The days of warming up by hopping on the treadmill or doing calisthenics are over. The best way to prepare your body for exercise is myofacsial release.
Fascia is connective tissue that surrounds our muscles in order to help separate them from other muscles and other internal soft tissue. In order to effectively warm up and release our muscles prior to working out, we need to break up the casing, or the fascia, surrounding them through myofascial release where we apply pressure to the fascia using tools such as foam rollers, tennis balls or even hands. This loosening up of the fascia allows muscles to breathe and move more freely.
Whether we are walking, sprinting, or holding up a book to read, we are constantly contracting and stretching muscles. When we contract muscles, we put them in a shortened state; when we try to stretch muscles, we put them in an elongated state. The fascia helps transfer force when it acts as an insertion points between tendons and bones. The fascial lining has a very important role in how we function, but it can lead to decreased performance or pain if mistreated.
So how do we end up mistreating the fascia? In any number of ways. In one instance, certain muscle groups are over-worked and but are not stretched. An example of this would be the basketball player who plays five times a week without stretching or massage therapy. Another way to damage fascia is having certain muscle groups sit in a shortened state for hours at a time. Think of the professional who sits at his or her desk and only gets up to walk around a few times a day. In reality our muscles don’t actually mutate into a shortened state, but fascia will conform to the state we have put our muscles in. When people say that they have a knot in their hamstring, or that their hamstring is tight, it’s not the actual muscle that’s causing the pain; it’s the fascia surrounding the muscle. When the fascia shifts from its original length and tension is changed, the fascia then becomes denser. The denser the fascia becomes, the harder it is to stretch the muscles, because the casing of the muscles – the fascia – is holding them back.
When we exercise a muscle, we put it through a pattern of contracting and lenghening. The lengthening process, also known as an eccentric contraction, is how the muscle builds up energy for the contraction. If the fascia’s density has increased, we cannot put the muscle through its full range of motion. Therefore we cannot get the full potential out of the muscle.
When we exercise we want our bodies to be as alert and as efficient as possible. We must prepare our bodies for our workout and this is why practicing myofascial release is essential. The traditional warm-up techniques of doing cardio exercise or calisthenics do not compare to myofascial release. The former techniques will certainly get blood flow to the body and lubricate the joints, but they do not change the quality of tissue being used in your workouts.
Myofascial release has numerous benefits in addition to preparing the body for a workout. It increase joint movement: muscles control bones, therefore muscles control joint movements. The greater range of motion for muscles surrounding a joint, the greater potential the joint has to move through it’s full range of motion.
The application of kneading or putting pressure on the fascia also increases circulation. The more room muscles have to “breathe”, the greater the amount of oxygen and nutrients can get to the muscles. This will enhance the amount of power your muscles have.
Finally, the practice of myofascial release eliminates and prevents pain. Muscles control bones and therefore control joint movements. If muscles are tightened through fascia, they are essentially sitting in a shortened state. These muscles, specifically those at the insertion point, pull on the bones, which will create tension in the joint. Take the knee joint for example. If the quad muscles are tightened through fascia, the femur will be pulled away from the tibia. This is how we get inflammation and pain in the patella. Mysofascial release will help take the tension away from the joint reducing the pulling sensation from other tendons in the knee joint. These techniques also help release endorphins, neurotransmitters that can act as natural painkillers.
Myofascial release is a necessity when it comes to prep work for exercise or sports. If we want enhance our movement patterns or our performance on the field we need to ensure we have put fascia in its place.
1. Van der Wal, J. (2009). Connective Tissue Architecture and Proprioception. International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.
2. Myers, T. 2001. Anatomy Trains. Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.