Spring Sports: How to Avoid Injury As You Increase in Activity
As a continuation of Greg Roskopf's published work, here is a piece about preparing the body for an increase in activity levels...
"It’s that time of the year in the Rockies. The weather is getting nice and spring sports are swinging back into action. Athletes indulge themselves in various athletic outdoor activities such as spring skiing, cycling, marathons, triathlons, golf, etc.
This increase in activity can come with a price. For many athletes, it brings increased potential for injury. We are most familiar with how injuries occur due to factors outside the control of the athlete. An example is a sprained ankle or damaged knee when an athlete lands awkwardly.
However, there are also many injuries that occur because the body was not properly prepared for this increase in sport-specific repetitive movements (i.e. golf swing, tennis stroke, ski-related movements, etc.).
Often, athletes will experience sprains or strains that could have been prevented with a bit better preparation. We believe that through proper training and preventative maintenance of the body, an athlete should be able to enter into the spring season without the risk of injury.
Does Stretching Help or Hurt?
Let's ask ourselves, what is proper training? How do we prepare our body for athletic competition or significantly more intense activities? Many people believe that the best way to prepare for activity and prevent injury is to increase flexibility through stretching.
The concept of stretching being a precursor to exercise has been advocated to all of us but most prominently to those of us older than age 15. To a degree, this thought process continues to be prominent in the health and fitness industry even today.
The premise behind stretching is that we must stretch prior to activity in order to loosen up our tense muscles and in turn, to prevent injuries from occurring. If this premise was infallible we would need to ask ourselves why are there still such a high number of athletes are still getting injured using stretching modalities prior to activity?
Maybe now is the perfect time to explore an alternative. The MAT® philosophy leverages an entirely different thought process.
Spring Into Action
Muscle Activation Techniques® (MAT) has taken a different approach to preparing the body for athletic performance. We look at muscle tightness as being an indicator of muscular contractile inefficiency (MAT considers this a state of muscle weakness) and that by stretching, we may be violating the body’s natural protective mechanism.
Think about it, neurologically, when the body recognizes instability, muscles will tighten up to protect itself. It’s like when we walk on ice; our body will instinctively tighten up in order to protect itself from falling due to the unstable surface. This is just one of the body’s many instinctive control mechanisms.
The MAT premise is that in the same manner, when the body recognizes instability due to muscle weakness, other muscles will tighten up to compensate and create an artificial sense of stability (muscle tightness).
Conventional forms of therapy recognize muscle tightness as the primary problem, thus, they look to reduce muscle tightness through various stretching techniques. The foundation to the development of MAT adopts the opposite thought process.
MAT looks at muscle tightness as being secondary to muscle weakness. The thought process is: if we violate the body’s protective mechanism (stretching) without correcting the problem (weakness), then we may be increasing the risk of injury due to instability.
Based upon this thought process, MAT combined with proper strength training, provides the ultimate program for sports training and conditioning.
A Muscle Activation Technique session with a Certified MAT Specialist is designed to determine where an athlete has muscular imbalances, or “weak links.” We work to isolate these weak muscles because we believe that they are the root cause of muscle tightness.
For example, if you were out skiing all day and you notice your quads were getting tight, an MAT assessment could find that the sensation of tightness in your quads is actually due to weakness (muscular contractile inefficiency) in your hamstring muscles.
Jumpstart Your Muscles
Through a very precise process, the Certified MAT Specialist will activate or “jumpstart” the weak muscles. By jump-starting the weak muscles, MAT restores the neurological connection between the brain and the respective muscle.
In turn, this provides the body with stability through the full range of motion of the muscle that was activated. In a way, this would be analogous to "melting the ice" and eliminating the protective restrictions that the body previously placed on itself. The end result for the MAT customer is that the tight muscles no longer sense the need to protect. In this case, the athlete gains mobility combined with a sense of stability throughout the new found range of motion.
Keeping with our skiing example, after restoring the neurological connection (contractile efficiency) to your hamstrings, tightness in your quads will likely decrease (or be eliminated) because the body no longer senses the need to compensate.
Now, having an understanding of what MAT is, you will find that this is contrary to what happens with various stretching techniques. Most forms of stretching provide mobility, however, nothing is done to provide strength or stability through the new found range of motion. By increasing mobility without the stability component, the end result is an increased range of motion that likely is not stable.
In our experiences with MAT, when an athlete moves through an unstable range during athletic performance, they become more vulnerable to injury. This is why many people tighten back up after they stretch. At MAT we have seen that until the body recognizes a sense of stability, it will continue to try to protect itself from injury by tightening back up.
Get In To Get Back To What You Love
To maintain the strength and mobility provided by an MAT session, a proper training program incorporating a dynamic mobility and stability training system is optimal. This type of training program is designed to reinforce the work of the MAT practitioner.
When thinking about your next training session, we recommend that you begin with dynamic mobility exercises, these help to reinforce the neurological control of the muscle(s).
An MAT assessment identifies weak muscles and uses specific corrective exercises to jumpstart weak muscles. This highly individualizes a personal training program to help the athlete reinforce their strength and stability levels.
As Spring nears and spring sports are on the horizon ensure that your body is prepared for optimal performance with a lower risk for injury!
Want to learn more about how to get certified in MAT? Let's get connected today!