Training your fascia can help you feel fitter and look younger. Thomas Myers, the leading expert in the field, explains.
It's not just muscle that keeps you feeling and looking fit. Flat abs, cut arms and a fast 5k finish all owe a debt to your body's fascia: a three-dimensional cobweb of connective tissue that holds you together. Consciously allowing this web to properly grow and regenerate is a revolutionary way of caring for your body – and one that, research shows, can produce radical changes.
We sat down with the field's leading expert (and Q advisory board member), Thomas Myers, to find out more about fascia and whybeing truly fit means training (and resting) more than just muscles.
What exactly is muscle fascia?
It's basically the fabric that holds us together, like one big interconnected net of fiber and glue. We would be a big puddle without it. It wouldn't be pretty.
So why don't we talk about it more often?
Until rather recently, we thought its only real function was to hold us together. But after considerable research, I discovered that fascia is actually a source of power for the body. It transmits force, so it plays a big role in helping you get and stay fit.
You want as much new, freshly-laid fascia as possible. The body naturally regenerates itself all the time by replacing old cell material with new, but fascia is pretty slow at turning itself over. Exercise expedites that process. And it works both ways: the more you can replenish your fascia, the better your body will respond to the type of exercise you're doing.
What's the best workout for replenishing your fascia?
Fascia responds to the type of workout you do. For example, if you run, you get that "runner's body" because of the type of fascia you're building. The healthiest fascia is bouncy and elastic, which you create by bouncing, jumping and running. I also recommend using tools like kettlebells instead of standard machines. They can target multiple types of fascia at once because the movements require you to work in multiple planes of motion. This best prepares the body to resist injury and slow down the effects of aging.
You hit on two big things there – injury and aging. Let's start with aging.
Sadly, wrinkles are in all our futures, but it's a matter of degree. The wrinkles in your face are the result of fascial breakdown and dehydration, so replenishing and rehydrating your fascia, which you do by giving it enough time to recover between sessions, stretching, using a foam roller and making sure you're staying properly hydrated, can have an anti-aging effect for sure.
And what about injury?
Fascia that's bouncy and resilient responds much better if something unexpected happens to you or you're involved in some type of accident. However, during the 24-48 hour period following a tough workout, you're actually more prone to injury.
Is there any way to help speed recovery safely?
When you exercise, water is being squeezed out of the fascia; and continuing to exercise when fascia is operating dry is like running your car engine without any oil. Drinking water helps, but the effect is not immediate – so try taking five minutes of rest for every 30 minutes of exercise. The body needs this time to soak the water up.
Any stretching tips?
Try using a foam roller. It helps move water around and gets proteins to the areas of your body that need recovery.
Legs, butt, arms? What exactly should we do with that roller?
For most people, the areas that you think are tight aren’t actually the tightest – we usually can't feel the spots that give us the most trouble. So you really want to roll and stretch all major areas. As a general rule of thumb, I'd say to focus on the calves, the backs and sides of the legs and the spine (unless you have a serious injury).
Want more tips? Don't miss our article about the latest stretching research.