Many of you know that I just came home from spending a week in Germany, in the most beautiful city of Munich. Why was I there for such a quick visit? Fascial Fitness training. I first did some training in Sydney last year and had such a great experience with it that I wanted to further my knowledge. Munich is the home of Fascial Fitness and it was there that I undertook Advanced and Master training courses.
So, just what is fascia and can it be trained? The word fascia refers to the connective tissues within the body. This tissue is all encompassing, intersecting within and wrapping around all of our connective parts. It’s a key component of tendons, ligaments, joint capsules and other fibres and without it, our bodies would just be a bag of bones unable to move. Fascial tissue is made up of protein and water and its consistency depends on its location and function. This tissue runs in sheets both under the skin and in deeper layers and should be able to slide and glide upon itself.
Most of us have handled meat at some time which includes fascia. In the photo above, the sirloin beef chop has a thick white layer which is part of the back fascia and the inside of the muscle is finely marbled with fat and connective fascial tissue.
In an orange the pulp is surrounded by white skin and in the outer layer the pulp is also surrounded by a thick layer of white skin (pith) that is joined to the skin. The white skin keeps the whole orange in shape. If we were to remove the pulp we could reconstruct the orange on the basis of the white skin. This is similar to the role the fascia performs in the body where all organs of the body are surrounded by fascial connective tissue.
The medical definition of fascia is:
“A fascia is a sheath, a sheet, or any other dissectible aggregations of connective tissue, that forms beneath the skin to attach, enclose and separate muscles and other internal organs”.1
Previously we have been learning and thinking about our bodies as 600 separate muscles that can be trained independently. We were also taught that when you use the muscles on one side such as the biceps of the arm, the muscles on the other side (triceps) turn off. This is known as reciprocal inhibition. When you take fascia into account, the body cannot work this way. When one side Is moved, the other side must also move. You can see this effect by pulling on a t-shirt or other piece of apparel you are wearing. If you pull on the bottom of the shirt, the top side will also become taut depending on the pulling force applied.
Fascia is our largest and richest sensory organ and has 6 times more mechanoreceptors than muscle. A mechanoreceptor is a sensory receptor that responds to mechanical pressure or distortion.2 This means that sometimes pain felt in the body may come from the fascia and not from the muscular tissues.
Fascia can be trained but it’s recovery time is longer than that of muscle tissue. So we need to be aware of this and take time to rest in between sessions of fascial training. It’s easy to overdo it so we begin by introducing simple concepts and adding to them over time. I will be taking the time to be expanding on these ideas and many more in the future – there’s so much more to learn in this exciting new world and even more to be gained in the learning.
1. Walker, 1991 cited in Scarr, Graham, Comment on ‘Defining the fascial system’, Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, Volume 21, Issue 1, 178
2. Mechanoreceptor, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mechanoreceptor