Muscular strength, cardiovascular conditioning and neuromuscular coordination are the usual focus in fitness training. But researches show that training the neuromyofascial web, known as “fascial fitness,” should be explored further.
I first encountered this new training concept last April, when Thomas Myers’ article was published in IDEA Fitness Journal. And just recently, I took a three-day course in Redcord Active course with Andy Hoare, a physiotherapist and clinical Pilates instructor from Australia, who discussed the role of fascia in improving one’s functional fitness.
A fascia is a sheet of connective tissue binding body structures such as muscles, organs, and other soft tissues in the body.
According to Myers, fascia is the organ of stability and mechano-regulation, and it is more than a plastic wrapping around muscles. In fact, most injuries are not muscle injuries, but fascial injuries.
Divo Muller and Robert Scleip, PhD, authors of the article “Fascial Fitness: Fascial Oriented training for Bodywork and Movement Therapies,” write that training the fascial network is important for dancers, athletes and other movement advocates because if one’s fascial body is well-trained, fascia can be optimally elastic and resilient, so one can perform movements effectively while being able to prevent more injuries.
Training the fascia with integrated movement patterns rather than focusing only on specific muscles can help prevent injuries, restore natural settings for posture, and improve one’s movement and performance.
Here are some findings reported by Myers that can be applied in fitness and sports training. I have also included some fitness strategies and tips you can focus on so that you can apply fascial fitness effectively.
Use of whole body movements, but starting from proximal parts
Using exercise machines that will require you to move in the same line repetitively will not improve fascial resilience very well. It is better to engage your whole body when training for movements. But you should initiate movements by engaging first the proximal parts, like the trunk and the hip muscles, before you move the other distal parts of the body like the hand and the feet.
Learning how to engage your proximal core muscles plays a big role in effective movement performance.
Mind and body exercises that teach proper breathing and core activation like Pilates and yoga can be a good component of your exercise routine. Once you learn the proper breathing, core activation, and stability, be mindful of the sequence pattern of the whole body movement, which can be mastered by regularly training the desired movement pattern, using your body as a whole.
If you want to improve your strength and performance in a desired movement pattern, train your body as a whole and do not focus on single joint exercises using one plane only. A golf swing requires rotation and the movement of your whole body.
Before you start with the actual move, do a countermovement first to maximize the use of fascial elasticity. For example, bend first from a sitting position before you go to a standing position. This action will briefly activate the muscles in the front part of the body which will eventually cause pre-tensioning of the back fascia.
This principle is comparable with using a bow to shoot an arrow, where we start with a slight pre-tensioning in the opposite direction before performing the actual movement, according to Muller and Scleip.
Other movement examples of Myers to apply this principle are winding up before a pitch or swinging a kettlebell toward the body before swinging it away from you to be able to smooth out the movement.
Varying training load and tempo
Changing your training load and training tempo will strengthen other aspects of the fascia and will make it more elastic as opposed to using the same heavy loads and training tempo.
As much as possible, vary your training load when you do functional training, like when you use body leverage training system (like TRX, Redcord) in various planes of movement. For example, when using body leverage tools, the load can be varied by changing the lever, using unilateral or bilateral movements, and changing the placement, height or angle. The training pace can be varied by making the movements faster or slower.
Feeling and visualizing the fascial tissues
Proprioception and kinesthesia are primarily fascial and not muscular, because the fascial system is more innervated than muscles. According to the The Anatomical Record, there are 10 times as many sensory receptors in the fascia than the muscles.
So whenever you train, shift your attention away from muscles and just visualize your fascia. This will help you prevent injuries.
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