Move-Freely Series: Part 1 – Fascial Stretching
Most methods in common practice in the fitness industry are completely out dated. Flexibility training is no exception with most using stretches and techniques developed in the 1950’s. It’s funny that we are quick to update our technology but when it comes to updating our exercises and exercise programmes it just doesn’t happen.
The term flexibility typically refers to the elasticity of muscles. This doesn’t necessarily equate to an increase in range of motion at joints, which is the functional representation of “flexibility”. The important principle when aiming for increased range of motion (flexibility) is that joints act and muscles react.
Fascial Stretching (FS) is a type of stretching that targets not only the muscles, but the fascia, the connective tissue that surrounds muscles, bones, and joints. FS also targets the entire joint and joint capsule, using traction to remove restrictions from movement and to stimulate lubrication. There is no pain, not even discomfort. Instead, the gentle movement stimulates and relaxes at the same time. As the joint ‘acts’ through a big range the muscles and connective tissue ‘react’ and release tension becoming more supple. Conventional stretching focuses on one muscle group and does not consider the connective tissue, nerves or joint capsule.
An athlete will finish their workout, run through the “usual” stretches, maybe paying extra attention to their tight muscles, sometimes pushing through some pain to get that final stretch. Sadly, this type of stretching is not effective and may even be causing more tightness and inflexibility. When you cause pain with stretching, your muscles respond to protect themselves, tightening up in a rebound type effect.
Here are 10 benefits of fascial stretching:
- Increase Range of Motion
- Muscular Balance and Symmetry
- Improved Performance
- Reduced Pain
- Reduced Risk of Injury
- Improved Posture
- Improved Muscle Function
- Improved Circulation
- Decrease Compression and Impingement in the Joints
- Improved Energy
Fascial stretching is far superior to conventional flexibility training. Here are a couple of FS exercises to try:
Stretch One: Facial Stretch of Posterior Leg musculature:
- In proper standing posture have feet hip width apart with knees inline with and over the toes
- Step one foot backwards ensuring that it is still hip width apart
- Keep the other leg straight with ankle flexed (toes pulled up towards the knee)
- Bend the knee of the back leg and make sure the pelvis remains square
- Reach down as far as possible to or past the toes. Do not hold the stretch – simply step back, reach down, return to start position. The facial stretch should be completed as a constant movement and should not be held for long periods
- Perform 15-20 movements
- Repeat for the other side and complete 2-3 sets
Benefits: this movement stretches not just the muscles but also the entire kinetic chain of the posterior leg including the muscles, muscle sheaths and connective tissue. It improves functional range of motion of the posterior chain complex.
Stretch Two: Pectoralis Major
- In proper standing posture place the right hand high against a wall.
- Have the hand facing the wall and depress the shoulder
- Lean forward and turn away from the hand and wall
- Again do not hold the stretch for more than a few seconds. Aim for a constant movement through the full range of motion
- Perform 10-15 stretch-relax motions and repeat for the other side. Repeat 2-3 sets each side. The hand placement can change height through out the FS to hit all planes of movement
Benefits: The stretch develops or maintains good range of motion through the anterior shoulder. A simple and easy stretch after sitting for a while.
Stretch Three: Standing Thoracic Mobility
- Face wall, place both hands at shoulder height against the wall
- Soften Knees
- Reach one hand down across to opposite knee
- Keeping hips square and spine in a neutral position
- Perform a gentle “backhand swing” with your arm, rotating trunk
- Keep the movement very subtle and continuous so the joints and muscles can release gradually
Benefit: Improves transverse movement and communication of thoraco-scapula complex, illio-femoral joint and spinal rotation. A fantastic exercise for the office or after sitting for long periods.
Stretch Four: Hip Flexor & Rectus Femoris
Kneel on one knee as pictured. Activate your core to stabilise the lower back (ensure the lower back does not arch), tighten the glutes and perform a posterior pelvic tilt. Push forward through the hip joint and hold for 2-3 seconds then release (this is one rep), repeat for 10-15 reps. The motion occurs predominately at the pelvis (as a posterior pelvic tilt), the front knee should not move forward.
Hip & Quad Stretch
Rectus Femoris (one of the four quadriceps) also crosses the hip joint and causes flexion at the hip. Thus, it too must be stretched to properly lengthen all musculature of the hip flexor chain. To do this simply place the back foot on and against a stability ball (as shown in picture to the right – if you don’t have a ball use a wall or bed/couch/etc) and repeat stretch as described above.