ON FLEXIBILITY AND FASCIA
Once upon a (surprisingly recent) time, nobody took much notice of fascia. We’re not talking architecture, furniture components or car dashboards here -this is fascia in its fleshy sense. Back then, medical students learning dissection were told to chop it out and throw it away. Unless you have always averted your eyes from butchers’ slabs, you have seen those thin white sheets which separate the muscle meat in steak. That’s fascia and it is very important.
It may be that you don’t think of flexibility as a deliberate part of your fitness regime. Isn’t that stuff you do before or after your workout enough? Well, ‘maybe’ or ‘probably not’ is about as far as we can go with that one. Working on your muscles isn’t enough. We have to delve down to more detail. Here’s the geeky stuff. The actin and myosin fibres in muscle tissue slide past each other and their grip is activated and reset by clever chemicals.
The fascia plays a key part. It can combine elasticity (think of an elastic band stretched then released) and plasticity (think of pressing your finger into a plastic bag to create a permanent bulge). Flexibility training works on both of these. Did you just mutter ‘why bother?’ I heard you.
Plasticity? Who wouldn’t like to do the splits or touch their toes? If you think strength is all, consider this: the ability to lengthen a muscle increases its pull factor (actin and myosin again). That means more power.
Elasticity? The benefits may be less obvious but they’re wider-reaching. The elasticity of the fascial tissue has two natural enemies, age and under-use. Training these elastic tissues restores the fascia’s healthy, buoyant, smooth properties. That makes movement easier, straightens up your posture and restores a sense of well-being in the fabric of the body. Consider this: fascia contains eleven times more nerve fibres than muscles do, so conditioning the fascia has a big effect on the central nervous system. Double whammy.
Credit where credit is due:
Thanks to @dylanwerneryoga for reminding me of the importance of this stuff.
Want to read more:
Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists by Thomas W. Myers
Yoga: Fascia, Anatomy and Movement by Joanne Avison
Fascial Fitness: How to be Resilient, Elegant and Dynamic In Everyday Life and Sport by Robert Schleip