Don’t Just Exercise for Muscles, Exercise for Healthy Fascia
As we age, our bodies become a little less resilient than they once were. We simply can’t move how we used to. Some fitness experts are now advising fascia training to reduce joint and back pain and help our muscles and bones move better.
What is Fascia?
Fascia is the connective tissue that encases our muscles and ligaments, maintains their shape and retains the force that we put on our muscles through training and everyday movement. Fascia is made mostly of collagen (a protein that provides structure to muscles, tendons, bone and skin) and elastin (a protein that allows tissues to stretch and contract).
The fascia and muscles make up what is known as the myofascial network, which is responsible for controlling the forces travelling through the body as we move. Increasing the elasticity of our fascia can help us prevent injury and improve overall mobility.
How is Fascia Training Different from Muscle Training?
Muscle training, also known as resistance or strength training, involves shortening (or contracting) the muscles to increase their size and strength. Muscle strengthening occurs when movements require force and effort from the muscles, such as with heavy resistance exercises, since this allows them to adapt and grow. Ways to train your muscles include:
- Free weights
- Weight machines
- Bodyweight exercises
Fascia training involves applying force during the lengthening (or relaxing) phase of muscle movement. For fascia strengthening, the force applied should be light. Ways to train your fascia include:
- Multidirectional exercises using light weights (ex. lunges, kettlebell swings, windmills)
- Foam rolling
- Pilates or yoga
Exercises to Train Your Fascia
- Stretching from the top of your head down to your toes: Extend your arms above your head and bend at the waist to touch your toes (or as far as you can go). Breathe deeply to extend the stretch and repeat this several times for a deeper stretch each time.
- Foam rolling: Lay the foam roller under your lower back with your feet and elbows on the ground. Raise your bottom off the ground and shift your body back and forth on the roller along your lower back. Try foam rolling on other parts of your body such as upper back, thighs, glutes, feet and arms.
- Lunges with arm extension: Step forward into a lunge and extend your arms above your head as if you were diving into a swimming pool. Once your feet step back together, put your arms back to your sides. Repeat several times while alternating sides.
Talk to your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise routine to make sure it’s appropriate for you.