The College recently redesigned its fitness area to include a quiet area for rolling, flexibility and floor exercises. We have also put on a before school rolling class for all as part of the Living Well program. We have undertaken training from Black Roll and purchased a variety of different rollers, so we can pass on the benefits to our fascia to all of our staff and students.
The fascia or connective tissue plays a hugely important role in the human body and this has only recently been discovered. The health of the fascia matters to everyone regardless of age. Modern science shows that any kind of performance training or rehabilitation activities are much more effective if supported by fascia training. In contrary if the training or rehab activities are getting performed despite a weak or unhealthy fascia the effects can be negative, often resulting in injury from over use.
What is fascia and what are the benefits of fascia training?
It is important to understand that fascia is pretty much everywhere in our body.
It is like a full body suit that holds us together, but not only on the outside. Fascia also slings completely through our body and wraps and connects our muscles, bones, organs, nerves and even the brain. Therefore, things like tendons, ligaments, nerves, muscles and bones - the things that are moving our body - are all part of the fascial system. Even the cushions (disks) between your vertebrae are part of this system. For this reason, it makes perfect sense that the fascia is hugely important for everything we do, how well we move and even how we feel.
A good way to imagine the fascial structure is if we peel an orange and cut one of the wedges to look at all the little individual pods that hold the orange juice. The pod walls and also the skin that wraps around each wedge are all made of the same tissue which gives the whole orange it’s shape and structure and simply holds it together. The tissue itself also holds a bit of juice which makes it flexible, bendy and strong and therefore able to adjust and react to movement and pressure without breaking.
Our body is structured very similar. Humans also have this inner skin wrapping layers of connective tissue through and around us, holding liquid and cells in place and giving our body an organised structure. Everything that is white in below picture is fascia.
The fascia or connective tissue is really what defines our bodies shape and the ability to move. A well functioning and developed network of connective tissue means a healthy, functional, movable and pain free body.
Today we know that any kind of rehab or performance training that does not include a fascia training aspect is nowhere near as effective as holistic training concept that includes a strong focus on the development of our connective tissue.
Imagine we would take away everything from our body that is not fascia. Remain would only the 3-dimensional structure of the connective tissue reflecting our exact body shape and posture and everything what is within us. If you had any injuries or surgeries throughout your life, then these can often be seen within your fascia in form of scar tissue or other irregularities and they all contribute to your current state of fascia and posture.
If we would like to change our posture or range of motion and even get rid of that chronic pain caused by this old injury, then we have to make these changes within the fascia.
On top of that, research shows that because the fascia is everywhere in our body it is also the main communication system. Within the fascia there are a lot of feelers and receptors all over the place. Information and impulses are constantly sent from one place to the other within the fascia and therefore it coordinates and connects our movements, feelings and bounces information between our various organs, limps, brain and muscles and make us do whatever we do. If our fascia is healthy and structured, then the information flow is at its best therefore we are functioning at our best.
For athletes and team players this means that with a healthy and well activated fascia your skills, coordination and reaction are at their best.
Hydration, hydration, hydration
According to Robert Schleip, head of the Fascia Research Group at the University in Ulm Germany, the fascia is a tensional fluid system.
An easy way to look at it is if we are comparing it to a sponge.
If a sponge is dry and not soaked in water, then it becomes hard and brittle. In this state, the sponge can be easily broken, and it does not like to get moved or exposed to pressure, twisting or pulling forces.
However if our sponge is wet and soaked full of water, then it becomes very flexible and springy and you can crunch it together and pull and twist it and it will just bounce back in its original shape once you let go of it.
Our fascia is very similar to that, therefore the most important thing that makes our fascia happy and functional is hydration, hydration, hydration.
The more hydrated our fascia is the more flexible, mobile, stable and integer our bodies become. Better hydrated fascia also means more organised fascia, which improves the flow of information and also reduces restrictions and adhesions within the fascial layers. This again means improved mobility, flexibility, coordination and even strength.
Therefore, drinking lots of water is very important, but it is not enough!
Moving and rolling our body
We have to make sure the water we drink also gets nicely distributed throughout our fascia. Unfortunately, this does not just happen while we sit on the couch or in the office. If we just drink a lot of water and do nothing, then we mostly just increase the amount of times we go to the bathroom.
