5 Things to Know About Your Fascia
Picture a young boy playing on a playground, what would you see? A bundle of energy as he climbs, jumps, runs and moves in all directions at various speeds. Now think of an old man trying to navigate a busy sidewalk. How would an older man move differently when compared to a young child? Being cautious about having to negotiate obstacles like other walkers and curbs, the man would move much slower and more deliberately when compared to the boy. They have the same basic anatomy so why do they move so differently?
Easy, the fascia and elastic connective tissue that connect every single muscle fiber to one another.
The human body is capable of producing two types of energy: chemical energy from the macronutrients consumed in the diet and mechanical energy produced as muscles transition from lengthening to shortening.
When muscles shorten, they generate force which is then distributed by the network of fascia and elastic connective tissue to control movement. In general, young children move in a variety of directions at different speeds resulting in muscle and fascia that is more pliable, resilient and capable of being lengthened in all directions. During the biological aging process, fascia and elastic connective tissue can lose elasticity and the ability to lengthen, placing it at an increased risk of injury during rapid changes of direction or movement speed. When fascia loses elasticity, the body loses an important source of energy from the mechanical actions of muscle and connective tissues.
Adding certain exercises to your workout program can help increase your overall stamina by enhancing the body’s ability to produce and use mechanical energy. Here are 5 things to know about fascia and elastic connective tissue as well as some exercises that can lead to a strong fascial network that could help to reduce the risk of injury while optimizing mechanical energy in your body:
1. There are two basic types of muscle tissue: the contractile element of skeletal muscle responsible for producing force and the elastic connective tissue that envelopes individual muscle fibers and distributes the forces generated by the contractile element. The contractile element consists of the actin-myosin protein filaments that generate force when stimulated to contract by the nervous system.
2. When muscles experience constant stress from repetitive movements or maintaining a poor posture they can layer down inelastic collagen fibers to protect themselves from damage. Muscle is organized in layers; when collagen binds between these layers it creates adhesions reducing the ability to slide against one other which, in turn, can limit muscle force output and change the function of the involved joints. Moving in multiple directions can reduce the risk of collagen binding between layers while promoting the production of new collagen proteins and maintaining optimal joint motion.
3. The good news is that the right exercise can re-structure the fascia and connective tissue to increase elasticity, enhance strength, improve movement skill and develop the structural integrity to resist injuries like pulls or strains. Traditional strength training exercises are great for improving size or force output of the contractile element but may not provide the most effective means for training the fascia and connective tissues. Plyometric movements and exercises that move the body in multiple directions can be effective for strengthening the fascia and connective tissues.
4. A young child at play is constantly moving in all directions at all different speeds, this forces the fascial system to adapt to various levels of force and lines of pull. Most traditional gym exercises focus on the contractile element yet it’s the elastic component that’s often the cause of an injury when it’s stretched beyond it’s normal length. Multi-directional movements like lunging in all directions, push-ups with the hands in a variety of positions or medicine-ball exercises where the shoulders and hips are working at the same time can all help to strengthen the fascia by placing different loads into the tissues.
5. Explosive plyometric exercises like skips, hops and jumps aren’t just for athletes; during explosive movements the muscle fibers shorten while the surrounding connective tissues lengthen making dynamic jumping movements effective for strengthening the fascia. When it comes to training the fascial network the only difference between young and old is that older adults will need to increase the intensity at a slower, more controlled rate of progression. For example, start doing jumps with 1-2 sets of 2-4 reps and gradually build up to 3-4 sets of 6-to-8 reps allowing for plenty of rest, at least one minute, between sets.
While many traditional resistance training exercises can strengthen the contractile element they don’t provide the stimulus that can help improve the resiliency or optimize the mechanical efficiency of fascia and elastic connective tissues. Exercises that challenge you to move in multiple directions or at an explosive tempo can not only help strengthen your connective tissue but can also be effective for increasing caloric expenditure. Finally, the most significant benefit of training your fascia is that proper loading through exercise can influence a younger, more youthful architecture of connective tissue, who doesn’t want that?
To learn more about your fascia, listen to this All About Fitness interview with Thomas Myers, the author of Anatomy Trains
The following exercises engage the fascia to help improve overall elasticity as well as strengthen the muscle fibers responsible for generating force.
Lateral lunge with trunk rotation
Start with both feet approximately hip-width apart, step to the right, as the right foot hits the ground push the hip straight back while pressing the right foot into the ground, rotate your trunk to the right while pulling the right arm back and reaching across the body with your left hand to increase the trunk rotation, rotate back to center and return to start position; repeat 8-12 times to the right then alternate to the other side. Rest for 1 min. after both sides, complete 2-3 sets.
Standing lift with Rotation – The Woodchopper
Medicine Ball Exercises
Using a medicine ball allows you to move in multiple directions while using the hips and shoulders at the same time.