The Paradigm Shift to Muscle Activation Techniques®
If you know anything about Muscle Activation Techniques® (MAT®) it's that the thought process is seemingly opposite from the traditional teachings of how to help clients move optimally and without pain. Many traditional practices focus on the symptom rather than addressing the cause of what is creating the discomfort.
What is Muscle Activation Techniques?
MAT is a non-invasive and revolutionary approach to assessing and correcting a client's muscular system. MAT Specialists examine the muscle system's role in chronic pain and injury. Practitioners of MAT seek to target the cause of the muscle weakness (a term used to explain the connection of the brain and muscle tissue when they are not communicating well) and work to bring back mobility and stability through improving the contractibility of a weak muscle.
Take lower back pain for example. Most modalities think that lower back pain comes from a multitude of starting points and while these may be true, there is another way to approach the problem...
What is Muscle Tightness Anyway?
Using lower back pain as an example, we see that lower back pain can present with an additional symptom of tight hamstrings. Some think the tight hamstrings is what is causing the back pain; however, we at MAT would look at tight hamstrings (and/or even tightness up the back) as a weakness in hip and trunk flexors (remember how we mentioned that weakness is a term we use to describe a "bad connection" between the muscles and the brain).
The tight muscles on the posterior chain are preventing the body from going into a motion that it cannot control and in this case that motion is flexion. From an MAT standpoint, by working on the muscles that move us into flexion, we can make sure those muscles are firing appropriately. By creating a more stable environment for the flexor muscles we can relieve those muscles on the opposite side (hamstrings). Once there is stability and control in the flexors, the body will not need to tighten up in the back and hamstrings.
One of the Principles of MAT is:
"The result of stress, trauma, and overuse and the resultant inflammation alters the communication between the nervous system and the muscular system. When the communication pathway is altered, the muscles can't contract efficiently which means they can't shorten effectively. When muscles can't shorten effectively the opposite muscles will not lengthen effectively thus the opposite muscles show us as being tight!"
- Greg Roskopf, 1998, 1st MAT Specialist Class
How About Muscle Weakness?
Most people with back pain think that their core is weak and that is making their back hurt (when we mention the "weak" in this case, we mean literally not strong). This could be the case but most often is not the root of the issue. However, once people start to think this is the issue, they start increasing their core exercises, adding 100 sit-ups to every workout and this can actually make the problem worse.
While weakness may be the issue, it isn't in the way you might think...no number of sit-ups and planks can turn a muscle on that neurologically isn't firing. If a muscle and the brain are not working together (if the signal between the two is "shut down"), it needs to be activated again so that the muscle can contract effectively. Turning on (in other words, help make sure the neurological connection is in place) muscles will allow more strength and stability which can often alleviate back pain.
Another Principle of MAT is:
"Wherever you see a limitation in range of motion, it's because one or more of the muscles that cross that axis relative to that motion is potentially weak."
- Greg Roskopf, 2004
Range of Motion?
This can be very similar to tightness. Oftentimes, people lose mobility when they have back pain. This can be a symptom of muscles not firing appropriately. If muscles are not firing the way they are supposed to, the body will tighten up to try to protect itself. It is the body's way of staying as stable as possible.
Think of this MAT Principle:
"When we walk on ice we have limitation in range of motion because your body is protecting itself. The natural neurological response is that when the body senses instability it tightens up as a protective mechanism. When you provide a sense of stability the body will give you all the mobility in the world. Once the ice melts, your body has stability again and the protective mechanisms go away."
- Greg Roskopf, 1998, 1st MAT Specialist Class
If we can get muscles firing neurologically, the body will give us more range to work with, i.e. better mobility through motion. We will always have the range we are stable in and if the body feels more stable in more ranges, we will have the opportunities to get into those positions.
Learn more about this topic by watching MAT's founder and developer, Greg Roskopf:
Interested in Learning More About Muscle Activation Techniques?
In partnership with Broadview College, we offer certification modules to become an MAT Specialist. Learn more about these modules by clicking here or contacting us today to learn more about becoming Muscle Activation Techniques certified!