Making the body work as efficiently as possible is the goal of muscle activation techniques (MAT). These techniques were originated in the USA. Their objective is to detect and solve muscular imbalances.
Perhaps the most interesting part and what makes it radically different is the concept of muscular imbalance.
Muscle activation does not seek to reduce tension in taut muscles, loaded, or contracted, but something very different.
What do muscle activation techniques consist of?
The starting point is the study of the nervous system and its relationship with the musculature.
In short: the problem is usually in those muscles that do not connect with the nervous system as they should. This causes other muscles to tighten more.
From this point of view, it is a unique approach. All other therapies, techniques, or programs that I know of understand tension as a problem.
In reality, tension is the solution that the nervous system finds to a problem, but not the problem itself, according to neurophysiology experts.
The first thing the specialist will do is to evaluate the ranges of motion. A telltale sign of an imbalance is usually when you can do a certain movement better with one side than the other (lifting an arm, turning the trunk, tying your shoelaces, etc.).
To correct these imbalances, specific palpations or exercises with very low intensities in specific positions for each muscle are performed. However, this is only the beginning.
It is essential to include these exercises and other specific strengthening drills for these areas in your training program to keep the muscles connected and stronger.
This is the only way to ensure that the problem will not happen again.
Muscle activation techniques: Who is it for?
If you have not exercised for a long time but are determined to do so, it is advisable to go through a muscle activation session.
You will possibly save yourself from future problems. If you already exercise, and you notice that there are areas of your body that don’t work the same or that you tend to overload certain muscles, you may have an imbalance to solve.
Honestly, it is not normal for certain muscles to always be tense for people who have chronic contractures. Your body is probably compensating for an imbalance.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is my neck, back, or another muscle strained too often?
- Am I one of those people who injures the same area over and over again?
Most of these problems are due to imbalances in your neuromuscular system, which can be corrected with muscle activation techniques.
As mentioned earlier, muscle activation techniques started in 2001 by Greg Roskopf who, after more than 15 years of work and research, revolutionized many approaches related to muscle imbalances and muscle-joint injury mechanisms.
The main goal of muscle activation is to balance the neuromuscular system, the correct communication between the central nervous system and the muscles.
These techniques are based on identifying and balancing muscular imbalances to improve and make muscular action more efficient.
Other conventional therapies focus on the areas where muscle tension takes place (or where the patient feels pain). The opposite is true for muscle activation techniques, in which muscle tension and pain are understood and treated as a symptom rather than the cause of the problem.
For MAT techniques, muscle tension is a protective response to muscle weakness. Let’s take an example:
Imagine that one of the muscles that help perform neck flexion is weakened. The central nervous system will notice that instability and order the other muscles, which act in the neck flexion also, to tighten and protect the neck from the detected instability.
In this case, it will be recommended to stretch the tensed muscle. This is good to a certain extent; however, if the instability at the origin of the injury is not localized and balanced, the musculature will become tense again.
If the root cause of the problem gets corrected, the body will gain stability and balance, which causes immediate relaxation of the tight musculature, as it no longer needs to protect the joint where instability previously existed.
The result is an improvement in stability and joint mobility. With other traditional therapies, mobility can be increased, although if muscle weakness persists, the body will continue to feel the need to protect itself, and the musculature will tighten again.
A structural weakness does not necessarily imply that the muscle is structurally weak; it is also possible that there is poor communication between the muscle and the brain, which is called muscular inhibition.
The human body, contrary to what many may think, is intelligent. When it detects a repetitive behavior or gesture that may lead to injury, it “disconnects” overused muscles, reducing their contractile capacity as if it were a computer.
In all these situations, the musculature must have adequate rest; otherwise, certain muscle groups’ inhibition may occur.
Long-term inhibition can lead to injuries such as osteoarthritis or tendonitis. If the muscles cannot adequately stabilize the joints, then there will be excessive wear and tear on the joint surfaces with the risk of osteoarthritis.
