“Your skin is like a wetsuit. Free it up and everything moves more smoothly”
Most injuries are connective tissue (fascial) injuries and not muscular. Put simply, this means that the structure of the connective tissue – ligaments, tendons, joint capsules have been loaded beyond their capacity. When this happens many times over and without adequate recovery, we feel tightness and tension and if we do nothing to rebalance this, injury and pain. E.g. that dull ache in our shoulder becomes movement restriction and referred pain down the arm. Eventually we can no longer carry out daily tasks or sports because of it.
So what is fascia?
Fascia is tendon-like connective tissue arranged in sheets under the skin, in and between muscle and around organs, blood vessels and nerves. It preserves the shape of our limbs and provides pathways for nerves, blood and lymphatic vessels and houses nearly 25% of the body’s fluid. If all your muscle fibres were removed you would still recognise your shape! “The body – and the fascial net in particular – is a single connected unity in which the muscle and bones float”. Myers (2011)
One of the many forms of fascia
When under stress, fascia tightens and forms a barrier for lymphatic drainage, venous and nervous tissue. Eventually, fascia loses its elasticity – joints stiffen, knee cartilage wears, spinal discs degenerate. The web frays to cause skin wrinkles and in the eye the lens net frays and we reach for the reading glasses at about aged 50.
BUT we can help ourselves to preserve this net, keep our fascia fit to prevent and recover more quickly from injury and preserve our quality of movement. A body that has good fascial fitness (NOT the same as muscular-skeletal or cardiac fitness) will perform effectively and offer a greater degree of protection against injury and even ageing.
OK – so how does this relate to me?
Through high resolution imaging, it is possible to examine the behaviour of both fascia and muscle tissue under load and this is proving a fascinating area of human movement. Kangaroos hop much faster than the size of their leg muscles would suggest. Gazelles are capable of very quick running and bounding but their muscles are not especially powerful. A horse has no muscle at all below the knee or hock, yet its legs will support its body to propel it to speeds of up to 30mph.
In bouncy movements such as sprinting, jumping or hopping, it appears that the lengthening and shortening of the fascia is responsible for the actual movement.
This is a step on from the conventional thinking that movement is caused simply by muscles shortening and pulling on tendons, creating movement at the joint.
Moreover, when the fascia is used in such “bouncy” or oscillating movements, studies have proved that it repairs in a neat, two-directional lattice arrangement which is akin to the collagen fibre of young people. Older fascia is more haphazard and multi-directional and studies have shown that appropriate exercise helps to maintain a more youthful fascial architecture. Lack of exercise on the other hand, has been shown to induce a multidirectional fibre network and a more haphazard formation. (Jarvinen et al 2002).
Training Fascial Resilience – What’s in and what’s out?
IN – whole body movements (Metafit!), dynamic stretching, light soft, bouncy movements and counter movements (where the body is flexed before it is extended, such as a jump or hop).
Listen to your body, even when walking – take care to execute movement as smoothly and softly as possible, think of moving like a Ninja!
Try bounding up the stairs making as little noise as possible and keeping your feet light. Or performing ten bouncy press ups against a wall. Imitate the elastic bound of a kangaroo…
OUT – gym machines with fixed path resistance and isolating single muscle groups – you cannot “do” your triceps or only “work your core”. The body isn’t designed like that! Whilst useful in an injury re-hab situation, such exercises do little to build fascial resilience and loading one area in one direction means it will be LESS resilient in real life. Think lifting heavy shopping from a car, pulling or pushing a heavy load such as your child’s buggy or a wheeled chair, lunging down to pick up something off the floor. These are complex whole body moves.
The end bit
A class like Metafit really IS highly effective in training your fascial fitness – it is full range of movement and contains plenty of bouncy, counter-movements like burpees, squat thrusts and jumps. This may explain the research which shows that the joints of regular runners are no more likely to suffer from degeneration and arthritis than non-runners, in fact they are often healthier for longer!
Care should be taken to restrict training at this intensity to about twice a week, taking into account your actual age, exercise age and injury history. This allows sufficient time for repair and strengthening of the collagen fibres, which actually degrade before they repair. Improvement in fascial fitness is not like muscular strength training, where gains can be felt within six weeks. Regular, consistent and patient training of the connective tissue network will result in life long change – creating resilient, elastic, hydrated, healthy tissue.
Fascial Fitness – Divo Muller & Robert Schleip
Fascial Fitness: Training in the Neuromyofascial Web – Thomas Myers
Fascial Release for Structural Balance – Tom Myers & James Earl
Myofascial Release – Ruth Duncan
LSSM weekend 9 – Allan Murrell & Brian Clarke
The Fuzz Speech – Dr Gill Hedly https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdRqLrCF_Ys