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Tight Muscles? Try MAT

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Tight Muscles? Try MAT

If you experience tight muscles on a regular basis, you likely spend time stretching before and after each workout. But that tense muscle you’re feeling could be a sign of a bigger problem─muscle weakness. Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT) is a biomechanically based system designed to assess and correct muscular imbalances that lead to tightness, pain and potentially injury.

“MAT helps identify range of motion asymmetries or tightness from one side of the body to the other, which in turn can indicate an area of muscle weakness,” explains Cooper Fitness Center Professional Fitness Trainer and MAT Specialist Robert Treece.

What can you expect during a MAT session and how soon can you expect to see positive results? Treece discusses the program and its benefits below.

Why Do Muscles Tighten?

Muscles tighten to protect a weakness. For example, if you walk on ice, the neuromuscular system (brain and muscles) tighten up your stride and restrict motion to prevent you from falling. This is an extrinsic example of instability. Intrinsically, the body responds the same way when it comes to instability and weakness. 

“If someone has a tight hamstring for example, they could potentially have a weakness in the hip flexors, trunk and core on the same side, causing the hamstrings and other hip stabilizers to tighten,” says Treece.

When muscular imbalances are not addressed, this can lead to compensation which often results in stress, trauma and overuse to surrounding areas of the body. 

How Can MAT Help?

When muscles lose their input from the nervous system, they can no longer contract on demand. When muscles can’t contract on demand, the body has to dish out responsibilities to other muscles that aren’t designed to perform the particular action.

“This is what we call compensation,” explains Treece. “Compensation often results in more tightness, pain and eventually injury.”

MAT is a proactive approach to help determine where the areas of concern are, address them and strengthen them over time. This helps prevent injuries and improve overall body function.

What Can You Expect?

During a typical MAT session, the client will undergo a range of motion assessment to help determine where their greatest area of concern is. This area is often where the client has the greatest difference in motion when comparing one side to the other.

“This may or may not be where the client is feeling the most pain or tightness,” explains Treece. “That’s because the body’s neurological system is extremely intuitive and will protect itself where it senses the greatest need.”

After the range of motion assessment is complete, the client is asked to resist positions specific to individual muscles to determine where the weaknesses lie. Treece says this is one of the only ways to isolate muscle weaknesses. 

“Once a single weakness is discovered, the MAT specialist will activate the dormant tissue by pressing on it,” says Treece. “This palpation is designed to activate the dormant signal between the muscle and the nerves so the muscle can shorten better and fire stronger.”

That process of testing and treating individual muscles is repeated until no more weaknesses are found. The MAT specialist will then re-assess the initial joint range of motion. Once this has checked out, the specialist can move to the next related joint in the kinetic chain of motion.

“The end goal is to progress the client into an integrated fitness program to continue to strengthen the body's threshold to stress over time,” says Treece.

Clients can notice an immediate improvement in muscle strength, stability and flexibility after just one MAT session. However, Treece recommends clients undergo MAT once a week for about six weeks for sustained results. 

For more information about MAT or to schedule an appointment, visit