Fascia: The Tissue That Connects All
Connective Tissue or Fascia as many professionals know it, has become a real buzzword of the fitness industry. It is popping up in loads of fitness magazines and numerous people appear to be highly authorized to talk about it but few seem to comprehend how to enhance this amazing tissue through application.
To gain optimal clarity, firstly let’s define the structure and role of fascia then look at the fundamentals of movement and complete the picture with some tips on how to apply this to our training programs.
Role of Fascia
Fascia is fundamentally comprised of collagen, reticulin, elastin and water, 70% water. If we pause momentarily, these terms glean important tips for us; this tissue can stretch/contract, requires great hydration, is incredibly strong and is everywhere in the body.
Fascia’s key role is to mitigate force throughout the body. Recently (the last 10 years) through great minds like Thomas Myers, our industry has recognized the essential role of fascia and started to change our view from an isolated perspective to a more longitudinal perspective, incorporating the entirety of the body. Tom has dissected abundant cadavers discovering approximately 14 lines of fascia that literally run from the toes to the nose.
Without trying to confuse anyone let me clarify how fascia connects all. Fascia encases every muscle and nerve of the body, so really it is the neuro (nerve) myo (muscle) fascial system. The fascia has to transmit the force throughout the entire system; if we lose optimal communication in the system greater force will be distributed to a location, which becomes limited. This will cause huge prospect for pain, discomfort, or injury. Fascia runs through the entirety of the body.
For anyone who runs, when the foot strikes, gravity and ground force collide. Then add momentum and mass and there is huge force (1-1.5 times your body weight) to be shared amongst the remainder of the body by means of the neuromyofascial system. If this is successful major complexes (ankle/hip/thoracic) will be given permission to repeat the motion pain free; if not conditions like plantar fascia or pain in the ITB, knee, shin, hip, lower back or neck may appear.
Principles of Movement
Lets take a brief look at some of the fundamental principles required for optimal movement.
Can’t Move Can’t Load
Common sense really! If we can’t go through fundamental movement patterns (sit & reach, step & reach, gait) successfully (without compensating, hurting or feeling robotic) without load then applying load is going to compromise the system. This will result in pain, discomfort or injury. The patterns mentioned are everyday challenges, a sit & reach is exactly that…not a squat! They may look similar however a sit & reach is allowing the body to move to where it feels comfortable, permitting you to feel what may be restricted or glued. By introducing some simple tweaks to the pattern you will notice that these regions will ease or disappear. Almost instantly you will feel how the body moves and feels better.
Perform three Sit & Reaches to where you notice the first stretch or tension in your body…calves, hamstrings, back etc. Stop and return to the starting position. Then perform this movement and retest.
This refers to the line and application of force in the body. Fascia loves variation in movement and forces, in fact when you see it live under microscope it is constantly moving and changing shape. Traditional programs that we have all done, have overloaded locations of the body through repetitive stress to the tissues. This has been evident through joint degeneration, injuries and poor performance. Take a look at how farm boys move and how strong they are, no matter how well we condition the body through repetition the body will become overloaded and perform below par.
Here is a traditional movement for conditioning the body, notice the direction of forces, always coming back to the chest repetitively.
Now take a look at two of my kids playing AFL my daughter has a similar position but in a standing position, where are the forces going to be? What about my son, similar position of the arms but what direction are his forces travelling? Will these forces be repeated over and over exactly the same each time in life? The body isn’t that dumb!
Rhythm and Timing
Rhythm and Timing is one of the most important components of movement. If each of the major complexes moves efficiently and effectively the body will have good overall timing. If all 3 of the complexes have good timing then the body’s rhythm will be optimal.
This means that conditioning the body with R&T will
- Optimize energy system consumption, meaning that you won’t run out of fuel when competing in your sport or challenge.
- Eradicate energy leaks. This is vital because energy leaks can create overuse of fuel from the energy system or even worse injuries.
- Eliminate injuries. The body loves to move and it is vital that is does for many reasons. To be able to move with force and load in a safe and effective mane is critical for quality of life. Playing with our kids can create some of the biggest forces possible yet, is that how we train?
A great way to start to improve Rhythm and Timing is diaphragmatic breathing. Most people due to their occupations have poor breathing patterns (just another form of rhythm) because of sitting, bending or standing. These positions are similar and will cause loads of compensations in the body. Before you start your session lay on the floor and place a hand on your chest and tummy. Inhale and see which region moves the most, if your chest rises more than your tummy you are not absorbing an optimal amount of oxygen. If you are unsure ask one of the Personal Trainers for some guidance.
Fascial Mobilizers are movements that enable any one to move and feel better. A subtle, rhythmic movement that directly affects the fascial system, the are aimed at specific locations that become glued up in the major complexes.
Through everyday repetition, occupational hazards (sitting, standing, bending), dehydration, under recovering, tissue overload will/can cause gluing of the tissues in certain locations. Mobilizers feed non-intimidating, intelligent motion and gentle force into the body to allow the tissue to regain rehydration, mobility and stability in motion. Mobilizers are a great way of reintroducing rhythm and timing back into the body and also improving breathing patterns!
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Fascia and Mobilizers are some of many important components of the body; if you have questions or would like to know more please contact PT Academy or your trainer. PTA is the leader in Australia of education and application in the health and fitness industry. They have access to many of the world groundbreakers and are at the cutting edge of systems, science and tools for trainers and coaches of all levels.