food and weights

Muscle Memory in Your DNA

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I just finished reading several articles on how the DNA of your muscles remember muscle growth. Essentially, your muscles are tagged with certain chemical markers. If you grow your muscles (hypertrophy)  your genes become “untagged”. If you allow those muscles to return to baseline, they remained untagged.

food and weights

Being untagged helps those muscles return to a larger size when you rebuild them. They remember how to get big. So far, this condition was tested up to 22 weeks after the muscles had returned to their original size.

Some of the articles that I read were mostly concerned with doping. That those elite athletes who used banned steroids to build muscle would have an advantage – even long after their system was back to being clean. So, short-term bans from a sport for drug use may not be effective in leveling the playing field. Honestly, that kind of concern doesn’t enter my world much, but I find the idea actually wonderful in the area of recovering from injury. For example, from an article by Keele University:

Dr. Sharples explained:

“If an athlete’s muscle grows, and then they get injured and lose some muscle, it may help their later recovery if we know the genes responsible for muscle ‘memory’. Further research will be important to understand how different exercise programmes can help activate these muscle memory genes.”

sandbag Spartan race carry
Me carrying a sandbag in a Spartan Beast in a very muddy Texas race.

About two and half years ago I joined a local CrossFit gym. I was participating in Spartan races. Spartan races are tough obstacle course races, and CrossFit offered the perfect training ground for all the things I needed for races: rope climbing, pull-ups, heavy object carries, and sled pulls. As I got through my racing season I discovered another aspect of my gym – the West Michigan Barbell Club. That is how I found Olympic Lifting, and how I found I love to lift weights.

There are very few things I enjoy more than lifting heavy things. (Interestingly my DNA says I should go more for cardio and sprints, but what can I say? I love the sounds of a barbell crashing to the floor after a big lift.) In the years I have been at the gym, I have seen people who had to stop working out for one reason or another. Sometimes it is medically related, but we are also real people. Sometimes it is just… life. A new job, a new family member, an ailing parent… all sorts of things can keep people from the gym for awhile.

It can be frustrating to work so hard at something and see all your hard earned “gains” seem to disappear. Which is why I loved this research. I think if more people knew that once you build your muscles they remain genetically changed, even if you have to stop for a time. And that hard work you did? The muscles remember.


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Sources:

Nature: Human Skeletal Muscle Possesses an Epigenetic Memory of Hypertrophy

Keele University: Study proves ‘muscle memory’ exists at a DNA level

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