SARASOTA — What began as a bout of curiosity sparked a newfound career path for Chris Vercelli.
Vercelli was 22 years old at the time and in pristine physical shape. He worked out regularly and felt no pain.
So when he first heard about Muscle Activation Techniques, a process designed to enhance muscle function, Vercelli decided to learn more.
The experience surprised Vercelli.
“The guy pushed (me) all over the place with no effort,” Vercelli says. “It’s so humbling because I realized I’m not as strong as I thought I was.”
Vercelli not only discovered the answer as to why people’s bodies respond the way that they do, but also a solution to fix the problem.
“Every injury the body accrues is a result of one thing — too much force to specific parts of the body,” Vercelli says.
Today, Vercelli, who is one of only three people in Florida certified as a Muscle Activation Techniques Master Specialist, has performed MAT on hundreds of people. Most recently, Vercelli began working with Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Travis Snider and infielder Neil Walker.
Snider and Walker both were introduced to MAT after suffering baseball-related injuries. They began using the process as a way to avoid further injury.
During a typical training session, Vercelli will meet with Snider and Walker in his office at the fitness center at the Meadows Country Club. He puts each one through a series of tests designed to fit their specific professional needs and to identify particular areas of neuromuscular dysfunction.
“(Athletes) are ticking time bombs waiting to explode,” Vercelli says. “You can’t afford to not know what’s going on with your muscular system.”
When the muscles don’t function properly, a person’s range of motion is limited, which in the case of Snider and Walker, can affect the way they swing a bat, throw a ball or run the bases.
“Spring training is a high volume work load,” Snider says. “We’re trying to get stronger, faster and build ourselves up for the season.”
Once the weakness is identified, Vercelli treats the weakness by applying pressure to the spot where the muscle adheres to the bone. He then repeats the test, measuring the nerve’s stretch-reflex to verify the treatment’s efficiency.
“It gives you a sense of body awareness,” Snider says.
Since he’s been in Bradenton for spring training, Snider has met with Vercelli five days a week.
Recovering from toe surgery, Snider’s main focus this spring has been on getting his feet ready for the grind of the season. But Vercelli also has worked on strengthening his calves and hamstrings, which, if not treated properly early on, could lead to problems further up the body, including the spine, neck and shoulders.
“It was definitely hard on the ego (at first),” Snider says. “You have to let go of your competitive spirit, which is hard to do.”
Unlike Snider, Walker only began working with Vercelli in early February. But after a few weeks, he’s already noticed a difference.
“I’ve been very happy working with (Chris),” Walker says. “I’ve already seen some really good results. I just want to know what’s going on with my body.”
Following his injury, anytime Walker got fatigued, his hamstrings and calves were the first muscles to cause him problems. But after working with Vercelli, Walker already has seen a noticeable difference on the field.
“My muscles weren’t working correctly.” Walker says. “They were getting stronger, but not in the places they needed to be. I feel like (now) my muscles are finally starting to work where they need to work.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].