The same applies to prolonged over-strain; there is a high risk of tendonitis. Let’s take an easy example: imagine a machining company. There are 5 laborers who work efficiently and 3 who don’t work at the same pace.
As the company has to produce results, to keep it afloat, the 5 efficient laborers must do their work plus the work that the 3 “lazy” workers don’t.
As a result, the 5 efficient workers are burdened with stress. What is the solution? Sending those 5 workers to a spa to relax may be fine, but if their three inefficient colleagues continue performing poorly, they will be stressed again as soon as they return to work.
The real solution is to get all employees to do their jobs. MAT techniques readjust the communications between inhibited musculature and the central nervous system to achieve efficient muscular function.
Understanding muscle activation techniques (MAT) method
We have explained the MAT method in a very simplified way. In reality, it includes many more ranges and factors and is much more complete. So much that there are only 11 certified muscle activators in the USA.
As this is a new technique, many athletes are not clear about using it: Is it useful for injury rehabilitation, for high-performance sports, for any athlete to avoid injury? Muscle activation is optimal for everything.
Ideally, it would be best if you did not wait for the pain to appear and take your body “for a check-up,” as you do with a car, from time to time to obtain a strong and connected structure; in this case, the MAT method can also help to prevent injuries.
For a competitive athlete, this method will help him optimize his actions: thanks to a better connection between muscle and nervous system, his responses will be faster, and his muscular action much more precise and efficient.
For an injured athlete suffering from structural damage, muscle activation helps stabilize the joints with the correct neuromuscular balance, speeding up the recovery process and preventing relapses.
In case you’re wondering how muscle activators manage to detect and correct muscle weakness. The method has 4 steps:
1. Assessment through joint ranges
The first thing a muscle activator does is look for joint weaknesses. This is done by comparing both sides of the body to look for asymmetries, i.e., looking at the range of motion of symmetrical joints (e.g., right and left shoulder).
One of the muscles surrounding the joint with the lower range of motion may suffer from weakness.
In reality, the process is more complex since it is possible that two joints have a similar range of motion, and one hides a weakness because it has reached that position with the help of other muscles that should not have so much weight in that particular muscle action.
Often, by performing a range of motion can the inhibited musculature be activated, as these are movements that require to be performed with a lot of control.
Try these 3 range of motion exercises to see if you have any weakened muscles:
- Lateral spine tilt greater to the right
- Hip rotation better on the second side
- Spinal rotation better to the left side
2. Strength testing
Once the weak side is located, a test is performed on the side with less articular range to ensure that it hides weakened muscles.
The specialist will repeat the angle with less mobility and perform an opposite, continuous, medium intensity force.
If the person can’t hold it, it means the first weakness has been found; if, on the other hand, he/she can hold it for 3 seconds, it means that there is no weakened musculature around that joint.
This lower range of motion may be due to an inhibition in another joint’s musculature because the body comprises muscle chains related to each other.
3. Muscle readjustment (palpation/isometrics)
There are two ways to perform the neurological adjustment: by a type of isometric contractions and palpation.
Readjustment through isometrics is performed with isometric contraction work (without movement) at a very low intensity and in a range of mobility somewhat less than the maximum that could be reached.
Between 5 and 7 repetitions are performed, maintaining the contraction for 5-6 seconds.
Working the isometric readjustment with low intensity is one of the keys for the neuromuscular system to gain a sense of stability in this area of the contractile range, which leads to an improvement of its contractile capabilities throughout its range of motion.
Performing concentric contractions, such as those commonly performed in fitness centers, will cause the stronger musculature to become stronger and the weaker musculature to remain weak.
Readjustment by palpation requires less effort on the patient and a greater degree of knowledge on the muscle activator.
The therapist must see on the test which muscles are weakened and which part must be palpated to activate them.
4. Re-evaluation through articular ranges
Finally, the test is performed again. If the result is correct, there has been an increase in the muscle contractile capacities and, therefore, an increase in joint stability, an increase in mobility, and a decrease in muscle tension.