Understanding Fascia: How To Protect It While You're Working Out
If you've you spent a lifetime with the goal of chiseling yourself into the prefect ratio of body fat, hoping that harder is better, you might want to read this.
I've been lucky to make a career from my touchy-feely sense of what lies under that dermis of yours. My super-sensitive kinesthetic skills have served me well over the years and the one thing I know about my hard-bodied clients is that they are too tight. They come to me with problems created when someone has a hard body goal and forgets that their strength lies in flexibility and mobility.
The myofascial system — that thing you rely on for both getting out of bed in the morning and running your ultra marathon — is a superhighway of light, energy and information, now thought to carry that important information faster than the nervous system.
The problem with ignoring the fascia is that it is what makes up, surrounds and connects every single structure in our bodies. A healthy myofascial system equals a supple, mobile, agile mind, body and spirit. Restrictions in this tissue stem from repetitive bad posture, trauma, illness and inflammation and cause pain, tightness, immobility and even depression.
The healthiest looking, hardest bodies can have the biggest issues. These extreme exercisers have perfected the process of toning and strengthening, and even cardiovascular endurance, but they're missing the varied movements and tissue restoration their system needs to stay balanced, flexible and mobile.
These kind of athletes base their workouts on old, outdated theories and routines that don't incorporate enough varied movements, cross training or fascial release to keep them balanced and healthy. Show me a dancer, martial artist or yogini and I'll show you a healthy athlete. These types of sports train the mind, body and spirit of the person with a practice that values awareness and how to integrate all parts into a peak-functioning whole.
The biggest issues I've seen are in runners, cyclists and weight lifters that forget to move their body out of the one plane patterns that are their sport. These folks are tight, bent forward, and stiff in backward and lateral plane movements. Their necks, backs and sometimes hips and knees hurt. They're blowing out their discs and their meniscus because of the compression forces that develop after years of training in one direction and never addressing the myofascial mobility they need to stay loose and flexible. They forget that they can gain strength by gaining myofascial mobility.
The trick to keeping your body healthy? A maintenance schedule. It should include the proper amount of movement, and the right kind and combination of movement. It should include cardiovascular fitness, strength, flexibility and myofascial mobility, hard body or not.
This is where you'll have to break out of your box of old workouts and learn about how and why flexibility and myofascial mobility will be the key to good health and peak performance. This is where you have to interrupt years of patterned thoughts and behavior and try something new. This is how you might change the course of your life.
Yes, it is that big of a deal. Fascia and its intracellular matrix form a system inside of you that's like one big, three dimensional web of life. It can hold the physical restrictions I've mentioned as well as mental or emotional energy from old trauma. The layers of bumps and dings aren't just physical layers — each event we go through, every trauma we suffer, is a combination of mind, body and soul. Every single emotion we experience has a physiological effect or manifestation in the body.
Integration of mind, body and soul through awareness is the path to making your hard body healthy. Myofascial release is one path of integration. Through a hands on combination of pressure and stretch, the restrictions that sit in your fascial web can be melted, loosened and released, resulting in pain relief, improved flexibility, improved organ function and kick-ass athletic performance.
If you want to get the most out of your soft tissue restoration routine, whether you are teetering over a foam roller or just using your own hands to stretch your tissues, you'll want to do a combination of three very important things.
1. Stay awake. Be aware inside your body while you're stretching. Quiet your mind, feel what's happening and stay in that focused awareness during your exercises. Awareness is the key to making a change in the tissue, to healing, to transforming your body.
2. Breathe! Stretching is 90% breathing and relaxation, which puts us back at awareness. Breath is life, so if you're holding your breath and not realizing it, you're asleep. Wake up, breathe, relax and let go into your stretches.
3. Hold your myofascial stretch for at least three minutes. Five is better. Why? Because the physiological effect of permanent elongation of the tissues that is your primary goal of this kind of stretching only happens after a long, slow, sustained pressure, after which the body will begin to change your dried up fascia into its natural, fluid healthy state again.
The next time you're hoping to improve your body or your performance by getting harder or stronger, remember that when things get too rigid they break. Break out of your old habits and beliefs, and explore the idea that the path to strength lies in the mobility of a system you haven't paid attention to before. A system that holds the key to your health, freedom and happiness. A system that holds the key to transforming your life.