A focus on Fascia
Fascia – have you heard of it? If not, don’t worry – most sports scientists and health professionals are still learning about fascia, and the role it plays in exercise and physical health. Let us bring you up to speed, because as it turns out, fascia plays a pivotal role in creating the lean, dynamic and flexible bodies we all strive for!
The term fascia, which scientists have described as a thin ‘net’ or ‘web’, describes a three-dimensional network of connective tissue containing both collagen and elastin. Fascia encases and connects all of our internal organs and muscles, keeping them in place, and enabling all body systems to work together in an integrative manner (1,2).
Fascia has largely been overlooked by sports medicine scientists until recently, and there is still much to learn about its role in health. In relation to sports and physical activity, here’s what we do know (1,2):
- Fascia helps coordinate body movements, and the transmission of force between muscle groups
- It also plays a role in body alignment, posture and proprioception (i.e. your position in space)
- At its best, fascia is flexible and supple, enabling smooth and fluid motion, optimizing your range of motion, and elongating your muscles. At its worst, fascia can be stiff and tense, restricting mobility and tightening/ ‘shortening’ your muscles.
- Injuries to fascia can significantly affect your exercise performance, and over time, contribute to chronic musculoskeletal disorders such as back pain.
- The process of aging can also lead to stiffening fascia, affecting your range of motion and power.
If you envy the superb posture, flexibility, and long, lean limbs of a yoga instructor, looking after your fascia is a must! Here’s how to do it:
Tips for looking after your fascia (3):
- Stretch – this will help to release myofascial tension. We recommend holding stretches for 60 seconds for maximum benefit, pushing deep without crossing the boundary into pain. Ask your Goodlife personal trainer for a list of stretches that involve a range of muscle groups.
- Use a foam roller – in addition to stretching, foam rolling can help to work through ‘knots’, and loosen up tight fascia and muscles post workout. Once you find a point of tension, work on this area with your foam roller by applying pressure and moving the roller in an ‘up and down’ motion. Alternatively, apply pressure whilst holding the foam roller in place over the point of tension. Do this for at least 60 seconds, or until you feel a ‘release’. You may need to switch to a spiky ball in order to reach certain areas, such as your shoulder blades. For a list of foam rolling exercises, you can view our previous blog post.
- ‘Warm’ down – heat can improve blood supply to your fascia, providing oxygen and nourishment for post workout recovery. This heat can be generated internally, with some light cardio exercise, or externally, by using a sauna.
- Try a mobility class – if your gym routine consists mostly of static, one directional exercise such as squats, bicep curls and lat pulldowns, consider adding a class that encourages a broader range of movement. Yoga, Tai Chi, Body Balance, Body Attack and Zumba are all great examples, offered at most Goodlife Health clubs.
- See a professional – if you feel like your body is twisted up in knots, to the point where the above tips aren’t providing enough relief, get a professional to help. A regular sports massage may be essential for fascia health and preventing injury, especially in older and/or regular exercisers.