Fascia health is our primary goal at Bendable Body. This amazing and elusive tissue has been too long ignored in the health and fitness world. There are 1000s of gyms across the globe dedicated to muscle health and strength, and virtually none dedicated to fascia health. It's time we balanced that out. The only way to properly stretch your muscles is to simultaneously stretch your fascia. These two tissues - muscle and fascia - are totally intermingled and dependent on one another. You know what muscles are, now learn what fascia activation is.
First, what is fascia exactly?
Here's the Fascia Research Congress definition:
"A fascia is a sheath, a sheet, or any other dissectible aggregations of connective tissue that forms beneath the skin to attach, enclose, and separate muscles and other internal organs.”
"The fascial system consists of the three-dimensional continuum of soft, collagen containing, loose and dense fibrous connective tissues that permeate the body. It incorporates elements such as adipose tissue, adventitiae and neurovascular sheaths, aponeuroses, deep and superficial fasciae, epineurium, joint capsules, ligaments, membranes, meninges, myofascial expansions, periostea, retinacula, septa, tendons, visceral fasciae, and all the intramuscular and intermuscular connective tissues including endo-/peri-/epimysium. The fascial system surrounds, interweaves between, and interpenetrates all organs, muscles, bones and nerve fibers, endowing the body with a functional structure, and providing an environment that enables all body systems to operate in an integrated manner.
Here’s a simple analogy: Your body is like a bowl of soup.
Fascia is like the broth in a bowl of vegetable soup, connecting, penetrating, permeating, and separating all the vegetables… which are like the muscles, bones, organs, ligaments, tendons, fat, skin, and everything else.
Second, why is fascia so important and actually the root cause of pain.
Each individual muscle fibre is poured into a fascia pocket. So in order for your muscles to be both flexible and strong, your fascia has to be healthy.
Healthy fascia is pliable, bendable, hydrated, gushy, flexible, moving, changing, elasticity. Unhealthy fascia is cemented, stiff, tough, matted, like a brick wall, plastic-y, unbendable, tough, dry, brittle and hard.
When our muscles are strong and flexible they move us around with ease and grace. But when our fascia becomes unhealthy, it binds and strangulates our muscles... making us weak and stiff and ultimately causing us pain.
One of the most common areas where pain occurs in the body is at a joint or in the spine (ankles, knees, hips, SI Joint, low back, middle back, upper back, shoulders, neck, elbows, wrists). This happens because over time our muscles accumulated too much dense fascia - from repetitive movements or a lack of diversity of movement. The muscles stop doing their job to move our bodies around - to make movements in other words. But we keep moving. So our joints overwork to allow our bodies to move. Eventually wear and tear in the joint shows up and you experience pain and injury.
The most common approach to solving this is to ‘strengthen’ muscles in the body. However, if you don’t remove some of the dense fascia first, the strengthening is much less effective.
Healthy fascia verses unhealthy fascia:
Fascia has a health spectrum from super healthy and pliable to scar tissue, and everything in between.
Super healthy fascia is made up of collagen and sea water. Under a microscope it looks like a 3 dimensional water web. It glides and reshapes moment to moment allowing muscles to activate and move within the web with ease and power. Muscles are not the only thing that move within fascia. This tissue is all pervasive in the body, touching all other tissues and containing more nervous innovation than the nervous system.
However, through trauma, repetitive movements, or lack of movement, the water web hardens, thickens, mats on itself, and looses its supple and pliable nature. This is called dense accumulated fascia or scar tissue. When fascia activation is lost it contains tremendous force that creates resistance to all other movements in the body. For example, your muscles are now trying to move in and against that hardened fascia force. They will always be unsuccessful and movements will get disproportionately redirected elsewhere - to other muscles and to joints - causing over use, pain and injury in those areas.
How do you treat your fascia?
There are a number of methods out there that treat fascia. The Bendable Body Method is very effective because it targets the densest, stiffest fascia - without pain. It also simultaneously strengthens muscles and establishes correct posture.
The fascia is activated and engaged when you eccentrically stretch it with resistance. This means putting the target muscle in a short or contracted position and resisting while you lengthen it for the stretch. It’s the exact opposite of a concentric strength training movement. During these 'loaded eccentric movements' it is the only time that the fascia 'meets its match' and is activated. It is otherwise never engaged with. It would be the equivalent of never applying any weight baring activity to the muscles in the body. The consequences terrible. To get started with resistance stretching we recommend you follow the 4 Pillars of a stretch.
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Give this stretch a try and discover what it means to release your fascia:
Pillar 1 - Start Position: In a lunge position.
Pillar 2 - Resist: Drive your front heel down and back to activate your hamstring.
Pillar 3 - Lengthen for the Stretch with resistance throughout the movement: Sitting your hips back while you continue to resist.
Pillar 4 - Release and Return to the Start position. Repeat Pillar 1.
*Try 3 sets of 6-10 repetitions on one leg before going to the second leg. Get up and walk around and compare the 2 legs. See how loose and light the first leg feels compared to the other leg - from stretching your fascia. Now do the other leg!