Fascia. What exactly is fascia and why are so many movement professionals talking about it? The answer is simple: without fascia, we would not be able to move. Fascia is the tissue that connects, organizes, and coordinates all our movement. It surrounds, invests, and creates the structure for our muscles, ligaments, tendons, organs, nerves, and vascular tissues. Without it, we would simply be a sack of slime with some bones sticking out and would not have the ability to move those bones in the purposeful and organized ways we so enjoy. Here are some ways fascia informs and creates our movement.
- Fascia is connective tissue. It connects all the layers of our body from the skin to the muscles to the bones. The connections are flexible enough to allow the muscles, bones, and skin to move around each other while coordinating all the parts to work in harmony and maintain their integrity. For example, roll the skin on the back of your hand and notice how it is flexible when you are moving it, but it returns to its original shape when you stop. The fascia is responsible both for allowing the skin to move and for making it bounce back to its usual position.
- Fascia comes in many different forms from a loose chaotic web between the skin and the deeper layers to the highly structured deep fascia that surrounds and structures our muscles and acts to transmit force from muscle to bone and muscle to muscle. For example, when a tennis player hits the ball during a serve, most of the force hitting the ball is generated by the muscles of the lower body and torso and delivered to the ball by the whip of the arm. Without fascia, the force would not move smoothly from the foot through the leg to the pelvis, spine, shoulder, and arm in perfect timing to smash the ball. This is called force transmission and is an essential skill to train for anyone, not just athletes but anyone who has to lift something off the floor, push a shopping cart or ride a motorcycle on a mountain road. Fascia transmits energy from one part of the body to another to create power, speed, agility, and coordination.
- Fascia is shaped by the forces that are put through it. Whatever physical activity you do, your “fascial suit” will reflect your training because fascia contains fibers that change shape, size, and structure based on how they are used. For example, if you are right-handed, your fascia suit will have a slightly different structure on your right arm and on the entire right side of your body than it will on the left side. Through training, the fascia can be remodeled to create a more balanced or more efficient structure, but remodeling takes time and effort. Research suggests 6 to 18 months of regular (2 to 3 times a week or more) training is required to change the structure of the fascia. When your clients tell you they don’t see much change after their first week of training, you can let them know that if they really want to change, they will have to commit to a regular program for a few months.
Fascia has only been studied with focus over the last 20 to 30 years. Science is evolving, and we look forward to learning more about fascia and how it can make us better movers and teachers in time. If you want to take a deeper look at the fascia, consider watching Moving Fascia, an online continuing education course that will be up on Pilates.com before the end of the year.