Barbell Shrugged

The new science of muscle memory

Doug Larson


  • Thanks for the article, breaking it down Barney style for the less eduacted! good work brother!

  • Awesome! This definitely breathes new life into the discussion and makes even more sense how previous high level athletes quickly regain a desirable body composition and “lost” ability. So cool!!! Thanks!

  • This is really fascinating! A few questions:
    (1) How much weightlifting and training is required to build new myonuclei?
    (2) Are there training methods that build myonuclei faster than others?
    (3.a) Assuming that the number of myonuclei a muscle fiber can contain is limited by the size of the muscle fiber, do we know the maximum ratio of myonuclei to muscle size? (3.b) I’m not sure how a muscle fiber is measured, by volume?

    • Hi Nancy. These are great questions! Nobody really has all of these answers at the moment, but I’ll give them a shot. 1) There is something called a ‘myonuclear domain ceiling’. Resistance training causes your muscle cells to hypertrophy, at which point the myonuclear domain (volume that each nuclei is responsible for) gets bigger. At some point more nuclei must be added for continued and sustained growth. If the myonuclear domain gets 20-30% larger (in animal models), then new nuclei must be added. 2) This in unknown. But, I would guess that resistance exercise for hypertrophy would cause the fastest myonuclear accretion. Also, anabolic steroid use has been shown to significantly increase myonuclear content, but this is a whole another topic… 3a) Like I mentioned, after the muscle cell grows by 20-30%, it looks like new nuclei must be added to sustain that growth. Also, slow twitch fibers have more nuclei per volume (i.e. smaller myonuclear domain) compared to fast fibers. This is because slow fibers have a faster rate of protein synthesis, but this is also a whole another topic… 3b) Yes, fibers are generally measure by volume (um3) and myonuclear domain is also measured in volume. But, they can also be measured by cross sectional area (CSA, um2). I hope this helps! These might be good topics to discuss in future articles, eh?

  • Awesome article, having just returned from 6 months out of training whilst travelling I beat myself up pretty bad when I retested my 1RM’s and now have noodles for legs. Been training again for 2 months now and have gained 1 lb per week and I’m almost back where I was before I left off, so this makes perfect sense. Just wish I’d read this before I went so I could have relaxed a bit more!

    • I would say the same. Wish I knew what I know now a lot earlier on. Saves massive headaches, eh? 🙂

  • Excellent article! I do have a question, however: does the preservation of myonuclei only count for disuse atrophy or is this theory also applicable to starvation atrophy (since these are distinct pathways)?

    Thanks in advance!


    • Interesting question! I’m not sure that there is a clear answer at the moment. But, I would assume the the preservation of myonuclei would be desired especially in times of starvation, as energy is required to produce new nuclei. Myonuclear addition via satellite cells is partially controlled by the transcription factor MyoD. MyoD suppression during starvation may be one pathway that leads to atrophy. More research needs to be done on this topic, especially in humans!


  • I’m glad to see this research is finally getting the attention it deserves. We discussed this phenomenon, and cited one the early studies mentioned above, in our 2011 book, Biology for Bodybuilders (page 88). It’s an I mportant point and deserves wider understanding.

  • i trained seriously 20-22 years ago, gained 30 kgs of bulk and was close to entering local bobdyduilding comps – no steroids but was accused because I grew so quick over 12mths
    now in my late 40’s and been mostly back to my pre-bulk days weight in the 70-80kg range, whenever i hit the weights now I instantly inflate like a balloon and gain muscle mass very quickly – can put on at a rate of 2kg per week no problem

    i have always put it down to MM but only just started reading about it

    i reckon i’d be a great guinea pig or lab study for someone?


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