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Specialized Techniques for Your Fitness Journey

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Trainer performing MAT technique

Not seeing the results expected from your workout or need help recovering from an injury? The culprit could be a lack of muscle activation or muscle release. Specialized techniques such as Muscle Activation Techniques® (MAT) and Active Release Techniques® (ART) can be used together to activate and release tense muscles, helping you improve daily movements. Cooper Fitness Center Professional Fitness Trainer Robert Treece shares how MAT and ART can help you maximize fitness results and overall health.

MAT and ART: what’s the difference?
MAT and ART are techniques that can be used together or independently to help you see results in your journey to better health and fitness. “Something I explain to my clients is that not all muscles will function perfectly all the time. However, by utilizing therapies such as MAT and ART as well as following a regular exercise routine, your body can function the way you want and need it to,” says Treece. 

Both MAT and ART are used to assess and correct muscular imbalances, joint instability and limitations due to injury at any age or overall aging. Treece shares that muscle tightness is actually a symptom of muscle weakness. What makes these two practices different and how can they work together to help you move equally well on both sides of your body to achieve maximum results? 

MAT is a non-invasive approach used to identify and correct muscular imbalances and limitations in range of motion that contribute to pain or injury. “Think of MAT as helping improve the hardwiring of your body—specific techniques can be used to help the body function more effectively by improving range of motion and increasing strength and stability. This is accomplished by activating tissues that are not firing properly and creating symmetry. The less symmetry you have, the harder your body has to work,” says Treece. 

During a MAT session, weak areas of the body are identified and then tested for strength and stability. From there, a professional fitness trainer can design a workout plan to build strength in the muscles that are struggling. For a demonstration of how Muscle Activation Techniques address muscle weaknesses, watch the Exercise Move.  

ART utilizes a similar approach but has a more specialized focus on ligaments, tendons and soft tissues. “ART looks more at the structural components of your body instead of the hardwiring—I’m looking at how well the muscles slide and move in order to release any abnormalities,” says Treece. 

A professional fitness trainer who specializes in ART uses their hands to identify irregularities in tissue texture, tension and movement until a root cause is identified. This technique is often used when an acute injury occurs and is more site-specific than MAT. Once specific abnormalities are identified, ART treatments can be used to specifically target the ligament, tendon or soft tissue affected instead of a more general area of the body like in MAT. 

“MAT is used to make muscles contract stronger and harder while ART is used on particularly tight muscles, tendons and tissues to release them,” says Treece. MAT is used when pain is more global and can cover a large area of the body while ART is used to treat a more specific part of the body and is usually contained to a particular part of the muscle or tissue. Treatment of injured muscles with MAT and ART look similar but the difference lies in the surface area covered. For example, a foam roller could be used during a MAT session but a specialist would use their thumb during an ART session to better target the area.

Maximizing results
The goal with MAT and ART is to balance the muscular system so both sides function congruently by utilizing palpitation, tension and active range of motion. “MAT and ART use a system of checks and balances,” says Treece. “This means as I’m working on a client, I’ll assess their muscle’s tightness and weakness by comparing left and right-side range of motion and then perform the activation or release technique. After using the correct technique, I’ll retest the muscle to see if it responds differently.” 

Muscular imbalances can also come with age, sitting behind a desk all day for work and just exercising your body in general. “Everybody can benefit from seeing a MAT or ART specialist,” says Treece. Even without pain, you may be experiencing slight muscle weakness on one side of your body without noticing it which can cause issues in the future. MAT and ART paired with an exercise program tailored to your specific needs can help prevent injury, reduce limitations and help your body perform at its best. 

For more information on personal training at Cooper Fitness Center or to schedule a session with a professional fitness trainer, visit or call 972.233.4832.