As we saw in Part 1, fascia is a hugely important tissue within the body. Now we discuss why in the context of training it has less importance.
It is important to note that the author is interested more in the training or exercising of the body, rather than a hands-on manual therapy approach with respect to fascia in this discussion.
A reductionist’s view of the body is based on dividing it into its composite parts. The strength of the fascial debate and focus lies with integrating the body into a cohesive unit again.
With an approach that focuses on fascia and the identifiable fascial meridians, the caveat is that they will not operate in this individual way when incorporated into functional movement.
If we understand and learn specific fascial lines, then we must also understand that during function they will become integrated with each other. We must have an overview of the operation of the system as whole during the specific function we are training for. Breaking the fascial system down into more digestible segments may be a valid educational strategy, but will not give a true picture of fascial performance in function. Authentic fascial input will be created by the training variables dictated by the client’s or athlete’s function, rather than by the understanding of isolated anatomical structures.
If this is not the pinnacle of the educational methodology, are we not just performing the same reductionalism that has already been done with previous training protocols designed to affect the neural and muscular systems in isolation?
The basic principle that nerves innervate muscles that move bone is a pretty sound one. This is movement. Another pretty sound tenet is that we are affected by gravity, ground reaction and momentum. Forces act on the body; this means that the body is in a constant state of ever-changing tension, changing joint angles, and changing emphasis and demand on the myofascial system.
Siff states “There will be changes in the centre of gravity, moments of inertia, centre of rotation, centre of percussion and mechanical stiffness of the system which alter the neuromuscular skills required.” (Siff, 2003)
We will train the fascia only by creating the variables for the body to adapt its tension to. This will only occur authentically in the context of function related and integrated movement.
Myers’ excellent documentation of the fascial lines is not a training guide. He describes it humbly as a map, but it can also be seen as a hugely important concept in the body. Trying to train a single fascial line means that we are not training the others. As with all parts of the body, isolation is impossible. Muscles appear to have loose functional groupings and fascial lines should also be seen in the same light. No fascial line will work independently of another in functional movement. Therefore, we should promote specificity. When we come to the actual functional activity, only the training that includes the correct input, movement patterns, and force output will enhance the given function. The function must dictate the training variables for true crossover from training to functional activity. Fascial lines will interact with each other as movement and tension changes in the body. Will an isolative saggital plane movement of the body, such as a bilateral posterior arm reach designed to affect the superficial fascial frontline, have a crossover to a gait-like motion that will see an interaction between all of the myofascial meridians?
Probably the most universal function of human movement is gait. During gait, the inferior spinal segment flexes faster than superior, creating relative extension at the vertebral joints. This would be an inferior segment-driven motion rather than superior segment moving on inferior segment, as with an arm drive to the posterior. Although the resultant joint motion is the same, the proprioceptive information would be very different, especially when we factor in the forces acting on the body. This would mean the fascial line would be influenced in a different way.
This also happens in conjunction with rotation of the pelvis and the opposite rotation in the mid to upper thoracic spine. Only the authentic and specific drivers of the body can claim to mutually train the composite parts of the movement, fascia, muscles, neural and bone, for the function of gait.
As we have previously demonstrated, fascia will control bone motion by exerting a biomechanical force upon it through its stiffness. The resultant fascial deformation will create heat and friction and therefore dissipate force, so it will not return to its original shape and has to be reset by muscle pull. This joins muscle, fascia and bone together in a symbiotic function-related relationship that would be almost impossible, and also pointless, to separate.
How Training Timelines Affect Fascia
The time element involved in the contractibility or stiffness regulation of fascia also brings into question the training of fascia as an isolated structure. The response to training stimulus has been estimated at between minutes and hours. To test this, Yahia stretched strips of fascia and then rested them for 30 and 60 minutes. Subsequent stretching produced a more resistant or stiffer response. This is evidence that fascia will stiffen in response to the input that it is subject to (Yahia et al., 1993) .
Viidik carried out a similar test on the anterior cruciate ligament (another collagenous tissue) (Viidik , 1973). Successive loading created reduced curvature in the stress relaxation curve in later loading cycles; this was described as preconditioning, since the internal tension of the tissue was altered over time. It could also be described as stiffness or tension regulation.
