The term, Fascia, has been a buzz word used among fitness professionals and therapists for the past 15 years, but still has yet to saturate the general health-guru population.
I’d like to change that. It’s your body after all, and it lays a foundation for understanding the proper way to train your body. Knowledge is power, right?
Keep in mind, the research on Fascia is ever changing and I do my best to always give you the latest and greatest info on it, so be sure to subscribe to this blog now so you will always been in the loop.
What is Fascia?
First off, everything is fascia. To some degree, we could consider all material in the body to be some kind of fascia: skin, bones, ligaments, tendons, muscles, etc. Which makes everything a bit more confusing. However, in fitness, we are talking about a specific couple of layers of fascia in the body. Let me give you some imagery so you can wrap your head around what fascia is in the context of the way fitness professionals are referring.
You can think of the fascial tissue in the body in the same way you observe an orange being peeled.
When peeling an orange:
- Peel the thick outside layer off.
- Start to see a thick, white layer, that is clearly not the outside skin, but the orange is still in a sphere, maintaining it’s shape.
- Once the large sphere is broken apart, there is another layer that encompasses the sections of the orange.
- Beyond the sections, there are little pouches that encompass the small juicy bits of the orange in each section.
This is exactly how the fascia appears in the body.
- Take the skin off the body (a cadaver).
- See a thick white fibrous layer holding the body in exactly the same shape- this is a layer of fascia.
- Once that is cut through, there are larger muscles and organs encased- another layer of fascia.
- Later, if a muscle is cut through there are even smaller divisions of the muscles that are encompassed by thin fascial layers.
The facia layers have varying qualities throughout the body based on their role, similar to the orange. Would the thin skin holding the tiny juicy bits in the orange work to hold the large sphere together? Probably not, which is the same within the body.
Now that you have a visual of the fascia the fitness pros talk about, lets get more into detail:
It’s clear the fascia is completely connected through the body, until we break it apart. Breaking happens, in live humans, when we cut it open for surgery, tear it during an injury or other body trauma. Eeeek.
This fascial tissue also encompasses specific sections such as organs or muscles while maintaining full body integration.
In the past when doing muscular research on cadavers the fascia layer was simply cut off and put to the side. Since the muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons were the only tissues studied for movement; fitness exercises and equipment were designed to train muscles in a way that creates isolated joint movements. For example, you’d walk in the gym, sit in a seat and do an “adductor” exercise. When do we do this in real life? Bingo, never!
Facial Tissue Properties
The fascial tissue is greasy and looks like an intricate spider web that ebbs and flows through and around the muscles in a “net-like” fashion.
One important detail about this net is that it is an interconnected web and remains continuous throughout the entire body. If you are having a hard time wrapping your head around this, here is imagery those with a strong stomach: When dealing with fresh, full-body cadaver, the fascial tissue can be pulled from the area of the big toe and “bob” the brain, similar to a bobber on a fishing line. So when I say interconnected, I mean interconnected…head to toe...all-encompassing.
You have one big spider web that wraps around everything in your body and is completely connected. Am I bringing that point home? That’s why to get relief for your IT band tightness, the key is actually rolling the muscles attached to the IT band, I show you in this video.
Now, we have learned the fascial tissue has 10 times more sensory nerve endings than muscles. When the brain tells the body to move the arm overhead, it is most likely communicating this message to the facial tissue instead of the actual deltoid, which is one shoulder muscle. Thus, full body exercises, also known as “functional” exercises have been making a breakthrough for the past 15 years.
How this changes your workout:
Fascial research teaches us a number of things when it comes to training and conditioning the human body. We know that the fascia starts to tighten up with age which may be the biggest contributor to flexibility issues aside from the previous thought muscular tightness.
Therefore, full body movements such as functional strength training, yoga and Pilates are great forms of exercise to address the fascial tissue. I created a quick 18 minute Yogalates workout for you to get a combo of both with is great for the fascia.
Massage, fascial hydrators, and foam rolling techniques also help to loosen up the fascial tissue for improved mobility, and most likely, function. You have probably seen instructors using foam rollers, tennis balls, and other massage tools to loosen fascial tissue as a quicker, cheaper alternative to setting up a massage on a daily basis. I’ve created a video on how to release the IT band fascial tissue here. I’ll be coming out with a lot more videos to address the fascia so be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss them.
Using a technique to “loosen” fascial tissue before a workout does not change the performance output. We know static stretching does negatively impact explosive movements if done before the workout or athletic event. Therefore, if you have a hard time performing a functional movement, go ahead and roll out before proceeding for improved range of motion, but skip the static stretching.
Tensegrity of Fascia:
Fascial findings help us to understand the kinesthetic system better than before. For example, it has been discovered that tendons and muscles are more elastic than previously thought, and most injuries that occur are fascial not muscular.
Building elasticity and resilience into the fascial system will help prevent injury. Accomplishing this includes adding dynamic and resisted stretching, jumping and bounding. Research suggests that fascial elasticity rebounds very quickly which plays a large role in quick repetitive movements such as running, jumping rope, and agility movements.
Lastly, findings suggest that variation is most important for the fascial tissue. Loading the fascial tissue repetitively will cause weakness that may result in injury in the long run.
Therefore, mix it up!
Researchers suggest there are a number of “fascial lines” that connect throughout the body. As we discussed all fascia is connected; however, there are some “lines” throughout the body that seem to be even more integrated. The fascial lines seem to transfer tension in a consistent pattern along such lines across the board. For example, the deep front line includes the sole of the foot, lower legs, adductors, pelvic floor, and transversus abdominis. This chain can be fired up or stretched out.
I’ll save that can of worms for another post, so click here to be sure you don’t miss it 😉
In the meantime, keep it dynamic and continue to spice things up in your workouts. Speaking of keeping it spicy, if you want to put your foam roller to even more good use, check out my foam roller exercises!
IT Band Relief Without Rolling the Actual IT Band
I created this video because I come across sooo many bodies that need IT band relief. Here's the deal, you won't get it through rolling your IT bands, but here is how you will...