It interests me greatly to observe various types of programs that are prepared and delivered by trainers and coaches with comprehensive knowledge in their areas. Experience has empowered me to appreciate the difficulty in trying to create success for a large number of athletes or groups of people with varied challenges or goals.
As a movement practitioner, the question still arises for me: “What tissues are we training (in the human being) and what do they require for success?”
My background has evolved around horses with my family heavily involved in this area. Dad had a team of draught horses that he built dams and main channels with; these carried the irrigation waters required for irrigation of farmland in our region after the war. Dad’s horses were everything to him, not just because they were his vehicle for survival but because they became his best mates; he was truly at one with animals.
Dad’s focus was always on longevity and wellness of his horses, having them in optimal condition to allow their performance to be as minimally taxing as possible on all levels: physically, mentally and emotionally. This is how I have always envisaged we should condition our clients and athletes.
- Identify the various tissues of the body and what they require for successful outcomes.
- Understand the industry perspective so far.
- The attributes and adaption phases of fascia
- Various archetypes of fascia
- Various types of movement to create healthy and successful outcomes for the body.
As I journeyed down the sporting path I soon recognised the difference of how we viewed and conditioned the human being compared to horses; we focussed heavily on two major tissues: nerve and muscle.
This created many questions in my head, as it was evident even in the early days of my football career (real football – with Aussie rules!) that players were consistently breaking down with knee, ankle, groin or shoulder injuries. The early 1980s in Australia was when we started to focus on “artificial” size and strength (my terminology, previous to this people just worked hard to get strong in their jobs). We started making individual muscles bigger and stronger in hope that players were capable of creating and accepting more force in game situations, and this was somewhat semi-successful. The focus certainly wasn't on longevity of the athlete but more about the now of performance.
It was about this time that stretching was also becoming trendsetting for preparing the nerves and muscles for activity or exercise and the dogma was that it also aided recovery. Of course, I was a person who was focussed on achieving the ultimate success and did everything I could (within the rules) to enhance my performance; so, stretch I did! Unfortunately, now with the research and observation accumulated, this wasn't what my tissue required.
Fast forward to 2016 and sadly my dad has passed many years before but not without leaving me with some very powerful guidelines to generate success and longevity for clients and athletes. He instilled in me the importance of many tissues of the body, tissues that give us incredible information on how the client or athlete is feeling, moving and performing.
From an OD on Movement perspective, we identify 7 tissues that have huge impact and effect on the outcomes and solutions for clients in wellness, longevity and performance. This article won’t allow the extent of discussion to cover all, so I will focus on the tissue that our industry has magically fallen in love with at present: fascia.
Fascia is a tissue that in horses is incredibly important and must be understood so as not to “break down” (injure) the animal possibly, jeopardising his career; similarly, due to our biological construction, fascia has a comparable role in humans.
Let’s take a look at certain attributes of fascia that we have identified. I will preface at this point about current research because 50% of what we know now will in 2 years’ time will be different; in fact, it will probably be the opposite. We just don't know which 50% will be different! So I am going to stick with what we have actually observed through practitioners and researchers such as Ida Rolph, Phillip Schleip, Tom Myers and many more.
Fascia is unitary, it is completely toes to nose, birth to death; it connects every cell in the body (Shultz & Feitis, 1996). Fascia transmits and accommodates force, globally allowing the body to share the stress that is introduced through exercise, daily challenges or occupational hazards. Fascia will respond in many ways, from seconds to months in the future, and is vital in every form of somatic training. Most body sensing is fascial and it is incredibly sensitive with neural receptors.
We need to cultivate our fascial garden intelligently, feed it, hydrate it and move it well. The fascial system takes 6-24 months to make major changes or remodel, so perseverance is essential; feeding the body the necessary motion to replicate life’s challenges is crucial. Understand that fascia requires variation of force and movement to allow optimal adaptation (Huijing, 2007, & Kjaer et al., 2009).
Adaptation of Fascia
Let’s take a minute to review some of the adaption phases of fascia. This is important as it will determine how we need to condition it to be successful for the client’s goals. If we choose to ignore these phases it could potentially mean the difference between success and longevity.
- Viscosity - FRACTIONS OF A SECOND - In fast movements different layers move at different speeds. Just like catching a cricket ball (Aussie game played by elite baseballers) the hand goes from soft (to be able to move into position) to hard (adaptation to stop the ball) to soft (to be able to throw the ball). Fascia exhibits nonlinear viscosity to distribute impact, this is where vector variation is vital (Myers, 2014).
