An Overview Of The Principles Behind The Muscle Activation Technique
Muscle activation technique places an emphasis on dealing with tight muscles in a correct manner. We tend to go about relieving tightness the wrong way, by working with the muscle that is tight. This approach usually does little to prevent the muscle from becoming tight again. In other words, we are addressing the symptom itself, the tightness, and not the underlying cause.
Work The Weak Muscle And Not The Tight One - The theory behind the muscle activation technique (MAT) is quite simple. A muscle becomes tight because it is trying to compensate for a weaker muscle that is not doing its job. A muscle becomes tight in order to protect and stabilize joints, something a weaker muscle has failed to do, or contribute to. Put another way, MAT addresses muscular imbalances, and works to correct those imbalances. Our muscles work in pairs, the biceps and triceps are one pair that work together, the hamstrings and quadriceps are another working pair. When one muscle of a working pair contracts, the other muscle, the antagonist muscle, relaxes.
Our muscles contract when they feel tension. When we pull something, our biceps contract. If what we are pulling is too much of a load on the biceps, the triceps will tend to tighten up, to protect the elbow joint. Once the triceps have tightened up, pulling becomes nearly impossible. In this case, what MAT would address would be the biceps, and how to go about strengthening them.
What Muscle Imbalance Can Cause - When we have an imbalance between muscles that are supposed to work together, it can lead to a lessening of performance, it can lead to pain, and it can even lead to injury. Performance can be affected because a muscle that is a little tight will often not enable one to work the muscle pair through its normal range of motion. If you are competing in a backstroke event for example, and you normally have a slight edge over your competitors, a tight trapezius muscle, or a tight chest muscle, could reduce your range of motion by just a bit, perhaps just enough to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Certain Skills Are Required - While we've used arm and upper leg muscle pairs as an example, there are many muscle pairs in the body that work together. We may or may not feel tightness, and we may or may not be able to determine which muscles we need to work with if we should feel some tightness unless we were the top student in our anatomy class. It usually takes someone like a personal trainer, and a personal trainer that has studied MAT, to do the testing necessary to determine which muscle or muscles are going to need some work. A strength test is usually the method employed to locate the muscle that needs strengthening. The person doing the testing obviously has to be skilled in the art of not only locating the weak muscle, but also in defining a test procedure that will allow him or her to do so.
Strengthening A Muscle, And Then Measuring Success - Once the muscle has been isolated, the next step is to establish a training or exercise routine that will strengthen the muscle. A routine designed to work one muscle obviously can't be always be identical to a routine that is designed to work another, unrelated muscle. In almost all cases however, isometrics are employed as the first step, to familiarize the person being treated with how to work the muscle in question. Isometric exercises are those where one works against an immovable force, or works to keep a muscle in a static position against a resistive force. These are exercises designed to increase the strength of a muscle, while not necessarily working it over its total range of motion.
Once the muscle being worked is becoming sufficiently activated though the application of isometrics, a final set of exercises will be implemented that involve the muscle's range of motion. Weigh-lifting is one example of such an exercise. The degree of success being achieved is then evaluated by testing the strength of the muscle over its full range of motion. It should be noted that in most instances the muscle or muscles being subjected to a muscle activation technique not only become stronger, but the range of motion of those muscles may also be markedly improved.
While the muscle activation technique allows one to quantitatively measure the strength of a muscle once it has been isolated and exercised, determining the overall affect on one's muscular balance, and overall performance, tends to be a little more subjective, although when it comes to performance there are certain things that can be measured, such as the time to backstroke 100 meters. Improving one's performance, whether the goal is to make the Olympics team, or successfully climb Mt. Rainier, will more often than not involve more than a single muscle or a single set of muscles. MAT can therefore at times be a time consuming process. From all appearances however, it is a solid technique based on sound physiological principals, and worth the effort one is willing to put into it.