What we need to do in order to get the water into every corner of our fascia is move it there.
The good thing is, that it is actually very simple to do that. We just need to move and roll our body.
Any movement will contribute and rolling with specialist equipment is also a very, very effective way to improve the distribution of water within the fascia.
By applying external pressure with rollers, we are pushing water around and also release adhesions between the layers to make way for fresh hydration and to lube everything up and enable the fascial layers to slide and move freely along each other.
Fascia is a bit like a pizza dough and rolling helps to make it smooth and even which helps the layers to nicely slide along each other.
Rolling also helps to close up micro tears in the fascia which are often caused by heavy exercises and we all know the resulting muscle soreness.
Ideally, we move, bounce, roll, jump, roll, run, bend, roll, stretch, flex, roll, play, shake, roll… every part of our body in order to really make sure the fresh water reaches every corner of our fascia network.
Yes, it is actually easy, but there are a few more important things to consider:
The movement needs to vary in direction, in tempo and in intensity, otherwise if you are moving always in the same ways and planes you are in danger of over using in one spot and still not getting water distributed into another spot where it is also needed.
Both, the overused and the neglected dry spot are in danger of getting injured, immobile, painful and nonfunctional. And because everything is connected, another spot then might need to compensate and this can go on and on and on, resulting in the various body issues we all know very well. Bad knees, hip, shoulder and neck pain to name just a few.
So, all is connected and everything wants to be functional, therefore it is important to move and roll everything but not over use one thing.
And it is also important to give your body enough time to rest. The fascia also needs resting time in order to properly soak up all the water that is provided during movement and rolling. Working out and flexing muscles is actually squeezing water out of the muscles into other places, but after training and rehydrating the water also needs to get back into the muscles and fascia around them. Like stepping on wet sand drives the water out, once stepping off, the water can come back.
The older we get, the more our fascia tends to dry out. A new born baby has a much higher percentage of water within its body than an old person. Since our fascia contains a lot of the water within our body, fascia is also the system that suffers the most from water shortage. Therefore, keep moving and rolling and drinking water. It is the best way to improve and maintain the ability to move and stay functional. Use it or lose it! Once lost it is difficult to get it back - But actually it is mostly possible to get it back, so do not give up but keep rolling and moving. It is never too late!!!
Fascia is also able to do a lot of the work for you!
This is where it gets exciting for athletes again.
A well trained and activated fascia is very springy and can therefore contribute a lot to your performance.
It can help you to jump higher, run faster for longer, react quicker and also lift heavier.
Your performance and endurance are not only dependent on muscle power, but also very much on the fitness, springiness and bounciness of your fascia. If you for example run or jump you put force into the ground with every step and the force gets returned on impact into the whole tensional fascia and muscle system that if well trained can effortless make you bounce into the next step or jump like on springs
So really the fascia has a major role within our body and is immensely important to our ability to move and to our wellbeing.
Everyone can hugely benefit from a well-trained and rolled fascia. Athletes can improve their performance by far and everyday people can improve their quality of life and pain issues just with regular rolling and moving!
Summary, why are we rolling?
- Straighten/smoothen out the fascia (Pizza dough principle)
- Squeeze the fascia, enhance fluid circulation and re-hydration (sponge)
- Apply pressure onto the fascial structures and cause movement between the different layers to release adhesions and increase mobility and flexibility
- Activate the sensory organs within the fascia
ACTIVATION (BEFORE EXERCISE / SPORTS)
- Increase mobility by breaking up adhesions between the fascia layers
- Activate feelers and the communication system
- Enhance blood and fluid circulation
- Warm up fascial lines
For activation - Roll with pressure and with faster rolling movements
RECOVERY (AFTER EXERCISE / SPORT OR ON A REST DAY OR JUST TO MAKE US FEEL BETTER UNRELATED TO SPORTS)
- Squeeze out and allow re-hydration of the connective tissue for better nutrition supply and self healing
- Support blood distribution
- Smoothen out micro tears in the fascia
- Release Trigger Points
- During recovery - Roll slow in order to really squeeze the fascia
Allow for resting periods so the fascia can re-hydrate properly.
Rolling for health is on a Friday morning in the gym starting at 8:00am. If you have any questions about this topic, please see Mr Allsop.
Mr Ben Allsop
Head of Sport, Health and PE