Hands up if you’ve seen Kill Bill? Stay with me on this one… Remember that scene where Uma Thurman is willing her big toe to move and it’s just staring back at her, unresponsive? But then, it starts to move and she says “Now, hard part’s over…” That’s what I felt like halfway through my consultation with Michael Goulden at Integra Studios.
Ok, so I’m not a highly trained assassin with paralysis from the waist down, but the inability for my muscles to respond effectively to what my brain is trying to tell them to do is real. Fortunately, it is correctible. Muscle inhibition is often the result of years of poor posture and incorrect muscle activation, meaning other muscles start to over-compensate, which ultimately leads to injury.
Having been injured several, maybe hundreds of times in my fitness career, and being a Sports Therapist; I have always followed the traditional approach of rest, recover, stretch and strengthen. So when I first heard about Integra and was told that stretching was not the answer, I was baffled and certainly intrigued.
Established by Michael Goulden in 1997, Integra is an exclusive studio based near Spitalfields in London. The studio creates a warm and friendly environment to train in, without the overcrowding of high street gyms. They specialise in Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT). New to Europe, MAT is a biomechanically based manual therapy and form of body work that prepares the body for all types of exercise. By locating and stimulating trigger points in the muscles, the practitioner awakens your neuromuscular responses, giving a real-life eureka moment of… wiggling your big toe!
When I arrived at the studio Michael welcomed me and showed me the light and airy space that is the Integra studio. He then went through a detailed consultation process, with me listing all my many ailments and past injuries (stress fractures, iliotibial band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, even my broken collar bone age 14… the list goes on). Throughout all of this he was confident that it could all be traced back to just one or two muscular inhibitions. He told me that my tight calves, which always give me trouble, are in fact a warning sign that something needs addressing elsewhere in my body – why just treat the symptom without looking for the cause?
This is where the fun part started. As most of my past injuries are lower body Michael focussed on assessing the muscle activation in my feet, lower legs and hips. All of the movements were performed sitting on a couch, and all were very simple. But some of the things he was asking me to do I just couldn’t! After first asking me to do an exercise (and me failing miserably) he would then feel for the muscles responsible for that action and proceed to slowly massage them at key trigger points. After the second or third attempt I was always able to carry out the exercise. It was like my brain had forgotten what the muscle was and what it was supposed to do, and then Michael would just remind my brain the muscle was there by stimulating it. I was genuinely amazed.
By the end of the session Michael had identified a few weaknesses for me to focus on, and he gave me an exercise to perform to help improve my muscular balance. He had also spotted an imbalance in spinal rotation, which he thinks may be linked to the problems I am experiencing lower down in my body.
Integra say that by ensuring your muscular system is working optimally, your risk of injury is reduced and recovery times improved, but impressive gains can also be made in performance: speed, power, strength and agility. All things I would like to achieve!
“Our primary purpose is to continually challenge the status quo and refine the why, how and what we offer. We are passionate about delivering a bespoke service, designed to deliver sustainable, long term results.”
The next public workshop at Integra is Injury Prevention for Runners. Find out more here: http://integra-training.net/education/workshops.html. You can also follow Michael on Twitter @Michael_Goulden.