Frequently Asked Questions

Hopefully this page will provide you with a brief explanation for some of the frequently asked questions by clients.

Click on any question below to reveal the answer.

What is MAT again?

Muscle activation techniques views muscle tightness in the body as a form of protection from muscle weakness that leads to joint instability.

When a muscle cannot perform its role in stabilising a joint, associated muscles may overwork and tighten.  MAT uses a system of checks and balances to find and treat these muscles and restore stability to the body with the effects of increased strength, mobility and a reduction in associated aches and pains.  This has proved to be of benefit to people from all walks of life, e.g. a faster recovery from treatment for injury, improved sports performance and ease of movement in every day living.

Benefits:

  • Increased mobility with control and ease of movement
  • Increases in stability and strength
  • Decreases in aches and pains
  • Relaxation of tight muscles

Will MAT fix my pain?

An MAT specialist will not diagnose your pain as this is not our area.

We are muscle and biomechanics specialists, our focus is on movement and ensuring the body has enough stability and support to handle the physical demands of day to day living.   The process involves identifying areas of muscular imbalance, testing for weakness and restoring strength and stability.

The associated change we are looking for is an increase in your strength and mobility and with this there is often a decrease in the painful symptom.  This does not necessarily mean you are ‘fixed’.  The relief may be from the added support and change in movement so the painful area is relieved of the stress it was under.  The body now under less stress is in a better position to heal and does the fixing post treatment.

It is important to have a consultation prior to treatment as every case needs to be individually assessed.

Is MAT just for people with injuries?

No.

People with injuries can benefit immensely but the muscle imbalances that MAT targets are there prior to injury and we often experience this as simply muscle tightness or every day aches and niggles that we put down to 'getting old'.

Therefore MAT works in respect of making everyday living easier and in maintaining your mobility and strength year on year so age becomes more of a chronological thing.  This also means injury prevention and quicker recovery between training sessions and events for fitness enthusiasts and athletes alike.  The improvements in stability and strength will also mean an improvement in training and performance.

I have been diagnosed with.... and been told there is nothing I can do, will MAT help?

Yes, it is possible if your goal is for strength and mobility and there is a muscular issue.

Every case is different but firstly MAT is a relatively new approach, especially in the UK therefore many Dr’s and practitioners are unaware of the benefits of this approach. The muscular system can act as a billboard for health in the body e.g. bloating from food or tension from emotional stress or tightness from bony and arthritic change.

As the integrity and support of the muscular system is raised it can be less susceptible or recover quicker from these various forms of stress (mechanical, chemical and emotional). We may get stuck in a cycle where something is causing the body to protect itself through tightness then due to the continued inhibition of the muscles the condition worsens causing further inhibition and so on. MAT can play a role in ensuring this cycle does not continue even if not providing a complete resolution.

Owen particularly likes it when people have exhausted other options first because you have nothing to lose :-)

I've been like this a long time can alignment really change?

Sometimes people who have been stuck in positions for years can make dramatic changes in just one session.  This can be through miss-diagnosis e.g. ‘it is arthritis because of your age’ or simply because the muscles are just waiting to be activated.  Other times change can be more gradual and where there may be bony change or the person was born that way it doesn’t change much at all. 

MAT uses range of motion as a starting point (see other sections on why)  but we are working with individual bodies and current capabilities rather than matching and imposing on the body what the ’norms’ of range of motion are or should be.  MAT addresses weakness, adds stability and the body makes the changes.  This is important in two ways:

  1. MAT is about giving you support and control in the ranges of motion you already have for freedom of movement.

  2. MAT is non-invasive treatment and is about respecting your body’s mechanisms for making it the way it is.  MAT offers the body an opportunity for change rather than imposing the way we think it should be on it.

So even in these cases where there is long term change or we were born that way, we can add support for control in existing ranges and/or stop or slow the degeneration process going further.

MAT talks of muscle tightness and I’m flexible, so can it do anything for me?

Yes it can.

The range of motion assessment that MAT uses focuses on imbalance from one side of the body compared to the other as opposed to the text book norms of joint range.   This is to highlight underlying imbalances that load stress through the body in a particular fashion and or acute injuries and their compensations when the joint tightens and moves you away from using it for protection.

