Strength Gained Can Be Long-Lived

 In Blog, Guest Blogs

Mary Boudreau Conover, RN BSNed

I have often said that fitness is cheap. You can gain metabolic fitness in a matter of a few weeks, as well as lose it. But in the matter of strength, an essence of it stays with you, like a muscle legacy. I dare say “forever”? Here my great friend Mary Boudreau Conover, retired RN, author and lecturer gives us the details on what strength gains can mean to us in the long term. – Eva T.

Good news for the young already into strength training: strength gained can be long-lived. More good news: this is true even when interrupted by prolonged inactivity. No more moaning during forced down-time about lost time and lost muscle strength!! You’ve heard your coach say: “You’ll get it back fast.” That was knowledge gained from experience and you witnessed its truth. I heard it 20 years ago in my swimming years. Now it’s supported by science and the traditional concept of “muscle memory” has been put to rest in favor of proof that strength training actually makes physical and physiological changes in the muscle itself before evidence of overload hypertrophy.1

Muscle Memory Redone

Muscle fibers contain hundreds of nuclei (myonuclei). During strength training and before the appearance of hypertrophic muscle mass, there is an increase in myonuclei that appears to remain as part of your body history, even during absence of training.

Myonuclei acquired by overload exercise precede hypertrophy and are not lost on detraining                             

A model for the connection between muscle size and number of myonuclei                                         

(Bruusgaard JC, Johansen LB, Egner IM, et al: Myonuslei acquired by overload exercise precede hypwertrophy and are not lost on detraining, PNAS 2010 107(34):15111-116.)


In this model, myonuclei are permanent. Previously untrained muscles acquire newly formed nuclei by fusion of satellite cells preceding the hypertrophy. Subsequent detraining leads to atrophy but no loss of myonuclei. The elevated number of nuclei in muscle fibers that had experienced a hypertrophic episode would provide a mechanism for muscle memory, explaining the long-lasting effects of training and the ease with which previously trained individuals are more easily retrained.

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