Holding It All Together
Fascia is connective tissue that surrounds all of the structures in your body, from head to toe. There are three primary types of fascia: superficial, visceral, and deep. Superficial fascia surrounds areas such as your face, neck, and sternum. Visceral fascia, as the name implies, suspends the organs in your abdominal cavity.
However deep fascia is where this topic gets interesting. Deep fascia is tough, fibrous connective tissue that surrounds your muscles. It contains many sensory receptors that communicate pain, proprioception, and various other feedback mechanisms to your brain. Just like your muscles, deep fascia can contract and relax.
There are FIVE major fascial chains:
- Superficial back line — starts at the bottom of the feet and continues up and over the top of the head and ends at the brow ridge
- Superficial front line — starts on the top of the feet at the toes and ends behind the ear at the mastoid process (the area where the jaw connects to the skull)
- Lateral line — runs along the lateral portion of the lower body, hips, and obliques.
- Spiral line — wraps from side to side along the body
- Deep front line — runs deep along the spine and jaw
It’s imperative that you respect the deep fascia that surrounds your muscles, because if the deep fascia that surrounds your muscles is too tight, it can restrict your muscle growth and impair muscle function and performance.
Beyond Big Muscles
In pursuit of bigger muscles you’ve got to respect the structures that surround and support your muscles and joints. If you do, you’ll get faster results, and you’ll enjoy a lifetime of lifting. That’s because unhealthy fascia can impede your ability to perform well in the gym.
If you’ve ever had foot problems, you might’ve been diagnosed with something called plantar fasciitis. This is an inflammation of the fascia on the bottom of your feet, often caused by excessive foot pronation (tilting inwards), and almost certainly will lead to other problems within the body.
Fascia is an integrated and interconnected band of connective tissue that runs from the bottom of your feet to your head. Ultimately, when any area of this fascia in between your feet and head gets irritated and loses its functional capacity, your body must compensate. Generally, irritated fascia stiffens. This results in a “pull” across other areas of your body, causing irritation from areas all the way from foot to head!
A little tip for you to try
First, from a standing position, try to touch your toes with your back flat and legs straight. Make a note of how far down you can reach and how intense the stretch is on your hamstrings. Next, from a standing position, take a tennis ball and place it under the arch of your right foot. Place a good amount of weight on the tennis ball, but not so much that you lose your balance or feel intense pain. Now roll the tennis ball around under your right foot, making sure to hit all areas from inside to outside and front to back. You should feel pressure and a little discomfort on the bottom of your foot, but not intense pain. Do this for 30 seconds before switching to the left foot and following the same procedure. Repeat the standing toe touch, you’ll notice two things: first, you’ll be able to immediately reach closer to your toes (or beyond your toes, depending on your initial range of motion), and second, you’ll feel less of a “pull” in your hamstrings. By rolling the tennis ball underneath your feet you’ve sent a signal to your fascia to relax, thus freeing up all of your muscles from head to toe. This, in turn, allows you to achieve a greater range of motion.
Question: Have you ever had a sore neck/shoulder from RUNNING? How does that happen?
The human body is a series of joints stacked on top of each other. Anytime there’s dysfunction in one joint, there must be compensation in another. Let’s say for example that you have a pain in your right shoulder, would you ever have thought it could be a result of an interruption in the fascia chain starting from your foot?
When one joint can’t move freely, other joints have to pick up the slack. When a joint is forced to do extra work, you set that joint up for injury. Think about the ankle joint – when you have plantar fasciitis and excessive foot pronation, another joint must compensate, and it is the knee joint that’s directly above it. The knee joint is being pulled inward to compensate for the excessive foot pronation. Since the knee joint has altered its natural position, the hip must follow (you can’t move your leg without it affecting your hip) and shift its position. Importantly, the hip joint is linked with the shoulders because of your “spiral fascial line”. So now that your hip has shifted, the opposite shoulder must compensate by shifting, too. Depending on the position of the hip, your shoulder might compensate by rotating slightly — thus throwing your shoulder blade out of its ideal placement and shortening the muscles on the front of your shoulder.
So next time you feel tense in a shoulder, don’t waste your time getting an upper body massage because that might not be the problem. Start from the bottom up!
The difference between Mobility and Flexibility – Static and Active
It’s safe to say that you’ve heard the terms “flexibility” and “mobility”, but what are the main differences?
Imagine you’re lying on your back with your legs straight. If you just lie there and someone lift your leg up as high as possible then they’d be testing your passive range of motion. This is a test of flexibility — the ability for your muscles to passively lengthen. When you stand up and mimic the same test by pulling your leg up as high as possible, you’re testing mobility. Think of mobility as “active flexibility”. After all, the definition of mobility is “the ability to move freely.” So flexibility and mobility are not synonymous terms. Is one better than the other? No, but we just need to differentiate between when is best to use each one.
It is common knowledge that before you train you must stretch your muscles to avoid injury. Over the past decades, it has been passive stretching or “static” stretching that has been most commonly used. We have all heard that stretching prevents injuries by “preparing” your muscles for hard work, and it makes sense. However recent research is showing that “static” stretching before a workout may in fact impede upon performance. This is because when you stretch statically, you are relaxing your muscles. This is great for recovery, but it also relaxes your nervous system. Ultimately, this means that a static stretch in your hamstring will cause it to temporarily lose strength due to the weakening of the signal between the nerve endings and muscle itself. Obviously we want our nervous system to be working at its peak while you’re training in order to recruit as many motor units as possible, but by reducing the nervous system transmission between motor neurons and muscles, you will not produce as much force as if you skipped the static stretching.
However, this is not to say that static stretching is a bad thing, it’s just making sure we use it at the right time. After a workout, it is important that the nervous system and muscles are relaxed because while they are stimulated it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to get your muscles to the point of relaxation that is required for proper recovery.
“Mobility training” or “active stretching”, if performed correctly, will enhance your nervous system and prepare your joints for a workout. When you actively move your muscles through a full range of motion, you stimulate the motor nerves that innervate your muscles, thus allowing you to recruit more motor units.
This information doesn’t end with the nervous system and joint fluid, though. Remember that fascia that I was referring to last week? Well, flexibility and mobility training help keep that fascia supple. By doing so, you’ll receive three big benefits. Firstly, you’ll be able to perform exercises through a greater range of motion, secondly, you’ll potentially reduce your risk for joint injuries, and thirdly, you’ll give your muscles room to grow by “unbinding” them.