A stiffening of the system in response to input could alter the entire systemic tension regulation of the fascial web and resultant myofascial performance. If the training motions were non-functional, would this inhibit the system in response to more functional activities? In the controlled environment of training we tend to have higher input levels. Therefore, the training effect on systemic tension will prevail in the timeframe outlined for fascial contraction or stiffening response. In a function-related, multi-dimensional approach with a wide variety of force vector input, this creates functionally authentic stiffening of the system for activity enhancement. Fascial stiffness could inhibit motion if created in the wrong way. It is only common sense to see that training for one function may inhibit another. Bodybuilders certainly do not seem the most fluid of movers. The predominance of external hip rotation during squatting does not predispose them well for the function of running, for example. This maybe an extreme and possibly cumbersome example, but nevertheless an example for adaptation in the system to imposed demand. This may create a sub-optimal environment for other myofascial functions.
Reducing dimensionality by training according to specific anatomical structures such as specific fascial lines, especially if viewed as displaying single plane motions, also reduces the input into possibly the most important characteristic of the fascial web: proprioception. Although the direct tensile communication of the fascia may not always link together, the interaction with the CNS and overall tension of the system will remain intrinsically connected during a function specific motion. This leads to a unique propriopceptive signature for a specific movement.
The proprioceptive nature of fascia and all proprioceptors, depend on the level of movement and therefore information present. Each movement of the body has a unique connection of joint motions that transmit information. Without this information the myofascial system may not know how to or be able to respond in the most efficient way. This may lead to alternative movement patterns that create sub-optimal motion in the body leading to tissue or bone stress and eventually breakdown.
How Speed Affects Fascia
Some trainers have prescribed slower speeds to specifically target fascia. Slower motions can stimulate Golgi mechanoreceptors. This slow motion has been hypothesized to affect the lower firing rate of specific Alpha motor neurons that decrease muscle tonus (Cottingham, 1985). However, this is not a simple reflex. It will be inhibited by the fact that the slower motions will be swallowed up by the elastic elongation of the contractile components of the muscle (Jami, 1992). This slow approach may lead to less fascial input through reduced stiffness, tension and subsequent mechanoreceptor input. Slow or even static loading rates may create a stiffening of the muscles in the system as the range increases (Gajdosik, 2005). This could also affect the fascial system in a similar manner. In an already stiff system, a lower rate of loading could be used to overcome the resistance to motion that could increase with the rate of loading. The question would first have to be asked why the system had chosen to reduce motion and then this would have to be addressed. This could be because of injury or dysfunction in a certain area. Taking this into account, we would want to increase the rate of motion to a functionally authentic rate as soon as possible.
In a functional context, we move at the speeds that we have to in accordance with our activity. We do move fast, it’s as simple as that. Fascia will have its role to play in moving fast. It will be affected and respond accordingly, which is its authentic reaction to the demand placed upon it. The body has more compliant structures and then stiffer structures. Much of the body’s core, which needs to be more stable and deform less to protect the organs, has a high fascial content. This could provide a solid anchor to allow the extremities, which display more compliant ability through a higher predominance of fast twitch muscle fibers which are less collagenous, to move more effectively. In this way the system has utilized and integrated the different inherent properties available to it in the context of the task it needs to perform. The adaptation of tissue with different properties will happen at differing rates. A functional input will give us the functional output in terms of tissue reaction, adaptation, performance and health.
Fascia does matter. It matters because it’s an important structure in the body. The sheer volume of mechanoreceptors has a huge impact on the success of proprioception within the system.
This is vital to the functional operation of the myofascial relationship. The stiffness of the fascial network allows us to be energy-efficient and fast and to dissipate tension over the system. The real strength in the fascial debate, however, lies in the evidence that should lead us to conclude that the body needs to be trained in an integrated and functionally authentic way.
With that said about fascia, no one component in the body should take precedence over another during training. In this context, fascia matters very little; it is just another element within the body that allows us to move. If our function dictates our movement and training variables, then muscles, fascia, bones, and nerves will simply do what they are meant to do in the correct way and facilitate the success of the body. The contrived and isolated view of training any single part of the system will lead to ineffective systemic input and therefore decreased functional output. This is particularly important in the case of fascia that relies on and has implications for the whole organism.
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