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posted: 4/23/2012 6:01 AM

With trainer's help, reluctant muscles cooperating

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A large portion of my workout program over the past four months has revolved around whatever injury was most prominent at any specific moment in time. When I first started it was my chronic knee, pelvis, migraine and back issues. A month in, I tripped on stairs at a bowling alley and tore a ligament in my knee. That certainly threw a wrench in things.

Knowing what I'm going to be able to do during any given workout is like hitting a moving target. All trainers need to be flexible in their plans with their clients, but trainer George Gersch was certainly handed a challenge when they gave me over to him!

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Every time I show up for a workout, George begins by asking how I feel that day. We go from there. If I don't respond with enough details he starts targeting the body parts he's concerned with -- back, knee, hip, etc. Then he formulates a plan on the spot based on my pain levels.

Lately, here's how we roll: "We're working with what the knee will give us on any day, sometimes it's something, sometimes it's nothing," George says.

He's gotten pretty good -- after seeing me four times a week -- at reading me, often before I've spoken a word.

"I can look at posture and know when you get headaches, for example," he explains.

And then there's the Muscle Activation Technique, which I inexpertly describe as pushing the pain out of my body. Inevitably I feel better after he's employed it, but it's sure painful while he's doing it. I gave a stab at trying to explain it, then caved and handed it over to The Boss.

"Muscle Activation Technique, or MAT is a systematic method of finding weaknesses or imbalances in the body. We start with range of motion testing, and when we identify a limitation in any of the positions, a strength test is performed. Once we find a weakness, we have several ways to "turn on" muscles that are shut off or limited by the brain and nervous system to protect a muscle or joint that the brain perceives is injured or compromised in some way," George explains. "We can use gentle isometric exercises or locate specific nerve roots and palpate (press and move) them.

"Knowing which nerve pathways in the body are involved with a particular motion are essential in correcting things. A problem in shoulder range of motion for instance may stem from a knee or foot injury (as was Cathi's case). Poor posture may contribute to motion problems as well. MAT is a critical part of my practice, as most people that I work with have some orthopedic issue or limitation."

"The key to resolving the problems is recognizing that motion (i.e. exercise) begins with neurological action. Muscles can't do anything without the brain or nerves telling them what to do. And when an injury occurs, the brain has very powerful protection mechanisms to try to protect the body from more harm. After restoring proper movement to a joint, an appropriate exercise program must be applied to stabilize (control) and strengthen the newly awakened muscles," George says.

In my case, that meant lots of therapy work on muscles around my left hip, pelvis and knee to convince them to function properly. My body spent decades "protecting" injured areas. George spent about a month using MAT to get me to a place where my knee and pelvis would support lunges and squats -- and my knee injury temporary thwarted any more of that.

Now we're just waiting, still, for the knee ligament to heal so we can get my whole body back in the game again!

• Catherine Edman is the cooperative advertising manager for the Daily Herald. She spent 19 years as a reporter at the paper, frequenting many drive-through windows on the way to cover night meetings, before joining the advertising staff in 2009.

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