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The Little Known Techniques You Haven't Used to Improve Your Flexibility

Muscle Activation Techniques or MAT

“MAT, never heard of it. What is it?”

Well for the sake of this blog post I’m not going to go deep down the rabbit hole of the super nerdy science behind MAT.  I’d be happy to discuss those details with anyone interested through my facebook page, email, over the phone, or in person.

What I will do is give an overview of the benefits of MAT, the thought process that guides the MAT approach, the four techniques that comprise MAT, and who I believe is a good candidate to benefit from MAT.

Let’s start off with the benefits of MAT. Working with an MAT specialist often gives a client improved range of motion, improved joint stability, improved strength, less wear and tear on the joints and connective tissues, improved recovery from intense physical activity, improved recovery from injury, as well as helping the client to have a better understanding of what exercises to do to get the most benefit, and which ones to avoid to lower chances of injury. Basically it helps you to move better and feel better. 

Next I’ll give you one version of the MAT thought process. The foundation of the MAT thought process is that muscle tightness is a symptom of muscle weakness or joint instability. Tight muscles are just doing extra work because other muscles are not creating enough force or tension to do their job at stabilizing the joints they cross. So the tight muscles are your brain’s go to protective mechanism to try to create adequate joint stability.

While this is a good intention of the subconscious workings of your brain, it can obviously back fire when you go to swing a golf club and end up straining one of the overworked tight muscles in your back due to poor flexibility.

MAT will show which joint positions are unstable and vulnerable, and which muscles aren’t doing their job to stabilize those joint positions. Once those muscles are working more optimally, those vulnerable joint positions will turn into stable controlled joint positions. Once that happens, the tight muscles will automatically relax and function normally which usually leads to significant improvements in flexibility.

Next I’ll explain the four techniques of MAT. The first 2 techniques are vital to figuring out what the root cause of the problem is, and knowing what to work on. The 3rd and 4th techniques are what we use to stimulate the muscle to work better and do its job at providing optimal joint function.

 

  1. Comparative Flexibility Assessment. The first step in an MAT session is to find out how the left side of your body moves in comparison to the right side of your body. Observing asymmetries between how one side of the body moves compared to the other leads us toward knowing what to work on. We do this with many different joint motions for every single joint in the body.
  2. Muscle Contraction Testing or Reactive Strength Testing. This step involves testing for unstable joint positions that are controlled by the muscles involved with the limited comparative motion assessments from step 1. These tests seek to show if a muscle can contract immediately with adequate force to maintain joint stability and maintain that contraction for at least 2 seconds.
  3. Low Intensity Isometric Contraction. This is one method for activating better muscle function. If a muscle failed a test from step 2, we would put the limb or body in a position where the targeted muscle was in its shortest position then create a series of light muscle contractions (about 10 to 20 percent effort) for 5 to 10 seconds, rest for 5 seconds, and repeat that at least 5 times. After doing that we would repeat step 2 and retest the strength reaction of the muscle. If it now tests strong or passes the test, then we move on to the next muscle or position.
  4. Palpation of Muscle Attachment Sites. An alternative to the isometric contractions from step 3 is for the MAT specialist to use their fingers to palpate the attachment sites of the muscles. This sensory input gives the brain a stimulus to communicate better to the intended muscle. After palpation we return to step 2 and retest the reactive strength of that muscle. If it tests strong, we move on to the next muscle or position.

 

Who is an ideal candidate for MAT?  I’ve personally worked with a client as young as 12 who was getting over some minor injuries from playing soccer, and a client as old as 65 who was recovering from knee replacement surgery. My most common clients though are between 35 to 55 years old and are trying to avoid injury and wear and tear on their bodies while still enjoying their demanding physical activities such as golf, cycling, strength training, tennis, dancing, running, hiking, etc.

The other common clients I get are coming back from an injury and need to bridge that transition from the treatment they received from their doctor, physical therapist, or chiropractor to safely getting back into their exercise routine. 

DISCLAIMER: I would say the people that are not good candidates for MAT are people that have severe or recent injuries such as tears, fractures, breaks, sprains, or fresh off surgery. Also as the name states MAT is MUSCLE activation techniques. If the root cause of the problem with the body isn’t directly related to the muscle system, then MAT isn’t likely to help.

