Fascial Fitness is a fairly new buzz word among fitness professionals. It pertains to training the body based on the fascial tissue layer which has been a neglected piece of kinesthetic chain in previous research. The fascia layer lies between the skin and muscular tissue. This layer is greasy and looks like a spider web as it encompasses the muscles and organs in a net-like fashion. One important detail about the fascia: it is an interconnected web and remains continuous throughout the body.
What is the fascia made of? The fascial tissue contains three things: fibers, gooey stuff, and water. The fibers are made up of collagen (12 types) and elastin/reticulin. The gooey stuff is what makes the fascia have a greasy feeling. The body produces heparin, fibronectin, and hyaluronic acid which are gel-like subatances in the fascia. There is also a glue-like substance that helps the tissue adapt and allows nerves and cells that line the surfaces of tissues to connect. The water mixes with the gooey stuff to help keep the fibers wet a pliable.
In the past when doing muscular research on cadavers the fascia layer was simply cut off and put to the side. Since the muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons were the only tissues studied for movement; fitness exercises and equipment were designed to train muscles in a way that creates isolated joint movements. For example, a biceps curl with a dumbbell engages the biceps muscle to cause the elbow joint to flex. Now, researchers are paying closer attention to this fascial layer over top of the muscle that has 10 times more sensory nerve endings than muscles. When the brain tells the body to move the arm overhead, it is most likely communicating this message to the facial tissue instead of the deltoid which is one shoulder muscle. Thus, full body exercises, also known as “functional” exercises have been making a breakthrough.
This fascial research teaches us a number of things when it comes to training and conditioning the human body. We know that the fascia starts to tighten up with age which may be the biggest contributor to flexibility issues aside for the previous thought muscular tightness. Therefore, full body movements such as functional strength training, yoga and pilates are great forms of exercise to address the fascial tissue. Massage also helps to loosen up the fascial tissue for better body function. Fitness centers have started using foam rollers, tennis balls, and other massage tools to loosen fascial tissue as a quicker, cheaper alternative to setting up a massage on a daily basis. When a “knot” is palpated in a muscular region of the body, this is simply the spider-web like fascia that has bundled up and created a knot feeling. Massaging, rolling, and trigger point release techniques help to release the “knot.”
Other fasical findings help us to understand the muscular system better than before. For example, it has been discovered that tendons and muscles are more elastic than previously thought, and most injuries that occur are fascial not muscular. Building elasticity and resilience into the fascial system will help prevent injury. This can be accomplished with dynamic stretching, jumping and bounding, and utilizing the BOSU. Along the same lines, research suggests that fascial elasticity rebounds very quickly which plays a large role in quick repetitive movements such as running or jumping rope.
Lastly, findings suggest that variation is most important for the fascial tissue. Loading the fascial tissue repetitively will cause weakness that may result in injury in the long run. Therefore, mix it up!