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Muscle activation training (MAT), sometimes called muscle recruitment, refers to the process of “turning on” muscle fibers prior to use to help “wake up” the communication lines between the nervous system and the muscular system in order to better prepare the body for activity. Proponents of MAT cite several advantages of this procedure over more “traditional” warm-up techniques to include increased mobility with control and ease of movement, improved coordination, increased stability and strength, decreased pain, relaxation of tight muscles and reduced risk of injury.

While each of these proposed advantages has merit and all are valid reasons to include MAT activities into a balanced conditioning program for baseball, the Pittsburgh Pirates have several additional reasons for utilizing MAT at all levels within the organization.

  • The first and foremost reason is to help create a sense of personal responsibility within every player in the Pirates system for his own daily preparation before practice sessions, workouts and games. Experience indicates that those who lack personal responsibility tend to have poor preparation habits, inefficient movement patterns and lack consistency in many areas of their personal and professional life. Because these individuals are usually dependent upon others (strength coaches, trainers, massage therapists, position coaches etc.) to “get them ready” both physically and mentally, their preparation can sometimes be incomplete, especially when those that they rely on are busy helping others.  Players who participate in MAT are more likely to adopt an “everyday” approach to preparation, develop healthy habits and improve their durability.
  • A second reason for using MAT is to ensure that each player has a proper and directed preparation program that will help them meet and exceed the unique challenges of the game. MAT provide players with a daily plan of exercises and movements designed increase core temperature, improve range of motion, enhance mobility, increase stability, correct imbalances, reduce soreness, improve movement efficiency, enhance mental alertness and reduce the risk of injury.

The daily MAT program is approximately 25 minutes in duration and involves five, sequential steps to help players prepare for the activities to follow. Movements and exercises within each step vary from day to day to provide variety, minimize boredom and ensure adherence. Players perform one set of each exercise in each step.

  • Step one (Increase core temperature). Players participate in a 10-minute cardio session using cycling, elliptical and/or light jogging to increase core temperature, alleviate soreness and enhance tissue maintenance.
  • Step two (Tissue maintenance). This is a 5 minute session using foam rollers to provide upper and lower body manual trigger point massage to help maintain tissue integrity by decreasing soreness, reducing muscle density and improving joint range of motion.
  • Step three (Joint mobility). This is a 3 minute session mobility session using hurdles and mini-hurdles to increase mobility, improve stability, reduce imbalances and prepare the body for multi-directional movements. Exercises include hurdle overs and unders and lateral mobility movements.
  • Step four (Corrective movements). This is a 10 minute session that uses five corrective and core focused movements to enhance movement by adding speed to movement and turning on the nervous system. Exercises include 3-4 body weight squats; overhead stick squats, single-leg reverse lunges; hip raises; planks; glute bridges; dead bugs; quadruped balance, mountain climbers; kneeling chops and lifts; box crossovers and step-ups.
  • Step five (CNS activation). This is a MD ball session using compound MD ball movements. Sample exercises include squat with chest pass, lateral throws, etc. Speed of movement is critical.

The MAT program is a systematic warm-up, not a workout. It is the first activity of the day. The goal is to prepare the total body for pre-game practice and game activities, not to improve conditioning or create fatigue.

Brendon Huttmann – Pittsburgh Pirates – Major League Strength Coach

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