Fascia has been enjoying the limelight as one of the hottest topics in the fitness industry. But after the dust has settled, will fitness and wellness professionals still be scratching their heads and wondering, "Okay, great, it’s important, but what do I do with it?"
A great place to start is with the writings of Thomas Myers, whose April 2011 article in IDEA Fitness Journal titled "Fascial Fitness: Training in the Neuromyofascial Web" provides the fitness pro with an arsenal of research and ideas on how to train the fascial web. If that whets your appetite for further study, see Myers’s 2001 book Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists (Churchill Livingstone 2001), which offers a unique perspective on the body’s internal design and has sparked research into fascia (or connective tissue) and its role in human movement and function.
This article offers key take-home points regarding fascia and fitness.
1. Myofascia Is a 3D Matrix
Fascia forms a whole-body, continuous three-dimensional matrix of structural support around our organs, muscles, joints, bones and nerve fibers. This multidirectional, multidimensional fascial arrangement also allows us to move in multiple directions (Myers 2001; Huijing 2003; Stecco 2009).
2. Fascia Is a Force Transmitter
Have you ever watched parkour athletes jump down from a two- or three-story building, tumble, and smoothly transition into a run? How do their joints not explode on impact from the fall?
The answer is that internal force (from muscle) and external force (gravity and ground reaction) are transmitted and dispersed within the body primarily via the fascial network (so long as the force is not too great). Fascia helps prevent or minimize localized stress in a particular muscle, joint or bone, and it helps harness momentum created from the operating forces mainly through its viscoelastic properties. This protects the integrity of the body while minimizing the amount of fuel used during movement.
The myofascial lines depicted in Anatomy Trains give us a clearer picture of how the fascia mitigates stress—and force—through the body depending on the direction and application of force (Myers 2001; Huijing 2003; Sandercock & Maas 2009).
3. Repetition Is Good and Bad
Davis’s law states that soft tissue, a form of fascia, will remodel itself (becoming stiffer and denser) along lines of stress (Clark, Lucett & Corn 2008). This can have short-term benefits and long-term consequences. When we practice a movement repetitively, soft tissue will remodel itself in the direction of the desired movement so that the tissue becomes stronger at dealing with the forces in that particular direction. Long-term repetition can make fascia stiffer along the line of stress, but weaker in other directions, resulting in a possible higher frequency of tears in the fascia itself or immobility in the surrounding joints when moving in different directions. The same can be said of repetitive nonmovement, such as sitting or standing, for long periods across days, months and years.
4. Fascia Can Heal and Hypertrophy
A 1995 study demonstrates that mechanical stress (exercise) can induce hypertrophy of a ligament, a form of fascia (Fukuyama et al. 1995). New studies demonstrate the fascia system’s ability to heal itself after being torn. One such study found some people with anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears were able to return to full function without surgery and that the ACL healed completely (Matias et al. 2011). As we learn more, we may see new types of rehabilitation techniques, as well as changes in what we believe to be ideal form for some exercises.
5. Fascia Can Contract
Myofibroblasts, which allow smooth-muscle-like contractions to occur, have been found in fascia (Schleip et al. 2005). Numerous mechanoreceptors (Golgi tendon organs, Ruffini endings, Paciniform endings) have also been identified within the fascial matrix; these may be contributing to the smooth-muscle-like contractions and communicating with the central nervous system regarding the amount of shear forces within the connective tissue (Myers 2011). It is theorized that contraction of the fascia aids in stability and energy expenditure. More research is needed to understand how fascia and muscle contract in concert with one another, how these contractions affect overall movement and what they mean for the fitness professional.
For the final three take-home points, please see "Eight Fascinating Facts About Fascia" in the online IDEA Library (September 2014 IDEA Mind-Body Wellness Review). If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.