Fascia: Essentials You Need to Know

Fascia: you’re hearing about it more and more, and for good reason. Consciously or unconsciously, you have been working with fascia—connective tissue—for your whole movement career. It is unavoidable. Now, however, new research is reinforcing the importance of fascia in functional training (Fascia Congress 2009). Fascia is much more than “plastic wrap around the muscles.” It is the organ system of stability and mechano-regulation. The evidence all points to a new consideration within overall fitness—hence the term fascial fitness. Understanding the importance of fascia gives rise to exciting new questions:

  • Most injuries are connective-tissue (fascial) injuries, not muscular injuries—so how do we best train to prevent and repair damage and build elasticity and resilience into the system?
  • There are 10 times more sensory nerve endings in fascia than in muscles—so how do we aim proprioceptive stimulation at the fascia as well as the muscles?
  • Traditional anatomy texts of the muscles and fascia are inaccurate, based on a fundamental misunderstanding of our movement function—so how do we work with fascia as a whole, as the “organ system of stability”?

How to Train the Neuromyofascial Web

How can we train this system, in conjunction with our work on muscles and neural control, to prevent and repair injury and build resilience into the system?

The answer to this question is still developing—rapidly—both in the laboratory and on the training floor. Some research is confirming our images and practices as they have developed and are traditionally applied. Here we focus on surprising research that is (or soon will be) changing our ideas of how the neuromyofascial web really works and what role connective tissue plays in developing overall fitness for life.

Finding #1: The fascial system responds better to variation than to a repetitive program.
The evidence suggests that the fascial system is better trained by a wide variety of vectors--in angle, tempo and load (Huijing 2007). Isolating muscles along one track (e.g., with an exercise machine) may be useful for those muscles but is less than useful for all the surrounding tissues. Loading the tissue one way all the time means it will be weaker when life--which is rarely repetitive--throws that part of the body a curve ball.

What’s In:

  • Whole-Body Movements. Engaging long myofascial chains and whole-body movements is the better way to train the fascial system.
  • Proximal Initiation. It’s best to start movements with a dynamic prestretch (distal extension) but accompany this with a proximal initiation in the desired direction, letting the more distal parts of the body follow in sequence, like an elastic pendulum.
  • Adaptive Movement. Complex movement requiring adaptation, like parkour (see the beginning of the James Bond movie Casino Royale for a great example), beats repetitive exercise programs.

What’s Out:

  • Repetitive Movement. Machines (or minds) that require clients to work in the same line again and again do not build fascial resilience very well.
  • Always Practicing With Upper-Level Loads. Variable loads build different aspects of the fascia. Sticking with near-limit loads will strengthen some ligaments but weaken others. Varying the load is the better way.
  • Always Training in the Same Tempo. Likewise, varying the tempo of your training allows different fascial structures to build strength and elasticity.

For more research findings on fascia, along with in-depth analysis of what the findings mean for personal training, please see “Fascial Fitness: Training in the Neuromyofascial Web” in the online IDEA Library or in the April 2011 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.

For the latest research, statistics, sample classes, and more, "Like" IDEA on Facebook here.

Thomas Myers

IDEA Author/Presenter
November 2011

© 2011 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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Article Comments

Gerald Cormier
On Nov 01, 2011
I'VE BEEN TRAINING MY CLIENTS LIKE THIS FOR THE LAST 5 YEARS. MY CLIENTS RANGE FROM 40 YEARS OLD ON UP. ITS NICE TO READ A ARTICLE LIKE THIS, MAYBE NOW ALL THE OTHER PEOPLE I'VE TRIED TO EXPLAIN MY "WAY OF LIFE HAWAII" TRAINING SYSTEM WILL UNDERSTAND. THEN AGAIN, THEY WILL PROABLY JUST SAY, HEY DID YOU SEE WHAT THERE DOING IN L.A. NOW. ANYWAYS, NICE ARTICLE.

ALOHA & MAHALO,
JERRY

NASM,CES,PES,PLANT-BASED NUTRITION
"WAY OF LIFE HAWAII" FUNCTIONAL FITNESS
Donald Stroup
On Nov 02, 2011
Great article,dynamic prestretch is great yes and also may I suggest preworkout foam rolling after a brief warmup,changing tempo also sounds like that makes total sense
Have a great day
Donnie Stroup

ACE,WITS,THE FITNESS EXPERT PERSONAL TRAINING ,NEW BALTIMORE MICHIGAN
Maria Beall
On Nov 02, 2011
I would love to see some exact exercises we could utilize...very interesting....
Yes, good stuff, and don't forget to incorporate alignment and release work such as that presented in Yamuna Body Rolling.
Anonymous
On Nov 03, 2011
Excellent introduction to this complex idea. Thank you for writing it, for introducing the idea of lighter loads, varying tempo, and systemic movement. I am a believer and educator in these types of training which have many other benefits as well as facial.
Anonymous
On Nov 03, 2011
So far this totally describes Gyrotonic exercises. No wonder I feel so good and so supple yet strong when I do it regularly. Pilates is great, but Gyrotonic takes the cake for addressing fascia intelligently.
Bryce Taylor
On Nov 03, 2011
Even as a physical therapist, it has been tough accepting fascia as an integral factor for mobility and proprioception. I recall taking a course in Colorado about 8 years ago that worked on fascial restrictions throughout the abdominal wall and viscera. It seemed like voodoo stuff at the time...
Matthew Barnes
On Nov 04, 2011
Gary Gray has been preaching this for many many years. It is nice to see an article like this finally make a more mainstrem publication.
Anonymous
On Nov 04, 2011
It is wonderful to see this come into the main stream. Gyrotonic and Pilates instructors have always known and worked with this understanding.
Sharon Kronberg
On Nov 05, 2011
I attended a "functional movement" certification, hoping to leave with information and sample training sessions to address this approach of training. There is so much information, I felt I needed an internship to truly apply knowledge to movement. If this is the future of training, we (trainers/fitness instructors) need more opportunities to understand what myofascial training is and experience the movements in a format we can take back with us to our clients.
Anonymous
On Nov 05, 2011
This is one of the reasons I love the Nia Technique - It's all about exploring variety in movement, diversity in tempo, and whole-body systemic movement. Plus, it makes me really happy!
Pamila Lorentz
On Nov 05, 2011
Really? I suppose someone should share this with Emily Conrad, founder of Continuum Movement. She's been teaching this for , hmmm, 40 years? Oh wait, has Tom Myers already done that?
Pamila Lorentz
On Nov 06, 2011
I am sorry that my "mouth" types faster than my sense. Tom Myers is a pioneer in fascial work, and I do want to honor his contribution to an evolving field. H'okopouno
Anonymous
On Nov 10, 2011
Pamila, Take it easy now. There are 'many' folks who have been advocates of working with the fascial system... Long before Emily as well. Kudos to Tom for having the patience and drive alike to get this into the mainstream... But many more have contributed... It doesn't do anyone any good if Emily has taught this for 40 years and nobody has heard of it. Does it?

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