We’ve all heard of muscle memory, but there’s no consensus on exactly what it is. (Getty: Peathegee)
If you can play Chopsticks on the piano, dance the Nutbush or ride a bike, opportunities are you have actually experienced muscle memory.
The human function permits us to carry out actions without mindful effort — however is that ‘memory’ in the muscles, or the mind?
It may appear uncontroversial, however there’s substantial dispute about where muscle memory lives — and even what it needs to be called.
That’s since there are in fact 2 unique systems of memory at play: one about muscles, the other about collaborated motions.
“I don’t actually like the term ‘muscle memory’,” states neuroscientist Alan Pearce.
He states a much better term is ‘motor memory’, which stresses a neurological function.
“It is about the central nervous system, which is the brain and spinal cord, retaining motor skills and being able to memorise motor skills,” Dr Pearce states.
That might suggest memorising forehand in tennis, he states, or even playing a piano.
The neurological element of muscle memory isn’t constantly a favorable — something anybody who frequently mistypes the very same couple of letters may vouch for.
Dr Pearce states somebody initially finding out to type is “very conscious” about their motions, and “putting in a lot of thought and energy into that”.
Gradually, nevertheless, he states “other parts of the brain can take over” so that typing patterns are enhanced while ending up being less of a mindful act.
Do you always type the same letters wrong? Dr Pearce says you can unlearn that muscle memory pattern. (Unsplash: Gaelle Marcel)
There’s wish for modification, he states — however it’ll take some work.
“In attempting to unlearn [the incorrect typing] and relearn a brand-new pattern, you’d require to utilize the very same procedures once again — which needs more effort,” he states.
“As you start to improve, providing you’re getting some feedback you actually aren’t doing the wrong thing, you’ll start to relearn and rewire, which is the basis of neuroplasticity.”
Putting muscle ‘in the bank’
Workout physiologist Craig Goodman, on the other hand, is rather pleased with the term ‘muscle memory’.
He states there’s “some inherent memory” in muscles.
“That [memory] speeds up the gaining back of muscle mass,” he states.
Dr Goodman, working from a ‘muscle’ viewpoint, utilizes the example of bodybuilders and professional athletes to explain the “phenomena” that is muscle memory.
When they stop training, they lose muscle mass.
However the muscle memory kicks in when they begin to train once again, and they gain back muscle a lot faster than the very first time around.
Because of muscle memory, Dr Goodman says, athletes can regain muscle faster than someone starting from scratch. (Getty: Sol de Zuasnabar Brebbia)
According to one current theory, Dr Goodman states, everything boils down to the muscle cells’ nuclei. The nucleus is the part of a cell which contains its genes and manages its development and recreation.
Muscle cells are the biggest cells in the human body, and, unlike a lot of other cells in the body, they can consist of several nuclei.
The more strength training you do, the more nuclei in your muscles.
“One of the current theories, and this is based largely on animal studies, is that with something like strength training or what we call ‘mechanical overload’, there’s an increase in the number of nuclei in the muscle fibres,” Dr Goodman states.
“Muscle fibers have several nuclei, and those varieties of nuclei can increase and it appears to be when you go through a duration of de-training or you stop training, those nuclei remain there even if the muscles atrophy [or] get smaller sized.”
While Dr Goodman states other research contradicts this hypothesis, the present theory is that “somehow having that extra number of nuclei helps you regain your muscle size when you re-engage training”.
And there might be an evolutionary description for why.
“Imagine if you’re in, say, the summer months, doing tasks that require a lot of strength and muscle size, then you went into a period of relative inactivity during the winter,” Dr Goodman states.
“It would make good sense that, when you return to the warmer months and you require to start once again, you gain back your strength and muscle size reasonably rapidly. You do not need to invest the remainder of the summertime attempting to increase your strength.
“It is definitely an evolutionary benefit, a minimum of in theory.”
However there may be other benefits too.
Dr Goodman states some research study recommends the earlier somebody does strength training to get ‘memory’ into the muscle, the more deeply ingrained that memory is.
Some research suggests that muscle built early in life can be ‘remembered’ later. (Getty: pixdeluxe)
If individuals in their teenagers and 20s, for instance, carry out strength training, then go through an extended period of lack of exercise, they preserve a physical benefit over those who never ever trained.
“When they’re older and they suddenly want to become more active and undertake strength training as an older adult, then the increases in strength and size they get will be amplified,” he states.
That recommends that even if you let your earlier strength dissipate, you can still gain from it later on.
“In the muscle case, specifically, at least according to that theory, you’re putting, in a sense, these extra nuclei in the bank,” Dr Goodman states.
Various muscle memory theories are plentiful, and it will take more work for scientists to get to an agreement on simply what muscle memory is everything about.
“It’s a kind of watch this space,” Dr Goodman states.
“Duelling teams are going to be working this out in the future.”