The muscle tightness that MAT talks of is not just restricted to the ‘inflexible’.  Everyone can feel tight even those who can put there legs over there head!  There are many factors that contribute towards an individuals’ flexibility but imbalances and muscle tightness can be experienced by everyone who pushes their body’s current limits either in range of motion, takes too much load or pushes their body for too long.

MAT adds support and stability to the body so that you have control in the range of motion you have already got.  As the body feels more stable it appears to allow for an increase in range of motion.  Range of motion without stability is hyper mobility and can be associated with aches and pains just like the inflexible of us.

How does MAT work by isolating muscles when the body works as a whole?

The body certainly does work as a whole unit which is why it compensates so well.  As one muscle falters, associated muscles that work across the same joint but do slightly different jobs can help out but may overwork.  In some training circles it is proposed the body should be trained as an ‘integrated chain’.  This does offer another set of benefits that isolated training does not, such as the skill of orchestrating and integrating the movement of one joint with another. 

However a chain can only be as strong as its weakest link and the strong muscles may become stronger and the weak remain weak.  This is what MAT tests for and treats.  By placing a client on the table it eliminates as much as possible the supporting role that muscles play in the body as soon as we sit and stand and take our own weight.  Taking the weight off allows us to get a true picture of how one joint is moving in relation to another, identify imbalances and test for specific weaknesses.  Once these muscles are activated and normal joint function is restored, these muscles can now contribute to the benefits of integrated training and the body working as a unit.

How is MAT different from other forms of therapy e.g. chiropractic osteopathy and physiotherapy?

Muscle Activation Techniques is different from other forms of therapy because it is not focused on treating the symptom but rather the underlying muscle imbalances that may cause it.

This does not mean it is better or worse but just serves a different purpose.  For people who are in extreme pain especially from an acute injury the need for relief is the primary purpose however MAT will come in where other treatments leave off. 

For more information on this see the bridging the gap between treatment and exercise and everyday living in the who can benefit? section.

Note: when other practices do offer improvements in mobility and or a form of muscle activation; MAT uses a system of checks and balances to make sure that any time joint range of motion / mobility is increased, there is also stability and control for a lasting change.  It is this added system beyond the methods of activation that makes MAT unique and also a great adjunct to other forms of therapies and training methods.

How is MAT different from massage and stretching techniques?

Massage and stretching are often utilised in other forms of therapy where the focus is on relief of the symptomatic tight muscle by releasing and inhibiting the tension in it.  This inhibition can be observed by the release you feel but which is can also be accompanied by an initial looseness and lack of control.  Note this may have a limiting effect on strength and performance levels. 

MAT differs in that it recognises that the tight muscle may be doing a job in offering stability to that joint because surrounding muscles are already inhibited.  MAT believes the tight muscle is a protective mechanism of the body and will release on its own when stability is restored. 

Likewise the tightness may be the result of the joints’ mechanical relationship to another joint e.g. a tight shoulder due to neck or back instability.  Stretching is based on movement rather than muscle function so it does not recognise that the weakness may be on the same side as the tightness for example that a movement like hip extension may be caused by a weakness in one of the muscles contributing to hip flexion (the range of motion targeted in stretching).  This may cause the other hip flexors to tighten so restoration of stability in hip flexion can cause a release in tension and also have the effect of an increase in hip extension! 

Note: in terms of improving range of motion stretching is another form of loading the body with force (usually using own body weight) not unlike our use of weights and resistance training.  If you are accustomed to this type of loading you may make gains in this area.  But without sufficient strength and stability you may lack control in the new ranges leaving you exposed to possible injury.   MAT compliments your programme whether for rehab, fitness or sport by checking for and adding this stability.

Extra note: all responses to massage and stretch are individual and these methods have been used for many years so this is not a dismissal of benefits you may gain;   it is simply identifying the different purposes of each method.

How is the stability and strength that MAT offers different from other forms exercise?

The ‘weakness’ and instability referred to and tested for in Muscle Activation Techniques is a neurological one i.e. can the muscle ‘contract on demand’ to stabilise a joint when needed to. 

