Most athletic trainers, physical therapists and athletes have believed for years that we knew how to stretch muscles. We did it all the time, after all. Just stretch, right?
There really is a proper way to stretch.
There is a proper way to stretch, and it is called myofascial stretching. As the name implies, it involves movement of both the muscle (myo) and the fascia that surrounds it. But it is more. It is based on two important principles: The first is that all the fasciae of the body are connected. The second is that all the tissues of the body move in relation to each other. The objective of myofascial stretching isn’t just to stretch one muscle or muscle group and make it more flexible; it is to promote better overall movement of all the tissues in relation to each other.
I discussed myofascial stretching in my blog post of March 12, which covered the importance of fascia. We have a course in myofascial stretching at H3 by Dan Hellman in Fort Lauderdale May 10-12, and I thought it would be timely to devote one blog post exclusively to myofascial stretching while there is still time to enroll. The course is well subscribed, but there are still some slots available.
Traditional stretching is ineffective.
The reason traditional stretching is ineffective is that a muscle doesn’t stretch well if it is encased in a tight, leathery membrane that can’t stretch. In order to stretch the muscle properly, we need to understand that membrane and know how to keep it hydrated and healthy.
If the fascia surrounding a muscle is lithe and flexible, the muscle will be able to move as it should. If not, the muscle will be constrained. Stretching a muscle does not make sense if the fascia that surrounds it is dried and retracted. “A muscle,” as the renowned French osteopath Guy VOYER is fond of saying, “is a stupid piece of meat.” It depends on joints, bones, tendons—and fasciae—to do its job.
“A muscle is just a stupid piece of meat.”
— Guy VOYER, D.O.
In addition, the matrix of every fascia is composed of molecules that attract and hold water. If the liquid in the fascia doesn’t move, the fascia itself
becomes like that piece of leather I mentioned earlier, and the muscle is trapped helplessly. So how can it possibly be stretched? Myofascial stretching is one of our most important tools in Soma Therapy and Soma Training for moving that critical liquid and freeing the muscle’s movement.
Myofascial stretching improves overall health.
Myofascial stretching does more than just elongate the muscle and the fascia. With myofascial stretching, we are able to keep an entire fascial chain in tension in order to achieve proper movement of a specific muscle or muscle group. Importantly, because the fasciae in the body are all connected, paying attention to one fascia—or one set of fasciae—through proper movements and exercise leads to better overall health and even counteracts the effects of aging.
Myofascial stretching has another critical benefit: It also improves the quality of life in one other way for anyone who practices it regularly. That is because the body’s fasciae are the immune system’s first line of defense. If the fascia is tight, the white blood cells and proteins that make up the immune system cannot reach the area they need to heal.
Does it sound easy? It isn’t.
Myofascial stretching may sound easy, but it isn’t. It must be taught by a certified professional because it is essential to know direction of the fibers of the fascia or fasciae that are targeted in any stretch. Often, the fibers of a fascia are laid out in a different direction than the fibers of the muscle it surrounds. For example, the fascia of the psoas, a deep-seated core muscle connecting the lumbar vertebrae to the femur, is one of the most complex. The psoas is a factor in many cases of back pain, and to relieve back pain by working the psoas, you have to get the stretch right. To do that, you have to understand the anatomy of both the muscles and the surrounding fascia.
Myofascial stretching is just one technique in Soma Training.
Myofascial stretching is one technique in Soma Training, a program is for sports trainers, fitness consultants and physical therapists. At H3, we pace the Soma Training curriculum to allow for specific hands-on practice periods, in-depth treatment of specific areas or training toward qualifications. There are three levels of certification in Soma Training, and 13 courses in all.
The courses can be taken individually and in any sequence. Any physical therapist, athletic trainer, fitness trainer or chiropractor will give his or her patients and clients a precious gift by putting this valuable tool in their toolbox.