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If you don't use it (your strength), do you lose it?!

Posted by Nancy Anderson on

Question for you: 

Have you ever heard people say that after taking some extended time off from training (either planned or unplanned), it's much easier for them regain their strength back compared to how hard it was for them to get strong in the first place? Yeah, I've heard that before too. Like, a lot. Especially with those who didn’t strength train during pregnancy VS those who did. Now—have you ever wondered if that's true, or just an old lifter's tale? Turns out scientific evidence actually supports this claim as well. 

In a review just published in January in Frontiers in Physiology, researchers shared some interesting findings: when you workout, your skeletal muscles gain nuclei—cell brains, for lack of a better term. Interestingly, while muscle fibers DO decrease and weaken after periods of disuse (due to things like injury, disease, illness, pregnancyor, dare I say...episodic laziness), these new muscle nuclei actually stick around and never go away.

And thank goodness for that. The presence of these nuclei make it easier for muscles to grow and get strong again once training resumes, and is believed to contribute to the phenomon of "muscle memory."

Side note: this persistent muscular adaptation to training also happens to be why the researchers call for more rigorous drug testing among competitive athletes, since anabolic steroids (by enhancing muscle nuclei growth) can benefit a person even long AFTER they stop taking the drugs.

Innerestin', right??

Now, does this mean I recommend skipping workouts all the time, or suggest that not working out isn't a big deal? You bet your strong booty that's not what I'm saying! I AM saying this:

  • If you DO have an extended period of missed training for whatever reason, say you cant lift as often or much during pregnancy, don't beat yourself up too badly about it especially if you have DING DING DING trained properly for pregnancy. Yes, you will lose some strength, but you haven't necessarily lost all that hard work you put in. "Use it or lose it," as the saying goes, "...until you use it again." 
  • Consider this data a RESOUNDING CALL to encourage our children to stay fit and healthy from a young age! The authors of this review make a HUGELY important point: "[E]xercise during adolescence, when muscle growth is enhanced by hormones, nutrition and a robust satellite pool, might functionally serve to allow individuals to 'bank' myonuclei that could be drawn upon later in life to slow the effects of aging and possibly forestall [age-related muscle weakening]." YES! 

Takeaway: the window of opportunity to build a stronger healthier body is never lost to you...but the sooner and more consistently you (and your children) take action, then the healthier you can expect to be over the course of your life. It's never too late to start exercising—nor is it ever too late to pick up the habit again.

Article link: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2018.01887/full

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