In the gym, we tend to be focused on reps. Up and down. Repeat. Is that 10 yet? Certainly, this is an important part of the equation for building a leaner, more athletic physique, but if you pack up your gym bag after that last rep and head home, you’re missing out on a vital part of the fitness equation: care of your fascia.
Fascia serves as one of the unsung heroes of every positive result you could hope for up to and including muscle gain, flexibility, range of motion and general health. It is a structure of connective tissue that surrounds muscles, groups of muscles, blood vessels, and nerves, binding some structures together, while permitting others to slide smoothly over each other. Here, we walk you through what is really is, why it matters and what it takes to keep yours healthy and supple.
What is Fascia?
Fascia is a three-dimensional, collagen-based stability system. The fascial system consists of more than 70% water, which gives this system its volume and integrity. Fascia regulates the flow of fluid in the extracellular matrix, which gives fascia remodeling capabilities. Its unique architecture supports, protects and stabilizes all elements of our body from our skin to our bones. It’s the environment all structures, bones, nerves, blood vessels, muscles, organs, skin, and even our brain rely upon to remain efficient in their functionality. Fascia provides the supportive environment required for movement to exist without pain.
What Does Fascia Do?
Fascia is a responsive tissue in that it adapts to daily living including, but not limited to, our postural habits, exercise, emotional state, chemical, environmental, and physiological influences. For those of us who engage in weight training or even basic, daily exercise, fascia takes on an extremely powerful role and is also altered daily by our attempts to strengthen our muscles. There have been no specific research studies thus far as to how intense weight training affects this system, however, we do understand that exercise at any capacity has the ability to change and adapt fascial integrity – some benefit the system, and some can cause what would be considered negative effects. Excess muscle or fat can alter fascia in many ways and change how the extracellular matrix behaves in regard to fluid movement and absorption of nutrients into other cells.
Fascia and Fat
Fat loves to live in our superficial fascial layers – those attached to our skin. When more fat is stored than used, excessive fat alters the fascial matrix and gets “stuck” in the microvacuoles or “fluid space holders” causing a disruption in the matrix. This is what causes cellulite and ultimately stretch marks, damaged looking, sagging skin. Gaining and then losing weight repeatedly – as some physique athletes will do – is what causes these types of shape changes.