The start of a new year brings typical resolutions to eat better, work out more, etcetera and etcetera. With all these new “regulations” and “requirements” we put on ourselves, it is prudent to remember to start slow and give those tired-out, unused muscles a good stretch. I am not talking Stretch Armstrong stuff here—what I mean is by preventing injury, muscles feel the need to bend and pull a little before they are forced to go Mach 10 on a treadmill.
For a gym rat like myself, I am constantly surfing the Web or reading various fitness/nutrition magazines to learn new and essential things I can do for my overall health. It is always a goal for me to do what I can to prevent injury, disease and physical strain on this one body I have to live in. Which leads me to the subject of this article: fascia.
What is “fascia?” No, I didn’t mean to type the word “facial” and just misplaced a couple of letters. For those who have studied the human body, you probably know what this miracle organ is, and why it is so important to our health. As for the rest of us laymen, fascia is the connective tissue that acts very much like a thin stocking over our bones, muscles and other connective tissues. If you think about peeling an orange, and the thin layer that covers the pulp, our fascia acts in a similar manner. It keeps all the important stuff in our body in one place. We all are born with fascia, but how we treat this little miracle organ creates the path to how our body responds to everyday stress and activity.
There has been lots of traffic on this subject, the fascia. Goop.com had a great article several months ago highlighting a personal trainer by the name of Lauren Roxburgh. Roxburgh lives and teaches in California and for over 20 years she has studied the body, mind and spirit (she has a degree in nutrition and exercise science and is also a structural integration practitioner, A.K.A. fascia expert). Roxburgh, now dubbed the “Body Whisperer” by some of Hollywood’s most elite celebrities, created a program that is dedicated to stretching and exercising the fascia. Her weapon of choice, you ask? A basic foam roller, the kind you see lying around in the corner at your local gym.
Roxbourgh claims her classes give her clients the opportunity to lengthen the muscles, improve overall alignment and even alleviate pain. Roxburgh has a book coming out in 2016, and I plan to purchase it so I can read more about her methods with this fascinating part of the human body. If you want to do your own research on her, she is on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pintrest. Or you can simply type in her name in any search engine and find pages of great information.
After reading about this woman, and what she has basically spent her life researching, I wanted to learn more about the fascia and find out a way I could work on mine since the chance of having a private session with her is slim-to-none.
Aside from Hollywood celebrities and professional athletes getting their fascia worked over by Roxbourgh, it harbors the question as to what we can do in our own environment and time to help “work out” our own fascia. One thing to remember is fascia tends to be a fluid system that needs constant hydration. The less hydrated our body, and our fascia, is the greater risk for tears and ruptures. For example, I left a wishbone out on the counter the other day for my daughter and I to pull apart when she returned home from school. It sat on the kitchen counter all day, drying out and becoming brittle. When it was time to see who got to make the wish, my daughter and I both lost out because the bone was so dry it shattered into several pieces. Fascia can do the same thing if left without hydration, like a dried-out kitchen sink sponge. Remember everyone telling you to drink plenty of water? Well, there is still a lot of truth and necessity to that piece of advice.
If we know that working the fascia out like any other muscle group in our body is beneficial, what exactly do we need to do? For starters, switching up your workout routine is a great way to shake things up. When a certain body part is consistently used without proper training and stretching, it can become weak and susceptible to injury. If you are an avid gym junkie, think about alternating days for running, doing the elliptical or some other form of cardio workout. Take a few group classes to change the way your muscles move. It can be beneficial to the metabolic system as well as the muscular structure to change things up and make our muscles “think on their feet” so to speak. Ever tried yoga or Pilates? That is another area to get the fascia stretched and strengthened. A good friend of mine owns a yoga studio in the town where I live, and she is skilled and knowledgeable in various forms of yoga, body flows and vinyasa classes. Most recently she has started up an aerial arts program at her studio, which I have been a diligent student for the past six months. When it comes to working out my fascia, I now realize this woman sees it accomplished properly each week! And I thank her for it.
I found on Breakingmuscle.com a great and simple checklist to help me better maintain my own fascia. Here it is:
- Remember to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
- Vary your movement patterns (this means switching up your exercise routines)
- Keep in mind that with fascia, “it’s all connected.” Like the song we learned as kids about hipbones and leg bones being connected, so goes for fascia. When you get an injury in the foot, for example, and you have weak fascia, chances are you will eventually feel some pain in your hip or even the lower back. Left unchecked, you could see that pain work its way up the body. Ouch!
- Keep the spring in your step! Get physical every day, even if it means a simple walk or parking in the far end of the lot to have a longer hike into the grocery store.
- Fascia is the largest sensory organ in our body, greater than the human retina. We keep our eyes in tune with glasses, contacts or yearly examinations. Why not do the same for the fascia? Consider buying your own foam roller (Target, Wal-Mart, Kohls carry them). Find some stretching routines you can do for at least 10 to 15 minutes each day.
Perhaps I am a nerd for being so interested in this subject, but I have had plenty of injuries in my lifetime, and plenty of injections to help those injuries. So I completely buy into the idea of keeping this amazing organ functioning to its full potential. Had I been more conscientious of that a couple years ago, it may have saved me a few visits to the orthopedist office. For my resolution this year, here is what I plan to do. I am going to pull my own foam roller out of the closet, look up Rosburgh’s specific plan and start the stretching process. Because one thing is for sure, flexibility is a necessity to maintain a well-balanced life.
Of course I can incorporate wine into about any subject, and fascia is one of them. When I was thinking of the connection between this awesome organ and my favorite drink, it dawned on me the relationship exists between fascia and grape skins.
For a winemaker, knowing when to pick the grape can make or break a harvest. Pick a grape too soon, and your wine can turn out too tannic and higher in acidity. Pick a grape too late, and your wine can turn out to be too flat in taste, smell and body. When it comes to making the perfect vintage, it is safe to say the skins of a grape can play a pretty large role, especially for red wine vintners. It plays a part not only in the color of the wine, but also in the taste. How a winemaker chooses to begin the fermentation process will determine how the skins are treated. Some winemakers, depending on the type of wine they are producing, will use maceration. This process, mainly used with red wine, allows crushed grapes to mellow with the skins, seeds and even branches. It can help bring out softer tannins and unique flavors. Much like the way our fascia plays an integral part in our physical well being, grape skins can affect how a simple piece of fruit can become something splendid and pleasing to the palate.
The next time you decide to have a glass of wine, whether it is white or red, think about what the skin served to help bring whatever flavors and aromas you find floating out of your glass. Some of the biggest triumphs and treasures can come from something very thin and very fragile.
Until next time, cheers!