Training Tuesdays: Three Cheers for Muscle Memory!

We just got back from a lovely long weekend of extreme glamping.  It is my favourite kind of camping.  Nay, it is the only kind of camping that I’m really game for these days. I suppose that makes me high maintenance but, let’s be honest, I am a little bit high maintenance.  I like the fun parts of camping (campfires, campfire smell, s’mores, late night star-gazing, proximity to forest, silence, darkness) but really require the comforts of home (running water, a shower after a long hike, a proper mattress, heat). In short, tent living is not my jam.

None of this is the point of today’s post, however.  My point was that the three-day glamping mini-vacation provided the opportunity for three consecutive days of hiking, a first in well over two months!  None of the hikes were particularly challenging nor long, but all were completed without SI pain, which is also a first in well over two months.

What was also surprising and delightful was the ease with which I got back into the rhythm of swift uphill hiking. I’ve hiked a bit over the last few weeks, but it’s often been tentative out of fear that I would aggravate my SI. But after a solid week without regression, and knowing the trails were pretty moderate in distance and elevation gain, I felt more confident in pushing harder.  And it was like running into an old friend that you haven’t seen in years, but with whom conversation flows as if you’d never spent time apart.

Even though my fitness isn’t where it used to be, I thank muscle memory for kicking in and at least making my movements as efficient as possible. It’s like I don’t even have to think about the motion of hiking. I was back on autopilot and just climbing away. I’ve always felt like my muscles were made for hiking, and it turns out they are.

Muscle memory, like elephants those muscles never forget!
Muscle memory: like elephants those muscles never forget that sweet, sweet feeling of the climb.

I don’t know about you, but muscle memory is one of those things that I talk about as if I know what I’m talking about (like big data or politics) when, really, I have a cursory understanding at best. So I did some reading about good old muscle memory and learned that my muscles are made for hiking, because I made them that way!

A recent Runner’s World article provided a good, simple overview:

Muscle cells are unusual: because they’re so big compared to other cells, they have multiple nuclei within a single cell. When you strength train, your muscle cells get even bigger, so they add more nuclei. When you stop training, the muscles cells get smaller–but the new results suggested that the number of nuclei remains elevated long after the training stops. Then, when you start training again, those nuclei are already there, ready to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

I wonder how many extra nuclei have been created by my obsessive hiking in years past, all waiting there to stimulate that good, old-fashioned muscle protein synthesis.  To each of  my lingering nuclei, I’d like to offer a seriously fierce high-five for hanging on despite the odds and making my transition back into hiking feel like my last hike was only yesterday. Now if only my lungs and heart would get that memo…

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