 

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5 Classified Top Secrets To An Effective Workout Program

What are the 5 super complicated top secrets behind effective workout programs? Well my friends, only the CIA and yours truly know what they are, and I’m sworn to secrecy.

Well they aren't exactly classified secrets at all really. They are actually simple and sensible concepts if you think about it. These concepts apply whether you are doing weight training, cardio, Yoga, Pilates, hiking, or even Zumba.

The problem is too many people don't think about it. They go through the motions and assume that just because they throw on their Lululemons,

 

 show up at the gym or yoga studio, get sweaty, and feel some muscle burn, that they will lose body fat, build toned muscles, and be blessed with the all mighty thigh gap.  

Sorry ladies and gentlemen, but it doesn't work that way. That leads me to secret #1.

Secret #1-  Make a comprehensive workout plan

 Without a specific plan for how to accomplish your goals, how do you realistically expect to get anywhere? What if you showed up at college and your professors didn't have any curriculum or course materials planned. Yes there is room for improvisation, but you still need some form of a plan to guide your way.

  The 3 main parts of your workout plan will be:

1.     Where to start

2.     Progression Steps

3.     Back up plans

The first part of your plan that is extremely important is knowing where to start. It can be a good idea to start off with a plan that is not too challenging. You can ease your body into learning good technique, preparing your muscles and connective tissues for new physical stresses. Over time you can keep making incremental changes to your plan to make it appropriately more challenging.

On the other hand if you make your fitness plan too hard at the start, the worst case scenario is that you risk injury and being unable to continue your plan. At the very least you risk being excessively sore, developing bad habits with poor exercise technique, and sacrificing the quality of the next workout just to suffer through the current one. It’s much easier to slowly step out to the edge of a cliff, than to get back once you’ve jumped off into midair.

 

The best method of figuring out where to start is going through a personalized comprehensive fitness assessment with a qualified professional. In absence of being assessed by a professional, here are some categories of assessments you can use to assess yourself.

1.     Range of Motion or ROM Assessments

2.     Strength Assessments

3.     Balance Assessments

4.     Endurance Assessments

For more detailed information about assessments you can do on yourself, check out my youtube channel www.youtube.com/channel/UCg2CRxVasjWGCb-H4gIZxPw or email me at [email protected] for more info. 

The second part of your plan is progression, the stepping stones to your success. If you keep doing the same workout over and over again for weeks, months, or years, you are not going to see results because you are not progressing. On the other hand if you have too much random variety with no thought behind why, there’s a strong possibility that you won’t have great long term progress.

Planned progression for a novice exerciser should take place every week. You need to plan in what aspects of your fitness you are going to progress by challenging yourself to do better each week.

How do you plan on nudging your progress another step each week? Will you….

 lift more weight

do more reps

do more sets

rest less between sets

move faster to build speed and power

move slower for more time under muscle tension

run further, faster, or at a higher incline

hold your yoga poses longer or try a more advanced pose variation

 

The third part of your plan is having a plan B for various circumstances. What strategic changes do you make when:

….your schedule gets screwed up and you can’t make it to the gym or yoga studio?

…..you’re on vacation

….. coming back after being sick

….. working around a sprained ankle

…..sleep deprived

…..super stressed out and not focusing well

 

Plan B could be a regression workout, meaning the difficulty or work load has to be reduced due to you not feeling your best. Plan B could also be an alternative workout due to not having access to your normal workout environment and equipment.

Once you have your plan set up, the next step is to start executing it, and that is where secret #2 comes in.

Secret #2- Consistency

Consistency or workout frequency is a huge key to success with your fitness goals. If you aren't putting the time in on a regular basis, the body will not adapt and change.

That is why as kids we go to school five days a week. That is why anyone wanting to become fluent in a language or learn an instrument will need to put in daily focused practice. You need to be consistent to stimulate progress

There is no black and white rule of thumb on how many days per week you absolutely have to workout to see results. Some people can see results working out 2 times per week, and some people have to workout practically every day, but most of us fall somewhere in the middle and benefit the most from 3 to 4 days per week.

That doesn't mean every day your workout is the same intensity or the same type of workout. All it means is that a certain amount of work and progress is required by the body to change over time. If you look at elite athletes, dancers, musicians, and other people that have strived to achieve self mastery in a specialty, they do so by working on it very frequently, not just one day per week. Working out doesn't have to take a lot of time each day depending on what your goals are, it can even be as short as 10-20 minutes at a time, but it has to be done on a regular basis.

