More than 20 years ago when I started to coach other people it was so difficult to find a good book about coaching. Usually, I borrowed and copied books and learned that way. Definitively was not easy to get exposed to new information and to learn from other, more knowledgeable, and more experienced coaches. Today, on the other hand, sometimes it seems to me that there is too much information, and is not easy to filter what is valuable and what is not. And so about two years ago when for the first time I heard about positional strength training, I was pretty much a little reserved about it. It was a strange combination of words, position, and strength, put together with training, and on the first seems to me it has something to do with isometric strength training.
Fascia – human spider web
In fact, it has very little to do with good old isometric’s, here we are talking about building tension throughout fascial systems in the human body or so-called fascial biotensegrity! But why do we need tension in our fascia? What kind of benefits we can gain with proper tensional integrity between our connective tissue, muscles, and bones? First things first, let’s first talk a little bit about fascia, what it is, and how this system can be trained.
Fascia is an extracellular collagenous matrix that is made up almost entirely of collagen (90%) and water (10%) (1). It is a fibrous tissue that surrounds every muscle, bone, nerve, blood vessel, as well as all of our internal organs including the heart, lungs, brain, and spinal cord. As fascia is found everywhere think for a second about this question/statement on the picture below.
Fascia is mostly created by cells called fibroblasts. These cells are producing fibers in the ECM (extracellular matrix), but also secrete collagenase, an enzyme that eats collagen where is no longer needed or where is too old. Fibroblasts are sensitive to the pressure and vibration signals in ECM and respond by building stronger and more resilient “spider web” where is needed. Fascia has varying densities throughout the body. For example, the IT band is a highly concentrated facial bundle and the same can be found on the bottom of the foot, but for example, upper extremities are spread more thinly. The most interesting aspect of the fascial system is that it is not just a series of separate coverings, but rather one continuous structure that exists from head to toe without interruption. This creates a web of support that facilitates (or inhibits) your body’s ability to move, as well as the ability of your organs to function properly.
According to Thomas Myers, creator of Anatomy Trains (a must-read for every professional in the field), there are 12 myofascial meridians or lines which connect different muscle – joints – bones for efficient and functional movement of the human body in all 3 planes of motion.
• Superficial Front Line.
• Superficial Back Line.
• Lateral Line (two sides)
• Spiral Line
• Arm Lines (four)
• Functional Lines (two – front and back)
• Deep Front Line
Moreover, new research shows that fascial tissue has nearly 6x the amount of proprioceptive and neural bodies than what is seen in the muscles (2). Another important consideration of fascia is that fascia is a non-Newtonian fluid. A non-Newtonian fluid is a fluid that does not follow Newton’s law of viscosity, i.e., constant viscosity independent of stress. In non-Newtonian fluids, viscosity can change when under force to either more liquid or more solid. In fitness terms, if we neglect basic fascial training principles or we are under constant mental stress, dehydrated then fascia with time becomes more rigid, less extensible what we definitively want to avoid.
Functionally speaking, fascia is involved in several responsibilities including (1):
1) Postural support/structure,
2) Transmitting and dispersing forces,
3) Tissue pliability and extensibility,
4) Proprioceptive/kinesthetic awareness
It is very clear if we want our musculature system to function properly we need to have our fascial system elastic, pliable and moving freely. By staying so fascia allows muscles to contract/relax freely, a force that is produced within muscle contractions can be transmitted through myofascial slings where is needed. Every time when a boxer is throwing a punch, he is not using only shoulder or arms muscles, the power is coming from the ground through the core up to the shoulder and arm. The same is true for the baseball hitter or tennis player. When we are running or jumping rope, more efficient we are and we spend less energy if our fascial system has the right amount of tension – tensegrity (tension + integrity). Optimal tensegrity means we are not absorbing to much force from the ground, we have the right amount of stiffness to bounce with the minimum effort possible. Fascial training is all about creating internal stability/stiffness around and in between joints, muscles, and other organs. This internal stability is crucial to allow efficient transfer of force and to keep the body as a unit during starting, stopping, COD or punching/hitting, etc.…
Here are some considerations why fascia training is equally important as training muscles:
“Fascia has tremendous tensile proprieties that serve to stabilize the body, distribute forces, and amplify motion. Fascia continually remodels itself based on stress, load, pressure and vibration and because of that perhaps is THE most trainable system in the body.” – Fascia Training; p.22; Bill Parisi and Johnathon Allen
Everything what I wrote down by no means wanted to say that training muscles has no value and is not important anymore. Rather, balanced training is what I’m talking about, focusing too much on building muscles for power and strength is beneficial but only up to a point, after that continuous muscle stimulation training will ultimately slow athletes down and make them more prone to the injury.
In the second part of this blog I will share with you some of my ideas how to develop this positional strength to benefit fascial system training. Stay tuned!
1) Anatomy Trains (Thomas Myers)
2) Fascia Training (Bill Parisi)