How are MAT Isometrics Different From Regular Isometric Exercises?
Isometric exercises are used regularly in the health and fitness industry. Common examples of isometrics are Planks and wall sits. As Medical and Exercise professionals, it is important to identify how these types of exercises are vastly different to Muscle Activation Techniques® (MAT®) isometrics.
What is the goal of exercise? Often it's to burn calories, improve strength and endurance, or "work" the core. There may be some overlap and these are, of course, valuable options but they aren’t exactly the goal of an MAT isometric.
What Is The Goal Of MAT Isometrics?
Doing MAT isometrics can have multiple goals. This includes:
- An improved range of motion
- Joint stability
- Decreased pain
- Exercise recovery
- And increased strength
While these may seem similar to "traditional goals of exercise" mentioned above ― they are quite different in practice and the mechanism by which they work.
What Are The Characteristics Of MAT Isometrics?
The MAT isometrics have extremely specific characteristics:
1) Biased to emphasize a specific muscle
2) Performed in a shortened range for a given muscle
3) Performed at low intensity
4) Narrow focus on recruiting slow-twitch muscle fibers
In order to bias a muscle, you have to understand how it works. The MAT program teaches a much deeper level of understanding of muscle function than just learning the names, where they attach, and their primary function.
For example, the pec major has three divisions, each with a unique angle of pull and different functions based on their attachments. This may be noticeable in traditional weight training, where performing a traditional front raise with a dumbbell will use the clavicular fibers of the pec, whereas the costal and sternal divisions will be recruited during a decline press. This knowledge is expanded upon to teach how to create maximal shortening of each muscle (a key to identifying muscle weakness).
MAT has unique isometric exercises for all 270 muscles created in this way. The MAT Specialist is taught a high level of muscle function and a toolbox to help people strengthen from toes to necks and everything in between.
Using our understanding of muscle function we can perform exercises in these maximally shortened positions. Taking the pec major as an example, we would perform the exercise fully horizontally adducted, internally rotated, and in the direction of the division of the pec major of your choosing.
Why Would We Do This?
- First of all, performing isometrics this way is the most neurological weak position and by strengthening in this position we can eliminate this weak point.
- Secondly, this helps to create the ability for the muscle to contract optimally through its full range of motion.
One of the greatest benefits of these exercises is they have a carryover effect through a greater range of motion. Meaning if the exercise is performed in one position there is a 15 degree neurological gain on each side of the exercise for a total of 30 degrees of strengthening.
How Does This Work?
Muscles have little sensory devices called muscle spindles which give feedback to the central nervous system about length changes in the muscle. Therefore we are performing these exercises in an effort to improve the sensitivity of the muscle spindles to better communicate changes in length and thus improving contractile efficiency. This is ideally done in the maximally shortened position because this is where muscles are most likely to exhibit weakness. If you want your clients to be strong and mobile applying this concept is key to improving their lives.
Low Intensity Is Key!
You wouldn’t teach calculus to a kindergartener, so why teach advanced exercises to muscles that have had years of weakness and dysfunction? They need some simple math before you can progress them to advanced exercises. This is done with low intensity and short duration because we want to stimulate the slow-twitch muscle fibers.
It is slow-twitch muscle fibers that are vital for control, stability, and posture that become weakened over time and cannot respond appropriately if not first progressed from this fundamental level. This simple stimulation is why the MAT specialist is often able to create dramatic changes in posture, strength, range of motion in a very short time.
This is incredibly important to the client because they can be taught to use the low-intensity isometrics on their own to create and reinforce the changes.
What Is Muscle Activation Techniques?
Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT) is a revolutionary approach to the assessment and correction of muscular imbalances, joint instability, and limitations in range of motion of the body. MAT is used to help assess muscle strength and mobility. This technique was designed to address and correct different muscular issues and muscle imbalances that affect people of all ages and lifestyles. MAT is non-invasive and designed to balance the body’s musculoskeletal system.
Written By: Joshua Lewbel
MS MAT Master/Full Body Rx Specialist
Owner - Elite Muscle Mechanics
"I have spent my lifetime learning and searching for the best ways to improve how the body functions. This started when I was 12 years old and wanted to be able to shoot a basketball from farther out and jump higher. I've been using my education to try and help others since 2000. I've worked as a personal trainer, fitness director, strength and conditioning specialist, and educator but I found my passion as a Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT) Specialist. My own injuries plague my high school and collegiate athletic careers led me to seek out specialists from chiropractic, massages and physical therapy. But, the results I received after working with an MAT Specialist in 2004 were above and beyond anything I had experienced. My passion as an MAT Specialist comes from the knowledge I have received from that program and the results I have been able to achieve using it. It is my mission to bring MAT to as many people as possible so they can continue to enjoy their favorite activities."