This week, I want to dive headfirst into this discussion of, “What is Muscle Activation Techniques®?”. Specifically, I want to discuss what the number one goal of MAT® is and why achieving that goal is important.
But, in order to understand what MAT® is, we need to first understand how it began. MAT® was developed by Greg Roskopf and has been taught since the early 2000’s. Greg has his world corporate headquarters south of Denver where he is a consultant to many of professional sports teams in the area as well as many high-level individual athletes.
Early on in Greg’s career, he recognized that many people have asymmetrical motion between the right and left sides of their body. For example, somebody may be able to lift their left arm all the way up but only lift their right arm part of the way. Now, his original training had him focusing on stretching the side that didn’t move as well. This is a concept that I am sure many people are familiar with, where if your muscles feel really tight you try to stretch them to help get your joints moving better and loosen the muscles up.
However, Greg soon became introduced to this idea of muscle testing where a practitioner pushes on a client’s limb to see how much force they can generate. And it was from there that he started to correlate that if somebody’s shoulder or hip couldn’t move as well on one side as it could on the other, there were often muscle weaknesses that were associated with the limited side, too. Furthermore, when those weak muscles were addressed and their output improved, joint motion would improve as well.
This correlation became the basis for what is now known as the Roskopf Principle, which states that muscle tightness is secondary to muscle weakness.
Now, why this is pertinent information is because it highlights something very important, which is that so often we fall into the trap of trying to improve how our bodies move without first asking the question, “Why is it not moving well to begin with?”. And this is where MAT® steps in and starts to differentiate itself.
See, technically speaking, MAT® is a non-medical approach to systematically assess for and address muscle weaknesses. And when these weaknesses are addressed, we often see improvements in how well people can move. But, the goal of MAT®, first and foremost, is figuring out where in somebody’s body there are these weaknesses and then improving those.
Now, here’s the thing – when we are talking weakness with MAT®, we are not talking about how much somebody can bench press or how many pull-ups they can do. What we are talking about is what has been called “muscle contractile efficiency”, or the ability for a muscle or group of muscles to go from relaxed to fully contracting on demand.
In an article from the Washington Times back in 2015 about the work Greg was doing with some of the Washington Redskins, a few of the players described MAT® as a way to reinstate their “automatic muscle control”. I think this is a wonderful descriptor.
Think about this: when you go for a run, you aren’t thinking about every muscle that you are trying to use while you are running. You are just simply doing the running thing. Likewise, if you were to bend over to pick up a bag off of the floor, you aren’t thinking about everything that has to work in order for you to do that. You are just doing it. But how many times have you heard of a perfectly fit and healthy person going out for a run and then, out of nowhere, tweaking their hamstring or calf? Or how many people have bent over to pick up the bag and felt their back get thrown out?
Each of these seemingly random injuries is likely contributed to, in part, a loss of automatic muscle control for one or more of the muscles that should be helping them to do the activity. We go out for a run and we expect our body to work the way it always has. Or we bend over to pick up a bag of groceries and don’t think twice about it. Until, unbeknownst to us, the systems we were relying on fail.
That’s where Muscle Activation Techniques® can step in and make sure that those systems get back on board and stay on board so when you go out for your run or you bend over to pick something up, you don’t have to worry about randomly hurting yourself.
Now, a lot of times, losing this automatic control can be relatively asymptomatic. However, there are some early warning signs that you can tune in on to figure out if it is time for you to go see an MAT® practitioner to get your body tuned up. This is what I am planning on covering over the next couple weeks in addition to continuing the discussion of why the muscles that feel particularly tight–whether it is your low back, your hamstrings, or wherever–may not actually be the issue that needs to be addressed.
To recap, the purpose of MAT® is to figure out where you have lost this automatic muscle control–where your muscles are not able to contract on demand–and then address those issues. By improving these weaknesses, we often see that people are able to move better, are more resilient to injury, take less time to recover from their workouts, and are able to do the activities they love to do with fewer issues for longer.