Muscle: Active Release Technique

Hello, and welcome back to the Muscle series. As always, any information we can find on the methods, philosophies, nutrition, or training that will lead to the overall enhancement of the quantity and quality of muscle that we as weight lifting enthusiasts have, is our focus. When it comes to the somewhat complicated process of building muscle beyond a genetically pre-determined point, we must take any and all possibilities under consideration.

This week will be no different in that regard, but different in that today we will be discussing muscle-building thorough the means of recovery. The research department, it the effort to remain current, recently stumbled upon some information that dealt with active release technique as a means of enhancing growth. ART is a soft tissue treatment that is most often used to alleviate pain, and often has the side benefit of improving sport performance as well.

If you recall, we recently discussed how eccentric contractions can be of benefit to building muscle. The reason for this is that the negative portion of the repetition elongates the muscle fibers, and increases the cross-bridging proteins actin and myosin. This process is focused on our muscle at its weakest point, and due to the fact that these weaknesses become stronger as a result of this training method, we become stronger and able to build larger muscles as a result.

The principles behind active release is similar. In order to understand how activerelease works, we need to know that muscle is activated through both concentric, and eccentric contractions when we lift weights. When we increase the tension within these contractions with a load like we use when we weight train, we are causing micro-tears in the fiber to elicit growth. This is how we cause the muscle to build itself stronger and larger. Over time, because we are causing muscle trauma, the muscle builds scar tissue, and is shortened as a result. When this happens it cannot fully contract through a full range of motion as it once could. Now that the muscle has essentially been impaired, or limited in its range of motion, the true force potential of that muscle and its contraction has been compromised. ART’s main objective is to target these fascia, nerves, and tendons which have become clustered due to the scar tissue, and subsequent muscle shortening, to free themselves from being clustered in order to operate freely.

What separates ART from other soft tissue treatments is that the use of the targeted muscles is generally encouraged while in session. When the muscle is active during the treatment, the result is that the muscle is able to function as it once could, and will actually be able to generate the force it is capable of producing. Sometimes the muscle has been impaired for such an extended period of time that is some individuals lifting results increase substantially after just one session.

Although we are looking at ART as a method of increasing muscle strength, and therefore mass, it was not originally used for muscle enhancement, but only as a corrective technique. This technique was developed to combat a long list of conditions that occur from overuse, work related injuries, as well as sports injuries. The application transfers itself to muscular enhancement however, due to the fact that it allows the muscles being treated to function optimally.

ART is a complicated practice that takes considerable time to acquire the necessary skill set. The clinics that teach it, or the people trained in ART, are few. As a result, if you are seeking this treatment for yourself, it may be difficult to find. If you are fortunate enough to be within the general proximity of a clinic or practitioner, I encourage you to give it a try to see first hand the benefits of such a technique in relation to your strength and muscle mass.

As for the rest of us who are not so fortunate, what can we do to get similar treatment? Myofascial release therapy is essentially the same thing, but instead breaks down the scar tissue and adhesions to effectively relax the fascia. Many wellness centers offer this service, and it is similarly effective at restoring the fascia to its original, and ideally productive state. Another method is myofascial release with a foam roller. The difference is that this practice involves a bit of a learning curve, as you will self administer the treatment. The benefits are that it’s a one time cost to purchase the roller, and then you can do it daily to ensure maximum fascia efficiency.

I’m a big believer in foam roller for many reasons. I personally use it prior to lifting almost daily in order to soften the tissue to help increase blood flow. The only time I don’t roll before is if I’m short on time. If you have the space at home, using a roller daily is a must do. Even five minutes a day can help to speed recuperation, and goes a long way to preventing injury.

Tomorrow brings another group of muscles to be discussed in the Muscle Talk series. We discussed the muscles of the forearm recently, and will begin talking about the lower extremities next. I hope to see you here for that. Until then my friends,

Happy Lifting!


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