How does MAT work?

In this section are some of the details as to how MAT works and is unique from other forms of therapy.

For the more on the science behind MAT go to

How does MAT work

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 to find muscular imbalances, identify and treat the inhibited 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.


The MAT experience will include:

For more on the client experience of the consultation and treatment process see ‘experiencing MAT section’.

More questions are asked below. Click on any question below to reveal the answer.

Why is MAT unique? The MAT thought process...

  1. MAT does not massage or stretch tight muscles because it views muscle tightness as a symptom of protection by the body from instability and is secondary to muscle weakness.  MAT focuses re-activating weak muscles restoring strength and stability so the body releases the protective mechanism or tight muscle.

  2. The ‘weakness’ MAT tests for is not the commonly tested how much force can a muscle produce but instead can the muscle regulate changes in tension and ‘contract on demand’ to provide stability.

  3. 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 that also improve mobility.

  4. MAT is based on muscles and not only movement.   Stretching and massage is often based on treating muscles on one side of a joint to produce motion the other side (e.g. stretching hip flexors to produce hip extension) where as MAT appreciates that muscle weakness on the same side as the tight joint may cause associated muscles to tighten.  As these muscles become activated you can get improved mobility and stability in both directions of movement.

  5. MAT recognises that tightness experienced at one joint may be a compensation for weakness not only at that joint but an associated joint, e.g. neck and shoulder, hip and ankle so it is not until stability is restored at both that normal function can resume.

The range of motion assessment

The range of motion assessment is MAT’s starting point.  MAT checks for areas of imbalance in the body and limited ranges of motion.  Primarily this is an individual assessment and MAT compares one side of the body to the other as opposed to comparing you to the ‘norm’ because everyone is unique.  

This assessment highlights imbalances in two ways: 

Firstly if you have a direct injury to a joint or are limited in a particular movement then it will be an indication of the protective mechanism in the body.  For example if you injure yourself it is normally accompanied by inflammation and tightness as the body tries to add stability.  Your body also helps you out by keeping you from moving into this range by sending pain signals and you start compensating and moving differently to get around this problem.  When this shows up in your assessment, it or associated joints are the starting point for testing and treatment.  This restores normal muscle function and support to aid the healing process and retain normal movement.

Secondly you can usually find muscular imbalances on your own e.g. you might hold yourself with one shoulder higher than the other, it is easier to put one shoe on than the other in a certain way, you can scratch your back with less effort with one arm than the other.  (Note this is not necessarily due to right or left handedness).  These limitations may be from permanent structural differences you were born with, the way you hold yourself in posture and habitual movements or through compensations from current or past injuries.  These imbalances can be like the tracking and tyres on your car indicating why you get wear and tear in certain joints and not others and or leave you predisposed to injury.  It is these imbalances that are often associated with ongoing aches and pains in the body.  This is where MAT comes into its own, it restores balance in the body and where this is not possible due to structural change MAT adds support so that your body can handle the demands placed upon it.

What is the muscle inhibition and weakness MAT tests for?

Muscle activation is based upon testing for and treating muscle weakness in the body in order to restore stability and potential for mobility and strength.  The testing used differs from conventional exercise and strength testing where the focus of the tests is to find out how much force can be produced.  With MAT we are testing whether a muscle can self regulate through proprioception and ‘contract on demand’.  

(Proprioception a definition)
Proprioception is the sense of ones self as an ongoing internal perception that indicates whether the body is moving with required effort, as well as where the various parts of the body are located in relation to each other and the space around us.

MAT tests this ability by placing the body or a limb in a position that emphasises the muscle being tested over any other.  The muscle will also be in a shortened position and is now tested with minimal force.  With this minimal force we can test responsiveness (can it contract on demand as opposed to how much force can be produced) to identify weakness whether testing a 20 year old athlete or a 70 year old with a hip replacement. 

If the muscle displays as inhibited and ‘weak’ the subject will not be able to hold position or will demonstrate a slight wobble.  This wobble still tests as weak because the muscle senses the muscle length change and responds to this, as opposed to the change of the initial force.  This is important as in everyday movements and changes of direction; the slightest weakness in any position (even just holding one position for a period of time) can cause muscles to spasm or lose control resulting in injury.       

For more information about the science of using the shortened position go to and the science behind MAT

How does muscle inhibition and compensation occur?