This is different from the strength and endurance developed in other forms of exercise e.g. weights, cardio, yoga, pilates and other class exercises where the focus is on either generating force through a muscle and joint for a short time with high force or an extended time through a low force via repetitive or static movement.

Although there is always crossover, the benefits you receive from these training methods will be specific to that type of training due to the law of specific adaptation to imposed demand (S.A.I.D principle) and likewise the benefits you receive for MAT. 

More on the muscle ‘weakness’ MAT tests for and treats......

A muscle operates much like your car?  Imagine a muscle is the engine (big or small) for movement, but will not go without fuel (food and ability to convert to energy) and in the case of MAT the connection to a battery (nervous system) to switch it on.  This system of regulation of muscle tension for support and movement is mostly carried out at a sub-conscious level.  Although we may consciously choose to move and focus on particular muscles we are unable to do this with all our muscles all the time.

What makes MAT unique is its use of a system of checks and balances to find and treat ‘weak’ muscles at this level.  This does not necessary mean they are unable to generate force for movement but cannot respond on demand and therefore offer stability to the joint immediately. 

This inability to regulate tension can lead to reduction in the ability to produce strength and power when needed.  You can observe this in a gym when you are able to lift more weight when supported and stabilised using a fixed machine exercise compared to free weights; or in day to day life when you cannot generate the same force and balance when walking on normal ground compared to an unstable surface such as ice. 

The inability to regulate stability and prevent you from going into positions you are not prepared for can lead to muscle spasm or tightness as the body tries to add stability immediately or injury when it cannot do this quickly enough e.g. reaching for a bag and back tweaking, likewise for a sneeze or when stepping down and missing a step you thought was there and your knee or ankle twisting or back jarring.  This level of support is different from individual to individual and can be different from day to day.  It is this level of support that MAT tests and treats whether for rehabilitation, every day living or performance.   

Note the focus and intention of using exercise to introduce stability such as abdominal bracing and drawing in the belly button can certainly help when training under used muscles and when adopted as a habit.   The drawback is that this largely works at a conscious level which cannot be maintained all the time.  This problem can be overcome, the technique made easier to do and training more effective when you have had an MAT treatment to re-activate the muscles involved.  

MAT identifies imbalances that in conventional training mean your strong muscles get stronger while weak ones remain weak and it is the compensation that improves.  (Which is why you consciously have to spend time working on mechanisms which should happen on their own.)  Once these muscles are activated you will get much more out of your training as you will have more support and more muscle to work with.  You can spend less time on the corrective work and more time on doing the training and sport you enjoy!

For more information on exercise and compensation see the section ‘who is MAT for?’ and go to MAT for exercise and sport performance.  Alternatively the section how does MAT work.

Is the (palpation) pressing on the body that MAT uses like acupuncture/acupressure, massage, reflexology etc?

No.

These forms of treatment consist of a variety of techniques e.g.  needling, pressing rubbing and friction to areas of the body such as muscles, tendons, ligaments, lymphatic and neurovascular points to name but a few.

The purpose is normally to release tension through the use of pressure (from one of the above techniques) directly to the area or indirectly through reflexive points around the body via the balance of chi / energy systems, lymphatic systems, organs, etc.  The practitioner may also use these techniques for the treatment of a variety of physical, digestive, emotional and psychological ailments.   

MAT differs from these treatments in that it uses just two techniques i.e. positional isometric holds, and a palpation to the sensory receptors at the origin and insertion of the muscle.  MAT through these techniques aims to activate / stimulate or wake up the muscle and its ability to produce tension and contract on demand to a change in pressure and position.  For more information on this see the link how does MAT work.  

Although the techniques (especially the palpation) appear similar to those of other treatments, MAT differs in 3 main ways:

  1. Many of the above methods aim to treat a symptom of a tight muscle through direct pressure to reduce tension.  MAT a) recognises that this muscle may be doing a job to add stability to an unstable joint because of weaknesses in associated muscles and; b) therefore uses palpations and isometrics to restore the weak muscles’ ability to produce and regulate tension (contract on demand) and add stability to the joint.  The body can then sense this restored stability and release the tension in the symptomatic tight muscle.

