Today I have the privilege of interviewing Mark Stewart. Mark received his Bachelors of Physical and Health Education from the University of Toronto and his Masters in Kinesiology from Western University. During these years, he was named University of Toronto’s Male Athlete of the Year (2006) and won 3 national university championships in the 60-meter hurdles. He went on to become a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) as well as a Muscle Activation Techniques™ (MAT) Master Specialist.
Mark currently works online with clients to help them reach their strength, conditioning and mobility goals. He also consults with companies on implementing fitness and health related strategies. When possible, Mark likes to spend his time being active outside or reading. To learn more about the brilliant work he does, please visit www.biokineticsconsulting.com.
I visited Mark after I had finished my Track and Field Career at Boston University for an MAT session. Not only did I feel great but he also inspired me to begin this journey of exploring applied kinesiology/muscle testing to help me regain the joy of pain-free movement. His expertise and his ability to clearly communicate is phenomenal, and only paralleled by his compassion to ease the pain of his clients.
PM: You have had quite a decorated athletic career but if you could go back and tell yourself one thing at the beginning of your athletic career to be a better athlete, what would it be?
MS: Just one? That’s tough. Probably to pay attention to the details. When I was in track, I never had an issue giving 100 percent for a workout. That part was a no brainer to me; however, I wish I could have paid more attention to the details of hurdling, or block work, or running mechanics. There are so many details that comprise these components of a race. Racing over hurdles doesn’t allow you to focus your attention on these details. These are things that I was totally blind to but looking back I should have been more receptive to. I think that would have really made a big difference in my performances.
PM: Similar to me, you transitioned from a team sport (basketball) to an individual sport (track field). How was that? What did you learn from track that would have been helpful when playing basketball?
MS: At U of T, I found it to be a smooth transition. You’re right, I had always been involved in predominantly team sports but they did a great job of creating a team atmosphere for an individual sport. I had great training partners that would always push me and that made track feel like a team sport
Track taught me that you need to be present in order to perform at your best. Dr. Peter Jensen, a sport psychologist who worked with our team, called it “riding the wave.” With an event like hurdling (or jumps for yourself), the second you start to think of what could happen, you’re done. There is a zone that you get into when competing and living in that zone and allowing your mind to get out of the way, is an incredible feeling. I think this would have been great in basketball. There’s always mind games going on, or missed shots, missed plays but you can’t allow yourself to think of these things or even the thought of those things happening again. You need to always be in the moment.
PM: What got you interested in exploring applied kinesiology/muscle testing and activation in general and muscle activation technique (MAT) specifically?
MS: Ever since I was young I was interested in muscles. I was always drawn to strength and power. After university, I realized I had accumulated a lot of knowledge but knew I wanted to further that knowledge with some added skills. At that time, the therapist for our track team had mentioned this new method called Muscle Activation Techniques™ (MAT). It sounded like something I would be interested in since it involved optimizing the muscular and nervous system. After shadowing for a few months and seeing the changes that could be made in someone’s body, I signed up and flew to Denver to begin learning MAT.
PM: What is the biggest change in how you approach or understand training after completing your MAT training?
MS: MAT helped me to look at the implications of my decisions when training. I was very guilty of choosing exercises without taking into account the individual I was working with and what their muscular system needed/could tolerate. I began to see that exercise isn’t inherently “good” at all and can, when prescribed haphazardly, be detrimental to people.
The other big thing MAT showed me is how much I don’t know! Even though I have studied, read and experimented with many clients, there is still so much going on in the human body to definitively know what our force inputs are actually doing to the muscles and nervous system. There is a lot of amazing research coming out but again; those researchers are just scratching the surface.
PM: Lastly, a question I always like to ask, what is the best piece of advice you would give to an up and coming athlete?
MS: Be consistent and stay focused. If you can consistently put in your best effort doing the things that will progress you at your sport, the results will come. Have a clear outline of what you want to achieve and then work backwards from that. Break everything down to measurable components that you can track. Most people lose sight of what they need to do. They see this grand overall view but cannot create the proper steps to achieve it. Create this path and put all of your efforts toward it and you’ll be surprised at what can be achieved.
There is so much invaluable information for any aspiring athlete who wants to take their game to the next level in this interview. However, I think the biggest take-away is how powerful being humble and having an open mind is. It is remarkable how knowledgeable Mark is, but what makes him so excellent at his job is that he is always learning and applying his knowledge to help his clients. The breakthroughs in applied kinesiology and muscle testing have had huge impacts for many professional and olympic athletes, and it’s so exciting to see how it is starting to gain general acceptance.
If you can’t sustain it, it’s not worth it.