The next secret is integral to having the mindset that will inspire you to execute your plan on a consistent basis. Shall we take a look at secret #3?

Secret #3- Passion and Positive Attitude

 In my 16 years of experience in the fitness industry, I can say with 100% certainty that I’ve never witnessed anyone out train a negative attitude. People that are negative about various aspects about the fitness journey whether it is the investment of time, the physical discomfort, the sacrifices required, or the physical energy required, don’t seem to succeed compared to people that embrace the journey with a positive mental attitude.

Passionate people excel. Indifferent people stagnate. If you don't embrace your fitness journey with a positive attitude and passion you will not succeed at the same level as someone who is fired up. Going through the motions doesn't stimulate the muscles, brain, metabolism and hormone production in the same way that being passionate and positive about your workouts and performance improvements does.

If you’re the type of person that doesn’t have the competitive spirit, doesn’t get the runners high, doesn’t get the post workout endorphin rush in the gym,

  

my advice for you would be to start experimenting with different types of exercise methods, or other types of physical hobbies that might bring you more enjoyment.

Take up:

Dancing

Cycling

Parkour

Hiking

Swimming

Kayaking

Tai Chi

 

Finding physical activity and exercise methods that make you look forward to get moving and work towards progressive improvement consistently is a crucial strategy for maintaining your passion and positive attitude through the ups and downs of your fitness journey.

Secret #4 is the next step in staying inspired to keep busting your butt on your plan regularly without losing your positive mojo.

Secret #4- Support

While there are people that do fine with the lone wolf approach, most people’s chances of fitness success go up substantially by having a better circle of support in their life. As humans we like to think of ourselves as so independent and unique, but we are herd animals and we tend to gravitate to the standards set by the people we’re around most of the time.

This could include:

Workout partners that make the workout more fun and social

A fitness professional that holds you accountable

Family that cheers you on while you’re working towards your goals

A nutrition support group

 

If the current people in your life aren’t doing a great job of supporting you towards your fitness goals, you might try having a heart to heart talk with them about how much it would mean to you if they could be more supportive. If that isn’t working, then you might try widening your social circle and make some new friends that are also trying to improve their situation.

 

 

You can often get a huge built in support system by joining a group training class such as:

 

kickboxing

yoga

crossfit

bootcamp

pilates

zumba

spinning

 

Not all options will be right for you, so take the opportunity to try out several to see which one resonates with you the most. What class, trainer or support structure makes you feel comfortable and inspired to execute your plan, break through your road blocks, and keep striving to be your best even when you don’t feel like it?

Once you’ve found the support system or combination of systems that resonate with you and get you on track, focus on secret #5 to make sure you stay on track and don’t get tempted by shiny things that threaten to distract you from you plan.

Sectret #5- Patience

Patience- Patience is vital and here is why. One of the very common scenarios I see as a fitness professional, who has worked with hundreds of people over the years, is that many people are in such a rush to see instant results that they quickly become discouraged with the program they are on and completely give up and quit or they keep jumping from one program to the other without ever giving it enough time to work.

 I’m not saying people should always stay with a fitness program no matter what. There is a big difference between quitting a program because you don’t feel it is safe for you or that it isn’t sustainable in the long term, compared to quitting a program because you think some other program is the magic bullet that will lead you to quick and easy results.

As a beginner, if you have a quality plan that you are following consistently, you should see improvements in strength, endurance, coordination, and flexibility in your first month. These qualities should continue to improve consistently until reaching a more intermediate or advanced level of fitness which will take years to reach.

Noticeable improvements in weight loss, muscle mass, muscle tone, fat loss, posture, how your clothes fit or how you look naked in the mirror are more likely to occur over the course of 6 to 12 months.

 Truly dramatic transformations done in a healthy and sustainable way usually occur over the course of 1 to 3 years.

These timelines are based on assumptions of people spending an average of 2 to 4 hours per week exercising, with little to no other physical activity, and some focused improvements in their nutrition and lifestyle. There are exceptions, but these often due to more extreme changes to your nutrition habits, higher than average time spent exercising, and other lifestyle habits such as sleep, water intake, stress management, alcohol consumption, etc.

