Hola! Welcome to part II of stretching and fascia. ‘Twas a long stretch to get to this point but I’ll just recap what Part I was about.
- Both self-myofascial release and stretching have benefits for the user. Both work on the fascia.
- Fascia is awesome. It links the body, creates tension in the muscles, transmits forces, and play a role in movement and stability.
- When you stretch, you’re actually stretching fascia and not the muscle
- A bunch of smart guys showed that by cutting out the stocking like material wrapping the muscle, BAM! the muscle magically lengthens.
- Another group of smart guys showed that when you stretch your ‘hamstrings’ a la single leg raise, a whole other group of muscles/fascial lines also get stretched
- There are anatomical fascial lines that link the whole body. Stretching along these lines may be beneficial.
Since fascia is a linking material and is critical in force transmission, it plays a significant role in strength training. First we’ll look at DOMS and how fascia is related, then we’ll look at how stretching the fascia may increase force and stability, and lastly how stretching the fascia is implicated in muscle hypertrophy.
The idea that delayed onset muscle soreness is created by microtearing of the muscles have been extensively researched. However, the structures involved in DOMS and the specific tissue sites that are involved are not clarified. In 2009 Gibson and his friends (1) looked at specific tissues involved with the pain one feels after exercising. They injected saline solution to mimic inflammation either to the deep muscle belly that was exercised, or to the fascia of the related muscle. The fascia group had significantly higher pain intensity, suggesting that fascia rather than the muscle is important in DOMS.
- APPLICATION: This is where foam rolling after a heavy leg day is very important! Stretching along the myofascial lines may also benefit your recovery. Working on the fascia as a recovery form may actually expedite your return to being awesome
The next study in 2012 by Schleip et al.(2) looked at a phenomenon, slowly gaining ground as “superstiffness” (different from Stu McGill’s Super Stiffness regarding a strong back). They showed that by stretching for 15 mins, then resting for another 30 min, there was a noticeable increase in stiffness of the fascia. Immediately post stretch, there was decreased fluid content but with an adequate rest time, there was a supercompensation resulting into increased cell matrix hydration.
This is getting too sciencey…let’s get medieval!
Ever heard of an obelisk? It’s that simple, iconic block that looks like a squared pencil, in Washington, DC.
While the pyramids may have been built millenniums ago by pure manpower and brute strength, it’s quite possible that they employed superstiffness back in the day. Think about the rope in the photo as the fascia. As you pull, it becomes taut and is limited by its strength until it reaches it’s breaking point. When you add water to that rope, the rope absorbs the water and actually becomes even more stiff and stronger. This is the analogy on the increased hydration of the fascia.
- APPLICATION: If you have the time to stretch 15 mins, then rest 30 mins before you go lift, sprint or do your thing, let me know what you find. This new concept is being experimented on by several track and field coaches to see its effects on runners. It would be awesome to see where this goes.
The last study by Cox et al. in 2000 (3) looked at growth induced by mechanical stretch on the lattisimus dorsi…in rabbits. Yep.. Rabbits.
I know, I know – “Ace wtf?! We’re not rabbits!”. Well, sometimes you are…just kidding 😀
They showed that by applying static stretch, the lats grew in 3 weeks. They know it wasn’t inflammation because the protein content and muscle cross section increased. AWESOME. Now why don’t we just go and hang around and stretch for 3 weeks straight then? It’s because they also found that although the muscle size grew, the max mass related power output decreased by 50%.
- APPLICATION: If you want to look big and not be strong, be my guest. I’m sure researchers are willing to find volunteers to stretch for 3 weeks to validate this finding in humans 😛
- Did someone ever tell you to stretch your pecs after getting an awesome pump on chest day? You’re potentially stretching the fascia and inducing other factors helping in hypertrophy.There’s research on this too but that’s too much science. A simple idea you can look at is that it gives room for the muscle to grow.
So there you have it folks. Hopefully this shed some light and gave a new insight into the benefits of stretching. Feel free to employ these suggestions and do let me know how it goes.
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Also, since I’m from Toronto and there’s all this hype about the celebrity Mayor Rob Ford, have a laugh.
Get stretching 😀
(1) Gibson et al. 2009. Increased pain from muscle fascia following eccentric exercise: animal and human findings.