M.A.T. and Ultra Running

Alright, so I’ve been getting asked about what MAT (Muscle Activation Techniques) is quite often, and why I find it’s beneficial to my training as an ultra runner. I’m keeping this short and sweet (I could talk about its intricacies and benefits for much longer!) for you instant gratification-type people. But really, if you are in Calgary, you should find out for yourself and go see Sheena Denscombe because it’s worth every penny.

What is MAT:

  1. A very specific pattern of muscle palpations (kind of like a form of massage) in combination with range of motion assessments and stressing techniques to ‘wake up’ neuromuscular pathways that have gotten lazy, or lost function due to compensatory responses to stress. Unlike deep-tissue massage or physical therapy, this is rarely painful.
  2. An approach to return your body to healthy movement function, which in most people is compromised from short or long term unhealthy habits (e.g. improper running technique or sitting in an office all day).
  3. A more holistic look at the way your body moves. An MAT specialist isn’t going to focus on your sore shoulder, or your tight IT band. They will focus on finding the root cause of your personal, unique case of movement dysfunction that likely isn’t visibly apparent at first glance. It just so happens that most of the time, your symptoms will resolve once this movement dysfunction is identified and addressed through the MAT process of reminding your brain that it’s got a few more muscles to leverage, which will establish healthy movement.

Why is MAT beneficial for ultra running?

  1. Improves the body’s ability to tolerate physical stress. Ultra running is the definition of absurd amounts of physical stress.
  2. Increases your mindfulness of how efficient your muscles are working. This helps you to identify issues yourself, and seek treatment before they become injuries, allowing for improved training consistency and increased training volume.
  3. Reduces injuries by ensuring muscles are supporting your body in a healthy way, which also reduces muscle tightness.
  4. I haven’t used a foam roller on my IT bands in six months and they are happier than ever, with greater range of motion than I have had in a long time. This in itself is enough of a reason to incorporate MAT into training.
  5. Chronic issues are no longer chronic. Many of the persistent issues a runner may go through (ITBS, runner’s knee, plantar fasciitis, etc) that traditionally have been difficult to fully solve, are usually addressed once an underlying stability issue (many times seemingly unrelated) is resolved through the MAT process.

 How often do you need to have a session?

Depends. I put way more stress on my body than the average person and use MAT as a training tool to ensure I am performing optimally, so I see Sheena once or twice per month on average. For someone who hasn’t tried MAT before and is experiencing some movement dysfunction symptoms (i.e. pain or tightness), likely a few sessions would be needed in a short time frame (similar to a round of physio treatments for an acute injury) followed by a ‘tune-up’ every few months whenever you start to feel ‘off’. That’s the beauty of MAT, it teaches you how healthy movement feels so you can address any issues before they become injuries, regardless of age or fitness level.

Why should you give MAT a try?

As you get older, or train harder, your body gets more and more ingrained in its movement patterns regardless of how healthy they are. MAT helps to eliminate the unhealthy ones, and build a strong, sustainable foundation so those aches and pains aren’t just an unfortunate result of old age or too much running, and can actually be resolved. In one year of incorporating MAT into my training, my little aches and pains associated with a high volume of running have been reduced substantially, giving me much greater enjoyment out of my running.

If you want to learn more about the MAT process, check out this great video!


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