 

Putting it all together

Now that you know what the 5 top super secrets are, think about how they all fit together as integral pieces of your fitness puzzle. If you were to rank yourself on a scale of 1 to 3 (1 needs a lot of improvement, 2 not bad but could use improvement, 3 kicking ass on this), in regards to your

Plan 1-2-3

Consistency 1-2-3

Support 1-2-3

Passion and Positive Attitute 1-2-3

Patience 1-2-3

 How would you rank in each category? Pick your worst category and spend a month focusing on improving that one area. Once you’ve improved in that area, spend a month focusing on the next area you’re lacking in. If you commit to doing that over the course of 5 to 6 months, I think you’ll see a dramatic difference in your fitness habits and the results that you get. 

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Best 4 warm up exercise progressions for people with tight back muscles

Everyone's situation is unique with the status of their muscular system in combination with their skeletal structure. In my experience I have found some warm up or prep exercises that give most people great bang for their buck in stabilizing the trunk or torso before a workout and reducing the risk of back flare up during a workout. Here are some great general recommendations for Muscle Activation Technique inspired prep exercises for tackling muscle tightness in the trunk and spine. 

1A. Side bend 1B. Side bend with spinal extension bias 1C. Side bend with spinal flexion bias

 

These exercises can be done using a cable machine or a resistance band. Use a light amount of resistance, approximately 20 to 40 lbs. Hold each position for 10 to 15 seconds, rest for 5 seconds in between, and do 6 to 10 repetitions. 

2A. Trunk rotation 2B. Trunk rotation with extension bias 2C. Trunk rotation with flexion bias

These exercises can be done using a cable machine, a resistance band, or pushing against an immovable object like a wall or doorway. Use a light amount of resistance, approximately 10 to 20 lbs. Hold each position for 10 to 15 seconds, rest for 5 seconds in between, and do 6 to 10 repetitions. 

3A. Dual crunch 3B. Single leg dual crunch

 

These exercises can be done with no resistance or resistance can be added by using a band around the ankle(s), and holding a weight in your hands. Hold the position for 10 to 15 seconds, rest for 5 seconds, and repeat for 6 to 10 repetitions.

4A. Birddogs 4B. Iron Mans 4C. Supermans

No added resistance is needed for these exercises. Hold the position for 10 to 15 seconds, rest for 5 seconds, repeat for 6 to 10 repetions. 

 

 

 

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Strength Assessment

weights-652486_640.jpg

If you're brand new to resistance training, and plan on using weight training as a means to achieve increases in strength, power, muscle mass, fat loss, endurance, speed, or other physical performance improvements, use the chart below to estimate your starting weight at a given rep count. The rep ranges you'll use regularly in your workouts will depend on the specific circumstances of what your goals, abilities, and limitations are. 

For beginners, in the name of safety, I would recommend slowly ramping up over a few months to a 5 to 10 repetition max to start with, and use that as your initial base strength measurements. This shouldn't necessarily be done in a single workout. There's a huge benefit for beginners to stick with light weights and higher reps at first to prepare their tissues for the more strenuous workouts to come, as well as build a solid foundation of consistent good technique. 

After 6 to 12 months if your technique is solid, you're not getting overly sore from basic workouts anymore, you've been consistent with training, and are making weekly strength gains  then you can consider trying to test a conservative 1 to 4 rep max.

Just remember strength training is a marathon, not a sprint. It's a life long endeavor and should be approached with patience, intelligence, and respect. It's capable of giving you an immensely profound transformation for the better if used wisely. On the other hand if approached recklessly with too much ego and too little sense, it can injure or even cripple you and cause life long suffering. 

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact me through email or the Bellevue Fitness Training facebook page. 

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Missing your shoulder pump while injured, this circuit may work for you!!!

After beating up on my shoulders and experiencing a minor injury doing Jiu Jitsu, I thought I would have to take several weeks off from doing a shoulder workout. Three days later I did a workout using the resistance band shoulder exercises you will see in the video below.  I felt the good kind of muscle burn and a bit of a muscle pump for those of you that speak gym lingo, but no pain or discomfort. I've also used this circuit with great success with several of my personal training clients that have sensitive or inflamed shoulders. If anyone has any specific questions about how to do any of the exercises, feel free to leave your questions in the comments section or email me, and I'd be happy to give you some cues on how to properly do the shoulder exercises. 

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