Do you find that going back to your normal fitness routine after taking a break is easier than starting on a new routine? Well, that’s because your muscles ‘remember’ the movements in your routine!
Ever tried getting back on a bike or playing the piano after a few years away? You might find it awkward at first but after a short while, your body becomes accustomed to the movement and it’s like you never left! This phenomenon is known as muscle memory.
Muscle memory is related to the cell nuclei that resides inside muscle fibres. Muscle cells are the largest cells in the body and have a volume that’s thousands of times larger than most of the cells in our body. Due to this large volume, the muscle cells contain several nuclei which is where the cell information is stored.
It was found that strength training causes long lasting structural changes inside muscle fibres. As more muscle fibres are built, the nuclei multiply and fuse with other pre-existing muscle fibres to support the increase in cells. In tests on rats, it was found that after a period of inactivity, the nuclei was still present and atrophy was only observed in the connective tissues. This disproves the theory that after a long period of inactivity, muscles that were previously in shape, go back to square one.
When we expose our body to various kinds of exercise, this builds more nuclei and for the general population, a total functional body workout with core training is the most beneficial. The body must be trained for about three months in order for the nuclei to be synthesised.
With structured exercises, even if a person doesn’t exercise for a period of time, once he or she gets back to their training regimen, the body will be able to ‘remember’ and adapt to the changes more readily. Total body functional and core training are examples of exercises that can help build muscle memory.
We worked with True Fitness to find out more about muscle memory and to identify exercises that help build this remarkable function. Here are some of the exercises demonstrated by a fitness expert at True Fitness.
#1. Squat with shoulder press
Hold a pair of dumbbells at shoulder height and bend your knees to perform a squat. Then straighten yourself up and push the dumbbells upwards as shown in Image 1. If you’re just starting out, it’s best to do five squats first and work your way up.
#2. Shoulder tap
Go into a push up position and tap your right shoulder with your left hand (as shown in Image 2). Repeat with your right hand and left shoulder. One repetition if two taps (left and right) so repeat five to 10 times, depending on your fitness level.
#3. Mountain climbers
Go into push up position and bring your left knee forward such as shown in Image 3. Alternate legs and do for a total of eight to 10 times.
#4. Leg raise
If you’re doing this at the gym, hold the handles of the adjustable leg raise machine firmly and raise your legs as in image 4. This can also be done on the mat where you lie on your back and raise your legs while keeping them straight up at 45 degrees. Repeat eight to 10 times.
Crunches are simple to do plus, there’s no equipment involved! However, do remember that it’s very important to perform crunches correctly. Keep your feet planted on the ground and slightly apart such as in Image 5 and bring your upper body up until your shoulders don’t touch the ground. Squeeze your abdominals to help you crunch easier.
Planking is a great way to strengthen your core and all the equipment required is your stomach muscles. Go into plank position as shown in Image 6, ensuring that your whole body is as straight as a plank. Hold the position for 30 seconds to a minute. The longer you can hold this position, the stronger your abdominal muscles.
As with any new fitness regime, please check with your doctor if it is advisable for you to perform these exercises. If you have had a prior injury, you will also need to be assessed by a medical professional and a trainer at your gym to ensure that all the exercises you’re doing are safe and bring you maximum benefits.