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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.