  2. The mechanism of muscle activation and inhibition in the body is a natural one to allow us to move.  MAT looks for signs of imbalances and weakness in this system associated with movement. Some of the above methods and practitioners may recognise or observe the role of compensation through muscular inhibition in the muscular system (with or without assessment of movement) and choose to influence them through indirect means e.g. chakras, meridians, neuro lymphatic points, neuro vascular points.  Whereas MAT chooses to work directly at a joint and the muscles that directly influence it.

  3. The reason for this is MAT is based on a biomechanical approach and looks specifically at the influence of force on the body.  This is in respect of what roles muscles play in stabilising joints and causing them to move.  Furthermore if they are inhibited from functioning optimally then how does the body compensate at that specific joint and therefore how does that influence the associated joint and their associated joints. 

Whilst appreciating successful changes can be brought about through these other methods and techniques it can be a grey area as to how they may or may not work, the issues they can address and how long the affects may last.  (Note this is not taking anything away from these practices, it is my (Owen’s) personal view that if something brings you lasting benefit then great, no matter what the mechanisms)

MAT uses the science of biomechanical principles of muscular movement and utilises the affects of current concepts of how a muscle contracts and regulates tension.  MAT in practice also uses a system of checks and balances to make sure that any time joint range of motion / mobility is increased, there is also stability.  It is this added system beyond the methods of activation that makes MAT unique and also a great adjunct to other forms of therapies and training methods that also improve mobility.

Note: If you talk to clients of MAT, they may report other benefits such as improved sleep, improvement in digestive ailments, asthma etc but this is not a claim of the benefits of MAT.  MAT Specialists are muscular specialists and focus on improving peoples’ ability to move.  Even the treatment of muscular pain is not a direct claim of MAT, it is purely an association of the muscular imbalances, and weakness that MAT does claim to treat.

Are there any requirements?

All you need is your body!

It is a clothed assessment and treatment that involves having your limbs moved around, non invasive palpation techniques and positional isometrics where you hold yourself in a position with minimal effort for about 6 seconds.  In fact the hard bit is trying not to try too hard.  Light clothes are required for the MAT Specialist to find and reach various land marks around the body.

How many MAT sessions will I need?

The number of sessions required depends on many factors.  Most importantly what you want to achieve, how your body responds to treatment and how you manage yourself between sessions. 

Most people come in with a particular issue they would like to address whether it be a limited movement that is associated with aches and pains or is affecting day to day life or sports performance in some way.   

Although relief and change can be brought about in one session, it is more likely the case that your initial relief is a sign of added stability and support and most of the change is post treatment.  This support needs to cope with the demands of your day to day life.  In which case it is an adaptive approach whereby a course of four to six sessions is initially necessary to build up more and more support in the body so it reaches the point where it can handle these demands with ease.  This also takes into account that an issue at one site may be connected to another. 

At the end of this initial phase some people are happy and finish their sessions but ideally you will book in at a later date for a top up or maintenance session to prevent re-occurrence or develop further support and balance in the body.  Others however notice the difference in the way they feel and move throughout their body and continue on at regular intervals to continue the restoration and development of stability in their body for optimal function.

All cases are individual and how you choose to benefit from Muscle Activation Techniques is up to you! For more information on this see the section ‘Experiencing MAT’.

Will my doctor have heard of MAT?

They may have done but in the UK especially, it is a fairly new approach. You could direct them to this site or your nearest MAT specialist will be happy to liaise with them.

Where can I be treated?

MAT Specialists have undergone an intensive 10 month internship programme followed by additional master level workshops in order to learn the thorough system of range of motion checks, muscle testing and palpation techniques that MAT is based upon. 

For a list of MAT Specialists worldwide see the home of MAT www.muscleactivation.com.  

Not currently listed on either this site or the U.S. site is a list of trainers and therapists who have studied the weekend ‘Jumpstart’ courses to show how to objectively evaluate positional weaknesses in the body and use isometric exercises to restore muscle function in these positions.

Contacts for both MAT Specialists and Jump Start qualified therapists and trainers in the UK and your area will be displayed here soon.

More in-depth answers can be found in the context of other areas of this website about who can benefit, How MAT Works and Experiencing MAT.

A Message from Owen:

"MAT needs to be experienced to get a true understanding of how it works, how it is different from other forms of therapy and training yet at the same time compliments them."

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