Muscle Activation Techniques for Athletes
To get right to the point, if a muscle isn't firing you're going to have a problem.
There's a lot more to it than that, but the main idea behind muscle activation techniques is to improve the neural communication loop between the brain and the muscle. If the communication loop of signals is inhibited or inefficient, muscular compensations occur. Usually, that's not a bad thing. Compensations are a natural occurrence, and our body normally tends to revert back to our normal movement patterns. But, what happens when those compensations don't sort themselves out and we get stuck in a cycle of stress, limited range of motion and weakness? At best, we don't perform optimally. At worst, we become injured and suffer with chronic pain.
For athletes, neither one of those "best" and "worst" case scenarios is an option. Especially professional athletes. Peak performance is defined by the integrity of their muscular system. When fractions of a second determine the results of a race, the ability for muscles to fire fast and with the power they require, is everything. When daily and hourly work goes into training and recovery, the strength and durability of the muscular and skeletal system can never be forgotten about. After all, you're only as strong as your weakest link.
Over the last 14 years, I've worked with professional athletes from the NFL, NHL, MLB and MLS, LPGA, olympic and professional triathletes, and professional ballet dancers. These athletes know how fragile their bodies are. They know that in a second, it could be all over. They know that keeping compensations to a minimum will help prevent injuries. And they know that having the upper edge on their competitors can mean a win or a loss. They know their career depends on it.
For the average weekend warrior or age grouper, the stakes may not be as high as a professional athlete. But the love and participation of the sport is equally important! If our bodies are not properly tuned, we run a very high risk of not being able participate in the activities we love. I have seen it time and time again. A client will come in when it's too late. They didn't care for or listen to their body properly, and they broke. Unable to do they activity they love, they become depressed and out of shape. Then, the amount of time and effort required to recover and get better is then exponentially greater.
At this point you may be asking what makes MAT different from other manual therapies out there. MAT is a unique process that considers muscle tightness a symptom of underlying weakness. Tightness is secondary. It's a result of other muscles not working as they should. Our bodies have an unbelievable ability to sense instability and then tighten up as a protective mechanism. Think about how stiff you become when you step on ice. Why violate this protection when we can get to the root of what's causing the tightness in the first place? As athletes, we must zoom out and take a good look at the full picture. We must understand that our nervous system is a complex system that is much smarter than we are. Working with the system to understand why our bodies are compensating, what could be going on at a deeper level, and how we can safely and respectively intervene, is what MAT (and subsequently, my approach to exercise) is all about.
I work closely with coaches, physical therapists, doctors, trainers and massage therapists to communicate for the benefit of the athlete. Every aspect of preparation is important, and MAT is a powerful adjunct to everything that goes into a training program.
If you'd like to read more, here is an article from Sports Illustrated about the physical investments Payton Manning makes to stay in the game. Spoiler alert: Muscle Activation Techniques is a huge part of his regimen.