Fascia is the buzz word in the health and fitness world. For a long time, fascia (the fibrosis coating of muscles) was disregarded as non-important. However, now researchers are realizing that fascia has incredible sensory capabilities (Schleip, 2003), fascia also is important in transmitting the force of contracting muscles (Huijing, 2007) to neighboring muscles and fascia is also able to store energy (Sawicki, 2009).
As we get old, fascial fibers increase in number and lay down in irregular patterns. This causes tight cross links to occur which in turn decreases flexibility, elasticity and spring in our muscles. To counteract these negative changes, it is necessary to exercise our muscles through their entire range of motion and in novel patterns: yoga and pilates are great options for this.
Finally stretching is very important to maintain elasticity and spring in our muscles. Varying stretching styles is helpful to increase range of motion and improve sliding between fascial layers (Chaitow, 2003). This includes stretching in novel positions and also changing the angle of the stretch by altering the position of the legs, arms and/or the trunk.
Using a support such as the Hooked on Pilates MINIMAX is a great way to relax into a stretch. When stretching, focus on your breathing. During the exhalations allow your body to soften and welcome the stretch into your muscles and into your joints. Keep in mind to never force a stretch. Try to cycle through your breath 5-10 times.
When in the splits position, square your hips for a number of breaths and then release into a more open pelvic position to alter the stretch on the fascial fibers of your hip flexors, hamstrings and gluteals. Another option to alter the stretch is to raise both arms up overhead or to bend the back knee and grasp the foot.