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When someone is having trouble with their posture, they may turn to muscle energy technique as a solution. Often called “MET”, it’s basically a form of partner-assisted stretching with the aim of reducing or even eliminating tight muscles. According to the Elsevier Science Health Science Division, doing this can reduce pain caused by poor musculoskeletal or joint function.
To perform muscle energy technique, you’re going to need a partner, who will start by manually stretching the muscle you want to target. Once you reach the point of that muscle feeling tight, your partner ceases applying additional pressure, instead holding you in that position. You then actively flex and contract that muscle against your partner’s resistance. After a few seconds, you release, and your partner then starts to apply more pressure again, usually resulting in the ability to stretch you even further and improve your range of motion. This process is then repeated another one or two times.
MET basically works because it strengthens muscles. Many make the mistake of thinking that a lack of flexibility is due to tight muscles. However, it’s not that the muscles are tight, it’s that their opposite, antagonistic muscles are often too strong. For instance, when a trainee thinks they lack flexibility due to their hamstrings being too tight, what’s usually really going on is that their quadriceps are too strong in relation to the hamstrings. The body naturally defaults to stronger muscles in order to perform functions, so the quadriceps tighten up and prevent the hamstrings from being able to stretch fully.
By performing muscle energy technique, two things can happen. The first is that when you flex against the resistance your partner is providing, it sends additional signals to the targeted muscles via your nervous system, which can cause them to “fire”. This allows you to fully utilize muscles that your body may have learned to avoid as a result of shifting working emphasis to other, stronger muscles. The other thing is that this entire exercise is more or less a sort of isometric contraction. Continued practice can improve the strength of the targeted muscle, and reduce any muscular/strength imbalances you have over time.
There are two primary drawbacks to MET. The first is that although the above gave a basic overview of how muscle energy technique works, there are as many as eight different ways to specifically apply MET, depending on who you read and listen to. However, the more critical drawback is that most accounts of muscle energy technique effectiveness are only anecdotal, as there have only been two peer-reviewed studies showing any lasting benefit from MET techniques (Journal of Ortopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, and Journal of Osteopathic Medicine).
While muscle energy technique may not have a long list of peer-reviewed studies to support it, that doesn’t necessarily mean you wouldn’t derive benefit from it. Even if employing MET techniques didn’t actually improve muscular/strength imbalances for the long term, it could still demonstrate muscles that you should put more of a focus on in your workouts. Because muscle energy technique can be used in multiple ways and unknowingly be done incorrectly, seeking out a qualified professional would be a good idea.