Your Amazing Muscle Fascia – An Excerpt

By on March 3, 2021

The following is an excerpt from my new book: “Functional Training and Beyond.” If you enjoy this, then be sure to check it out!

To me, the true aim of a fully functional, compound training program, should be to move the body as though it were “one muscle.” That means using every part of the body in unison, toward one biomechanical goal. Well guess what? This conceptualization may be more literally accurate than you previously imagined!

See also: Hidden Power: How to Get Strong Without Getting Big

While we have separate muscles, they are in fact contained by a single connective “sheet” called “muscle fascia” or “myofascia.” This is just one form of the fascia that is found throughout the entire body. If you have ever prepared a joint of meat and noticed that it is covered in a thin “film,” well that right there is the fascia! This shrink wrap was disregarded by fitness and medical experts for hundreds of years— thought of as just some inert “stuff.” In fact, it was rarely seen, seeing as the fascia is largely made up of water and practically disappears when the body is dissected.

The Fascia as drawn by DaVinci

That didn’t fool da Vinci though, who actually included fascia in his anatomical sketches. An elastic sheet of connective tissue made from collagen, the role of fascia is to enclose and support muscles and organs within their cavities, along with bones, cells, and practically everything else. It doesn’t just fit around the outside of the body like a catsuit. It weaves in and out and around of muscles, organs, and cells, even morphing into distinct elements like tendons and aponeuroses.

Tensegrity

This viscous membrane network provides tension throughout the entire body that helps keep everything in place. This property defines it as a “tensegrity structure,” which also applies to the body at large; think about the way that a tent holds itself up by maintaining constant, opposing tensions. This design may also allow the fascia to dissipate impacts and energy across the entire surface, thereby minimizing the damage caused by a fall.

The flexibility of the fascia therefore contributes greatly to the flexibility of an individual as a whole with tightness in one area affecting far-flung parts of the body. But that’s not all. The muscle fascia contains large amounts of elastin fiber to help provide elasticity and can actually supply additional energy rebound when running or jumping.

Epimuscular Myofascial Force Transmission

But what is truly remarkable is that the muscle fascia contains blood vessels, smooth muscle cells, and even sensory receptors. In fact, fascia may be equal or even superior to the retina in terms of sensory nerve receptor density.

Backward Lunge Walk

It has between six to ten times more nerve endings than muscle. In short, it seems that the fascia may play a key role in the expression of strength, along with improved balance, and agility. One of the important ways this happens is via fascial force transmission (study). It appears that the fascia facilitates communication between distant muscle groups, such that contracting one area encourages another to contract too.

The Transforming Fascia

What’s more, training seems to alter this force transmission. Fibroblast cells act like architects, travelling through the fascial system and producing the necessary collagen, collagenase (which breaks down collagen), and other chemicals to help build and reform the fascia.

This process allows the fascia to strengthen itself in response to specific stress and pressure signals.

According to Tom Myers, this process allows the fascia to strengthen itself in response to specific stress and pressure signals. In other words, the fascia can get stronger across specifically lines to connect muscles that are often used in tandem.

It is also thought that an additional function of the muscle fascia may be to act as a kind of communication system helping electrical signals to spread between muscle groups and nerve endings. This could even go some way to explaining the “irradiation effect” (the fact that consciously contracting one muscle tends to result in the reactive tension of surrounding muscle). Although that could also be due to the close proximity and interlinking between neural maps in the brain.

Tree climbing fascia

The fascia might, in fact, be one of the oldest features of the human body, allowing us to move and evade predation even before we even possessed a nervous system. We are only just beginning to scratch the surface of the muscle fascia and what it is capable of.

“Training the Fascia”

We simply don’t know enough for me to provide practical advice on how to “train the fascia” right now. Whatever the case, what everyone can agree on is that the fascia responds extremely well to training with a wide variety of different movements.

The more you move, the more pliable and flexible the fascia will be and the less tension you will carry and the greater control you will have over the entire body. The fascia works best when hydrated, which keeps it spongey and resilient. Continually moving it in different directions seems to facilitate this suppleness, whereas a lack of movement may cause it to become rigid and stiff. Likewise, moving in multiple “vectors” can potentially train and strengthen this tissue in angles that aren’t described in a traditional “muscle-tendon-unit” model of human anatomy. We must train the entire system, not individual muscles.

Training the Fascia

The fascia is everywhere after all and can move in ways that our fixed muscle-tendon-units cannot. The fascia has potential for endless variety and adaptability. If you remain in purely fixed movement patterns like curls and squats, then the surrounding fascia will be extremely underdeveloped compared with the fascia that sits right next to it. It’s not a huge leap to suggest that this may lead to discomfort and limited strength development.

Farmer Strength and Movement Training

In Fascia Training: A Whole-System Approach, authors Bill Parisi and Johnathan Allen even suggest that fascia training may partly be responsible for the “farmer strength” we encountered previously. Farmers are strong from labor work because they have strengthened the connective tissue at angles that are otherwise ignored, through submaximal loads with non-repetitive movement. Likewise, the fascia will thank you for performing each pull up differently.

See also: Movement Training for Beginners – With List of Key Movements

Movement training that takes you through countless, unpredictable movement patterns is ideal for “fascia training.” If research into fascia continues down this promising path, it is very likely to offer increasing support for these less rigid forms of training. Finally, the fascia shows us once again just how truly adaptable the human body is. Training with specific movements may do more than building the necessary muscles. It may also develop tissues between those muscles to make us better at using them in a coordinated manner.

As Myers puts it: “the body responds to demand.”

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

3 Comments

  1. Ronny says:

    I noticed the Bioneer shirt. Where’s the merch shop?

    • Thanks for this heads-up! I just added it to the Shop page (link at the top). I’ll add it to the sidebar shortly, just as soon as I’ve made some fixes to the site.

  2. sayian2005 says:

    Hey Adam I had some ideas that I think you would be interested in and I was wondering if you’d like to hear them. Over Email or Instagram you probably are to busy to hear them but still nonetheless it doesn’t hurt to ask ¨I think¨

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