- Elasticity - ABOUT A SECOND - Created by tensile (stiffness) training and any longer will create plasticity. Fascia can be trained by storing and releasing energy quickly (pitta patta’s, there is a lot of rapid response through the fore-foot in this drill). This type of training can possibly take years to develop at an elite level. Many athletes who have been conditioned at top-level sports in a contractile state (muscular focus) and then been advised to introduce stiffness training have endured numerous injuries. This must be done in a controlled and measured manner (Myers, 2014).
- Plasticity – MINUTES - Doesn’t return to its original position. A great example of this is when you take a plastic shopping bag and gently push your finger into it without perforating it. The bag maintains the position that you have placed force into, much like doing a static stretch and hold to a particular region of fascial tissue in the body. This phase may be a necessary in restorative poses or movement challenges to encourage postural changes required to eliminate dysfunction, discomfort or pain for the client (Myers, 2014).
- Remodelling - DAYS, WEEKS, MONTHS, YEARS - When the fibroblast devour the old fascia and then lay down new fascia. This is a fascinating process when you see it under a microscope and makes complete sense why certain types of clients heal faster than others with certain tissues (Myers, 2014).
Robert Schleip romantically identified two archetypes in the human being that are very different to each other: The Viking and the temple dancer. If you had observed me when I was in my sporting prime you would have thought that I was a “Viking” archetype - strong, hard and resilient. However, my tissue has the characteristics more toward that of a “temple dancer” (Schleip, n.d.). My fascial tissue was already more elastic so further stretching wasn’t what my body required. I have less fibroblasts than the Viking (stiffer type of fascial tissue that requires more plastic preparation) and, due to this, will heal slower as it takes more time for my fibroblasts to devour the old and lay down the new fascia.
There are multiple challenges to identify the tissues response in clients for these two archetypes, be very clear this IS NOT a diagnosis but an awareness tool that enables the trainer or coach to quickly glean what type of conditioning the client may benefit by most. Here are some of the challenges that we use:
- Can you touch the ground with both hands flat? (while standing with straight knees)
- Do your elbows hyper extend?
- Can you touch your thumb to your hand?
- Can you extend your pinky finger back to 90 degrees or more?
There are also a number of other types of observations that can be made but, in my experience, the four above work quite well. A number of clients may fall into the hybrid category, which means they have a little of both. With this in mind, creating a program that blends stiffness (more fascial based) and contractile (more muscular based) training will be most successful. The majority of programs designed and implemented for clients in the fitness and sporting environments are contractile focussed due to prior education and isolated approach, not wrong or right but certainly not complete.
Applying the Movements
There are many ways to condition the tissues for stiffness. The movements we have used in the videos are a snapshot of our perspective for a client who is relatively new to the industry. It is important to remember that most clients are incredibly deconditioned through lifestyle so any movement is going to challenge their tissues. The introduction of stiffness training should be done in minimal amounts with sub-maximal weight to decrease the opportunity for a poor experience or injury. Here is a snapshot of a 60-minute session at OD on Movement incorporating stiffness training.
- Movement Style - Hybrid
- Level - Lead Off
- Tissue Archetype - Hybrid
The first 15 minutes of a session is focussed around connection, encouraging client de-stressing, breathing and freedom of movement within their threshold. Breathing is something that is often overlooked; many clients breathe through their top rib region (coat hanger affect, shallow breathers) meaning connection of the “toes to nose” system will be compromised. If we lose connection through this system, the “lift” that is required for optimal performance is lost.
We then introduce a movement challenge (Play - dependent upon their style, of course) they are generally guided to assume a sports position (very safe position, normally known and forefoot dominate for stiffness activation) where the trainer/coach can challenge their tissue, motion and force with a tool of their choice (ball, sandbell, balloon, frisbee etc.). This creates an opportunity to observe movement, breath and reaction (also a form of stiffness training). It allows the truth of their movement to be exhibited due to the experience of freedom and fun.
After 3-4 minutes of this we may introduce facial mobilization, if required, to enhance the motion of the client, whether it be at the ankle, hip or thoracic spine. A normal day for any client will create limitations in these locations through dehydration, stress, occupational hazards, repetitive movement, trauma, collisions etc., so this is another tool we use to create instant change for tissue and motion.