Muscle inhibition is a normal mechanism in the body allowing you to move your joints and occurs through a process called ‘reciprocal inhibition’.  This is often explained in terms of a bicep curl or bending your arm. If you want to bend your arm the muscles (e.g. biceps) that do this will be sent more ‘go’ signals. The muscles on the other side (e.g. triceps) will be inhibited so they send less ‘go’ signals and this allows movement to occur.  Note this does not mean muscles stop working completely!  The muscles that normally oppose a movement still need to work to stabilise and hold the joint in place, control the speed of movement and stop your arm flying off.

This self regulation system of activating and inhibiting muscles for movement and holding posture is amazing!  So what goes wrong? The body is so amazing that it has the ability to compensate and keep us moving when muscles become tired and fatigued or suffer trauma through injury. It lets us know a lot of the time we are pushing ourselves because we become tired or sore and perhaps should rest and recover, but often we need to go on.

In which case, because the body moves in multiple directions it has several muscles to cross each joint. The body can inhibit some of these muscles and alter our movement so that the stress of movement is placed elsewhere e.g. we often need to fidget when sitting or standing in one position for too long.

If we are not able to recover and resume normal function, or because of a training affect, the body continues to perceive this to be the most efficient way of moving from A to B, and will continue with the compensation. This will mean a modified way of activating and inhibiting the muscles, with the downside being that because of natural design we are now out of balance and not using the joints and muscles optimally.  This can mean we fatigue and receive wear and tear with increased frequency or be pre-disposed to further injury.

For more information on reciprocal inhibition and MAT go to and the science behind MAT

The MAT treatment process, testing, palpations / isometrics and re-test

The process as a whole

Once the range of motion appraisal has highlighted the muscular imbalances in the body the MAT Specialist will begin the treatment process.  This involves choosing a range of motion and testing for muscle inhibition / weakness, treating with a palpation or positional isometric to activate the muscle and a re-test to ensure support and stability has been restored.  The MAT Specialist will continue to do this to ‘close the range’ which means that all muscles crossing the joint and contributing to that range of motion will be tested and treated.   

Palpations and isometrics

Muscular palpation and positional isometric contractions are the chosen methods to re-establish communication and responsiveness between the muscle and the nervous system.  The palpation stimulates the muscle directly and a positional isometric uses a light force to stimulate feedback when the muscle is placed in a shortened position.  If too much force is used then the body will continue to compensate because of the weakness in the muscle.  The shortened position is used to eliminate stimulation of the muscle fibres when placed on a stretch and take it away from the mechanically more efficient position of 90 degrees.           

For more information on the use of isometrics and the shortened position go to and the science of MAT.

The importance of testing and re-testing as part to the treatment process

The muscle testing plays an important role in the treatment process, because the ranges in which the muscles are tested are in most cases directly associated with the limited range.  Therefore as communication and responsiveness is restored the light force used in testing also directly adds stability into this range.    

An analogy that helps with this is to imagine that a weakness in the body is like a bill that needs to be paid.  If I was to simply palpate the muscles associated with that range it would be like throwing money into the post box without putting in an addressed envelope!  The testing addresses the envelope and ties the palpation to the positional weakness.

This re-testing also means testing and treating muscles that have initially tested strong because when the range of motion opens, it presents a new position that needs to be checked and stability restored.  Again this ensures a joint range is not left vulnerable as all the muscles crossing the joint are playing a role in stabilising it; and we are respecting the protective mechanisms the body is using to limit range of motion.  This is why an MAT session will normally take an hour to work on one or two ranges of motion. 


Greg Roskopf and the history of MAT

This has been adapted from

Greg Roskopf is the founder of Muscle Activation Techniques.  He has a Masters Degree in Exercise Physiology and began his career as a strength coach.  It was during this time working with athletes he started to question why some would breakdown whilst others could work through fatigue and achieve higher performance levels.
Greg began to focus on biomechanics of the body and sport/training demands. He understood that each athlete had individual strengths weaknesses and adapted compensations which meant training programs could not be universally applied and as the strong muscles became stronger and the weak became weaker; thereby emphasising the imbalances. This led him to believe that training protocols might actually contribute to injury rather than preventing it. In turn Greg looked to the rehabilitation field. He was interested to see if similar underlying factors affected the healing process when dealing with injuries.

He has developed a unique approach for systematically identifying and treating muscular imbalances through non-invasive manual therapy. Because MAT is bio-mechanically based and designed to treat anyone affected with muscle weakness (and its associated pain) regardless of the cause, the MAT treatment practices are gaining recognition throughout all facets of the sports, health and fitness industries. Greg has worked as a biomechanical consultant for various professional sports teams including: the Denver Broncos, the Utah Jazz, and the Denver Nuggets.

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."