Life has its ups and downs. Chances are- you may have missed the gym for a few weeks- potentially even a few months.
But, you’ve been told about this magic ‘muscle memory’ thing. Basically that your muscle will regrow back to its old size much faster if you lose muscle.
There’s good news for you- that’s completely true.
So, muscle memory: how long does it take to get back?
The truth is, it depends on how much muscle you’ve lost. If you’ve only skipped a few months, you’ll probably get that muscle back in weeks. However, I’d say for most people- assuming you haven’t skipped the gym for YEARS- can get most of their muscle back in just months.
Let’s cover this more in-depth though. (Plus, I included a table of how long it should take you to get that muscle back depending on how long you’ve been away!)
What Even is Muscle Memory?
If you just had an extended break, you might just be learning about muscle memory.
If you already know what muscle memory is, feel free to skip to the next heading, but if you don’t- I’d encourage you to follow along.
(And even if you know a lot about muscle memory, it may be worth the read as I explain why you basically never lose your muscle memory!)
When you lift weights, your muscle breaks down, and then regrows bigger. In your muscle cells, you have something that I like to call ‘the brain of the muscles’. They are formally called myonuclei.
I like calling the myonuclei the brain of the muscles because they kind of control everything in your muscles. From repairing the muscle to just general management of the muscle cells- it is the boss!
Now, imagine your brain reached 100% capacity- you wouldn’t be able to hold onto any more information, right?
Well, when you lift weights, you actually fill up that ‘brain of the muscle (myonuclei)’ and it reaches 100% capacity. But instead of it just staying like that, another myonuclei is created. So essentially, you virtually are creating another brain of the muscles.
When this new brain is created, it allows the formation of more muscle fibers. And these new myonuclei cells just keep accumulating the more your muscles grow.
But, there’s something weird about them. No matter how much muscle you lose, those myonuclei stay.
You Actually NEVER Lose These Myonuclei
In life, we are used to things kind of disappearing if we don’t take care of them. Your muscles shrink if you don’t work out, your plants die if you don’t water them, et cetera.
But all these myonuclei (the brains of the muscle) that get created when you grow muscle- they actually never go away (or at least- science still hasn’t found an official expiration date on these cells within the next 100 years of our life).
What’s interesting about muscle growth is that your body can’t just create these myonuclei cells out of thin air. It actually has stem cells to create them.
Now, I’m sure you’ve probably heard the word ‘stem cell’ tossed around in the news a bit.
Your body’s cells don’t change into other things. They have a specialized task and they don’t just switch jobs.
But, stem cells are different. Stem cells are actually able to create these specialized cells.
So since your other cells aren’t capable of switching, these stem cells are capable of creating new workers for the job.
This is the exact reason they are so coveted in things like recovering from nerve damage, car accidents, and even cancer. These stem cells can recreate those specialized cells that your body normally can’t. Stem cells are an incredible scientific discovery.
So- how does this relate to lifting?
Well, those myonuclei cells (the brains of the muscle) are also specialized. They cannot just simply pop out of thin air.
They recruit satellite stem cells to actually create the myonuclei within the muscle.
What’s unique about this is that because the stem cells have now created this specialized cell, the myonuclei (the brain of the muscle) does not go away- at all.
Even when you ‘lose’ muscle, those myonuclei stay there.
Now, let’s zoom out on the bigger picture. You’ve spent years lifting and slowly acquiring these myonuclei. In order to get your muscles bigger, you need a larger amount of myonuclei.
But now that you’ve obtained that myonuclei already, you just have to fill in the muscle.
The hardest and slowest part of bodybuilding is just obtaining that myonuclei, not the actual muscle growth process itself. That’s what people get confused about.
People think our body is bad at generating muscle, but the truth is our body needs the myonuclei there to actually increase the muscle- that’s the slow part of it.
Think of it as the foundation of a house. The foundation of a house can be the toughest part to put in, and the whole house won’t stand without it.
Let’s say you want to build a second floor for your house- you now need a stronger foundation. You build that foundation and the second level- but a few years later you get rid of the second level of the house.
That foundation is still there- all you have to worry about now is putting that second level back on the house. You don’t have to fumble with building a stronger foundation anymore.
Now, obviously- modern construction doesn’t really work like that. And why would someone get rid of the second level they just paid for? But it was just an analogy to help explain it.
It Depends On How Much Muscle You’ve Lost
So, the biggest part of this all is- it all depends on how much muscle you’ve lost.
If you haven’t been to the gym in 5 weeks, the amount of time it takes for you to get all of that back is going to be WAY different than someone who hasn’t been there in 5 MONTHS.
The general rule of thumb is simple: the more time you spent away from the gym, the more time it will take to get it back.
But, don’t fear- the time it will take to get that muscle back is actually shorter than you think.
You Don’t Actually Lose Muscle As Fast As You Think
I know, when you don’t go to the gym for 5 weeks, you look like a completely different person.
But the truth is, most of that is just because you’ve lost water weight, creatine, and your muscles aren’t under that constant stress anymore so they look smaller.
But honestly, if you did one workout you’d look just the same as you did 5 weeks ago.
And, some of that is body dysmorphia– but overall, you don’t actually lose muscle as fast as you think.
In fact, most people don’t really lose any muscle at all unless they are literally starving themselves or they haven’t worked out in 2-3 months.
And that’s the truth, if you skipped the gym for 5 weeks, you probably wouldn’t really lose any muscle at all. At least, none that is really noticeable.
Serious muscle loss starts to occur after the 10-week mark. And it gets progressively faster as time goes on.
Muscle Memory How Long Does It Take To Get Back Time Table
So, I’ve actually been in a few positions where I’ve been out of the gym for a few months and I’ve had to get the muscle back.
I’ve compiled my experiences with a few other bodybuilder’s experiences to get you this estimated time range for getting your muscle back.
Obviously, it’s a little different for everybody. Your height, weight, amount of muscle you have, amount of myonuclei, and genetics all play a big role in this.
In my experience, dirty bulking helped me get the muscle back faster. I personally think that you put on less fat because your body already has the foundations for building the muscle, so it builds mostly muscle instead of fat.
|Time Since Last Gym Visit||Time For Muscle To Come Back|
|5 weeks||A few days|
|2 months||2-3 weeks|
|4 months||5-6 weeks|
|7 months||8-10 weeks|
|1 year||3 months|
|3 years||5 months|
|6 years||7-8 months|
Now, those are pretty average estimates. Most people will tell you that it takes much less time than that to get back to their old state.
Bulk Hard, Eat Lots of Protein, Take a Multivitamin, Sleep
If you’re on that path to getting back to your old self, don’t limit yourself.
Your body can’t grow all that muscle back out of thin air.
I recommend dirty bulking, eating a ton of protein, sleeping like a baby, and supplementing with a good multivitamin.
Since your body will be growing all that muscle back much faster, it will need a lot more supplies to work with. If you don’t give it that food, protein, vitamins, and sleep- you will never get back to your old self in time.
Conclusion of Muscle Memory How Long Does It Take To Get Back?
For most people, it will take just a few weeks to a few months. If you’ve even been out of the gym for years, it will likely only take a few months of serious training.
Good luck out there, and tell me in the comments below how long it took you to get all that muscle back! I will add your response to the chart above!