Kangaroos can leap far and high. Yet the force of their muscle contractions is far from adequate in explaining those impressive jumps. How can we learn from these animals to improve our movements and to slow down or reverse aging?
Most Fitness Training Misses An Important Pillar: Fascia
Kangaroos store kinetic energy in their fascia, a group of fibrous, collagenous tissues that surround, penetrate and support muscle fibers. Chocked full of sensory nerve cells, fascia forms a vast communication network throughout the body. Two-thirds of fascia consists of water, allowing muscles to glide and contract (producing force) or extend (stretching). This kinetic energy within fascia is what propels kangaroos.
Although we humans can’t jump as far as kangaroos do, our fascia shares a similar capacity to store kinetic energy. Yet fascia is often neglected in our fitness training which centers on muscles and cardio (with some better programs also including neuromuscular coordination.) There are plenty of programs such as massage, foam rolling or Rolfing that loosen tight or adhered fascia, yet they don’t actively condition or remodel these fibers, which require different techniques compared to muscle training. As such, most of us gradually loose the fluid, springy movements that we take for granted, becoming stiffer and slower over time.
Fascia in Old versus Young People
When we are young, fascia have a lattice-like, wavy, “crimp” pattern that resembles an elastic coil. This “coil” stores up kinetic energy, allowing our muscle fibers to glide smoothly. As we age, however, the pattern becomes irregular. Our motions become jerky.
We Can Remodel Our Fascia at Any Age
Yet proper active training can maintain and remodel proper fascia to regain the crimp pattern. This goes beyond releasing stiff and adhered fascia with pressure or manual manipulation. It needs to happen actively rather than passively. Like muscles, fascia adapts to demands placed on it and can therefore regain resilience and elasticity. Research has shown that smooth, slow, dynamic stretching in multi angles that engage the full body and load the muscles - such as what we do in Essentrics - can help fascia resume this youthful, healthy crimp shape. In addition, compared to conventional muscle training and “classic” or static stretching, Essentrics engages the most comprehensive range of fascia types.
If we wish to run, ski, or continue in any sports with youthful rigor and lightness, therefore, we need to shift our mindset away from a focus on muscles and cardio to incorporate active fascia conditioning. For those of us in good health with full mobility, research suggests that we need such training at least once of twice a week. For those who are older or who have fascia adhesion due to surgery or injury, we may need more.
The New Pillar in Physical Training
Since fascia conditioning is distinctively different from muscles’, it is crucial that we incorporate it as a pillar in physical training in order to maintain optimal health and movements. We may not need to leap like kangaroos do, but these creatures illustrate how fascia should earn its proper place in fitness and movements!
Training Principles for fascial connective tissues: Scientific foundation and suggested practical applications - Robert Schleip, PhD, MA, Divo Gitta Muller, HP