After this, the question is asked to the client, “How do you feel?” Yes, strange, I know, that we would ask rather than tell, but if they feel good and the trainer’s observation of their movement is congruent, then our goal is to get them to have the optimal experience whilst they are with us. Let’s go!
Goal Based Movement
This is the next phase of the session that combines tissue and motion with force. The amount of time spent in this phase is generally between 20 to 30 minutes; however, this will depend upon the level of training the client is up to. For a lead off client (in other words, a beginner, but no one likes being called a beginner!) this phase would be 50% recovery, allowing the experience not to be excessively taxing on them mentally, physically or emotionally. Remember, this is about quality not quantity. If they are new to the industry, then a great experience is everything.
The video shows an example of three movements that we could give our client:
- Anterior Step, Alternating Single Arm Reach
- Alternating Shoulder Press with Lateral Hip Drive
- Lateral Step, Medicine Ball Rainbow.
These are all more contractile (muscular) focussed movements that will challenge the entire system, more importantly they mimic daily challenges (stepping, reaching, shifting, pushing) that our clients need to perform safely and successfully.
We could then introduce a combination of exercises (back to back), that are similar to the contractile exercises, minimally increasing the speed but decreasing the threshold (amount of movement). This challenges the fascial system more, creating more tension on the fascia to stiffen and mitigate the stress throughout the body.
This combo could be performed 2 or 3 times in this phase starting at 45 seconds total for the combo and then a 45-second recovery. Once again, the observational skills of the trainer/coach are paramount in deciding the acute variables (sets, time, resistance, recovery etc.) for the client. Research has shown that stiffness training should occur 2-3 times per week only for optimal healing and recovery of the tissue (Magnusson et al., 2010).
As you have observed from the image of the workshop with Tom Myers in NZ (above) compared to the video exercises (also above), there are many levels of feeding stiffness training into the body and making sure it is relevant, safe and beneficial to the client is the key!
This would be approximately 15 minutes of the session using many different tools and strategies. Once again, encouraging the tissue recovery and enhancement are imperative. Our philosophy focusses on the client leaving feeling revitalised, moving well and happy. in our centres, we would once again revisit their breathing (as in movement preparation), fascial mobilizers, play and whole body vibration, all which create the outcomes necessary for the body and brain.
The purpose of this this article wasn't to confuse you with science and research but to expose other perspectives that may not have been acknowledged previously and to challenge your philosophy and application strategies for your clients. It is crucial that we don't become a “one-trick pony,” and that we don't follow just one philosophy. If our intention is to create the optimal experience and solutions for our clients, then it is important not to “turn a blind eye” to the role of the fascial system. I am not saying the fascial system is the key but, rather, I believe it is another important part of this amazing jigsaw puzzle and that optimising it will guarantee improved longevity and wellness.
Huijing, P. A. (2007). Epimuscular myofascial force transmission between antagonistic and synergistic muscles can explain movement limitation in spastic paresis. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, 17(6), 708-724. doi:10.1016/j.jelekin.2007.02.003
Ingber, D. E. (2008). Tensegrity and mechanotransduction. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 12(3), 198-200. doi:10.1016/j.jbmt.2008.04.038
Kjaer, M., Langberg, H., Heinemeier, K., Bayer, M. L., Hansen, M., Holm, L., . . . Magnusson, S. P. (2009). From mechanical loading to collagen synthesis, structural changes and function in human tendon. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 19(4), 500-510. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0838.2009.00986.x
Magnusson, S. P., Langberg, H., & Kjaer, M. (2010). The pathogenesis of tendinopathy: Balancing the response to loading. Nat Rev Rheumatol Nature Reviews Rheumatology, 6(5), 262-268. doi:10.1038/nrrheum.2010.43
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Myers, T. W. (2011, March 23). Fascial Fitness: Training in the Neuromyofascial Web. Retrieved July 01, 2016, from http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/fascial-fitness
Schleip, R. (2012). Fascia: The tensional network of the human body: The science and clinical applications in manual and movement therapy. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier.
Schleip, R., & Baker, A. (2015). Fascia in sport and movement. Edinburgh, UK: Handspring. 1: 3-10.
Schleip, R. (n.d.). Home. Retrieved August 1, 2016, from http://www.somatics.de/
Schultz, R. L., & Feitis, R. (1996). The endless web: Fascial anatomy and physical reality. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.