Fascinating Fascia

I don’t know when this happened, but fitness and biomechanics have become interesting enough to me that I willingly chose to spend an entire weekend learning more about how the body moves at Fit Rendezvous, an annual conference through the Alberta Fitness Leadership Certification Association (AFLCA).  I learned so much I want to share, but what I found most interesting was all the new research that is coming out about fascia!

What really stuck out to me from the conference is that the fitness industry is moving away from a focus on flexibility and towards a focus on mobility. This means rather than bending yourself into pretzel like positions, it is more important to keep your joints mobile and experience full range of motion through them. Mobile people are healthy people, long into life. What struck me even more, is that hoopers and other prop spinners are regularly doing movement that allows full range of motion in many joints. We’re on the cutting edge of fitness and most of us probably don’t even realize it!

I attended a fantastic session on fascia from Michol Dalcourt that was quite fascia-nating (hehehe).   While ever expanding, my scientific background is quite limited, so this is the coles-notes version of the session. Michol proposed that new research is showing that it’s not just muscles that move the body, it’s also fascia and skin. What is fascia you ask? Well, it’s the connective tissue that forms a structural support matrix around our organs, muscles, joints, bones and nerve fibres. Now, why is this new research important? Because, the way people have been training their bodies is based on the concept that only muscles move the body, so repetitive motions of specialized muscles are all we need to be strong. If fascia and skin also play a part, the body should be trained differently and that means adding more mobility, functional fitness and rhythmical movements in your daily activities and fitness regimen. This will build strong fascia and as Michol says, will turn off the muscles so they don’t have to do all the work and will actually provide more stability in our bodies.

The body does not act in isolation. This is important in understanding fascia. It is also important to understand that fascia is constantly growing.

Healthy fascia looks like a spiderweb http://www.bettermovement.org

Healthy fascia looks like a spiderweb http://www.bettermovement.org

When we are moving a lot, it grows in a healthy fashion and looks like a spiderweb. When we’re sedentary and even when we’re sleeping, it turns into a glue like substance which does not provide the proper support the body needs for movement. This causes muscles to always be on and can create imbalances in the body as well. The best way to combat this is to move and stretch. I’m such a strong proponent of movement already, this is just more proof about its power to be healthy and happy.

Hoopers and other prop spinners are adding mobility and functional fitness into their lives all the time. Every time a hooper does a lift off the body, we’re likely promoting full range of movement in our scapula (shoulder blade). If we’re hooping around our waist (in both currents) we’re getting a full range of movement in our hips and the list goes on and on. One caveat Michol talked about was that to build a strong web of fascia, there must be different loads (weight/resistance etc.) with different speeds and different angles. I would say that an average hooper would be able to meet most of these criteria in an average hoop session if a wide variety of on and off body tricks and were performed along with jumps and varying speeds of movement. With that being said, to gain the most benefit in terms of building fascia, it would be beneficial to try a heavier hoop to ensure that there is enough load (weight). I actually tried this during a hoop session after the workshop. Off body moves didn’t feel quite as fluid as they do with my 5/8″ polypro hoop, but it felt good to challenge myself with a heavy hoop, especially knowing the benefit I was getting from this practice. I value being fit, but do not enjoy traditional workouts so knowing that hooping can do even more for my body is so exciting! Check out this video of the ViPR in action. This is a piece of equipment Michol created to help bring functional fitness into people’s lives and this rhythmical movement demonstration looks a lot like a prop spinner in flow. The big movements also reminded of our warm ups in Baxter’s Hoop Path workshops. He encourages big movements in our joints to heat up the body, but I wonder if he knows that he’s helping create strong fascia too?

Movement is not the only way to train and optimize fascia. Hydration and nutrition also play a role. Hydration of fascia is important for this system because the vast majority of its structure is water. The more hydrated the fascia is, the stronger it becomes. Water absorption occurs through an osmotic process which occurs with movement, so drinking water and sitting on the couch all day will not allow for proper hydration. Nutrition is also important for strong fascia. Fascia is a protein made up mostly of collagen. Foods rich in glycosaminoglycans (like home made meat broth) will naturally support collagen production. Chronic inflammation and congestion, on the other hand, will produce collagenase and cause fascia to deteriorate. Two major causes of fascial deterioration are sugar and vegetable oil. To combat this, it is important to eat anti-inflammatory foods, something I talked about when I was following the anti-inflammatory diet.

There are lots of ways to build a healthy system of fascia and I think it’s so cool that with a few tweaks to our practice, hoopers and prop spinners can build a healthy fascial system. You probably didn’t need it, but now you have one more reason to spin all the things!