Vanderburg: Understanding fascia key to balancing stability and movement

In the ever-evolving study of human movement there are continually new approaches to exercise and health. One such conversation is the fascination with fascia. With the assistance of technology, we are able to study the human body more accurately and are realizing more and more the importance of considering the whole body in training versus training in isolated body parts.

Helen Vanderburg shows a pose at Heaven’s Fitness in Calgary, on Wednesday August 8, 2018. Leah Hennel, Postmedia

Helen Vanderburg, Calgary Herald August 16, 2018

Fascia is body tissue that in the past was discarded and ignored in the anatomy lab. During dissection the fascia was removed to better see and study the muscles and organs. Today fascia is being considered an important part of the stability, function and integrity of the whole body, which is changing the traditional view of anatomy. The new approach is to consider the human body as an integrated and complex whole rather than a machine with isolated parts. This is changing how exercise specialists are designing exercise programs.

Techniques such as fascial stretch, self-myofascial release techniques, fascial therapy and fascial fitness are becoming popular conversations on the gym floor. So, what is it and how does it affect your workout and your health.

According to the Fascia Research Congress, fascia can be described a sheath, a sheet or any number of dissectible aggregations of connective tissue that form beneath the skin to attach, enclose or separate muscles and other internal organs.

An easy way to visual fascia is to compare it to an orange. When you remove the skin of the orange you discover the white webbing below that is dense in some places and finer in others. Once the orange is peeled the orange is connected yet separated into compartments. Each piece of the orange can be detached from the next. Once you observe the piece of the orange it is attached and separated by another sheath which continues to the smallest pieces. This is similar to the fascia in the human body. It both connects and separates, muscles, tendon, bone, organs and so on.

Thomas Myers, the author of Anatomy Trains, describes fascia as the biological fabric that holds us together. It is our connective tissue network, the 3-D spider web of fibrous, gluey, and wet proteins that bind together in a proper placement. Understanding fascia is essential to the dance between stability and movement.

Traditional exercises attempted to isolate a part of the body, such as a biceps curl to strengthen the biceps. However, when you place a dumbbell in your hands to perform a biceps curl you are immediately working all the muscles the hand, forearm, shoulder girdle, core, hips and so on. The same is true for stretching exercise such as a seated hamstring stretch. When you sit and bend forward into what is traditionally know as a hamstring stretch you are stretching far more than the hamstring. In fact, when asked during a seated forward bend, people will express they feel tightness in their calves, back of the knee, hips, low back, upper back and shoulders. Fascia webs the muscles and muscle groups to their neighbouring muscle north, south, east and west, as well as the ligaments.

Your whole body engages in action. And the whole body deteriorates during in-action. Fascia should support yet be elastic in nature to allow movement to occur with efficiency and effectiveness. In essence, fascia should slide and glide smoothly between surfaces. This slippery and gooey fabric both hold us together, yet constantly adjust to accommodate movement. With lack of movement or repetitive movement and injury the fascia can get sticky and adhesions may develop. The stiffer and less hydrated the fascia is, the higher the risk of potential injury.

The answers on how to keep fascia health is still developing in both the laboratory and on the training floor. There are a number of techniques being explored to train fascia. What we do know is fascia likes movement. The continuous contracting and releasing the tension in movement helps the fascia hydrates similar to a sponge that is squeezed and released. When the fluid is pumped out new fluids fill up the sponge.

Consider adding more movements in your training program that are counter-movements. For example, flexing down to extend up to standing as in a standing forward bend or deadlifting action. Bending to stand up as in squatting action. Doing full body exercises in a wide variety of actions or planes of movement is proving to be more beneficial then sitting on a bench and curling a dumb bell. When lunging step forward, side and back or add an upper body side bend to a standing or kneeling lunge.

Self-myofascial techniques are helpful to stimulate the nervous system and release or hydrate fascia. The fascial system is highly sensitive and when a muscle and the surrounding connective tissue sense pressure the brain sends a signal to relax. By placing pressure, rolling or rubbing the surface of skin and underlying tissue there is a stimulation of energy and release of tension. This can be done with a roller, massage ball, stick and other forms of releasing tools.

In general, there are three main types of self-massage techniques. Roll and hold, pin the tool and move the muscle or cross fiber friction.

Roll and hold can be performed with a foam roller or massage ball. In this method you place the body on the roller to target a specific area and roll slowly through the length of the muscles and fascial area between bones. When you find a responsive area hold the spot and breath.

In pin the tool and move the muscle you hold pressure on the pressure point and then move the muscle to create a release. An example is in a seated position place a massage ball under the calve muscle and flex and point the foot.

Cross fiber friction is to apply pressure and move the line perpendicular to direction of the muscle fibers. In other words, if the muscle fibers run vertically, you would move horizontally.

Whether you realized it or not, consciously or unconsciously, you have been working fascia your whole life through movement. New research in the areas of fascia is reinforcing the importance of full body movements for optimal performance, whether it is for physical endeavours or daily living.

Helen Vanderburg, co-owner of Heavens Elevated Fitness, Yoga and Spin Studio, Global Fitness Expert and Celebrity Trainer, Author of Fusion Workouts, 2015 Canadian Fitness Presenter of the Year. Motivational and Corporate Health and Wellness Speaker. Find her online at and Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Source Calgary Herald


Also see
Vanderburg: Cross-training boosts results and reduces exercise boredom >in The Calgary Herald
Vanderburg: Keep your bones strong through exercise in The Calgary Herald

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