  

I was able to regain my skill and my strength in a relatively short time. I learned a huge lesson though...don't go on a long vacation a month out from a strength competition and expect no hiccups, haha!

Our bodies are incredibly adaptable, I am so grateful for my brain and my muscles. Let's all celebrate how they work together and USE them to learn new skills and get stronger!