For the past couple of months we’ve been exploring in class a range of Pilates exercises I’ve adapted to include more myofascial stretching. Here is some background information on fascia and myofascial stretching which might help you get more out of your practice…
What is Fascia?
Fascia is the fibrous connective tissue that surrounds every part of the body. Think of it as a three-dimensional spider web that holds together the muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, organs, nerves etc. Fascia, like all connective tissue in the body is made of water and this water is arranged in microscopic tubules.
A key feature of fascia is that it is one continuous entity, which informs how we can stretch most effectively when we practise Pilates. It is useful to think of muscles and other structures like bones, ligaments, tendons etc as links in various chains or slings which run throughout the body. These links work together to move us about in different ways. Fascia is the fibrous web that weaves in and around the different chains or slings of the body, supporting and nourishing them. This view of anatomy is a holistic one, which respects the global organization of our tissues.
What is myofascial stretching and how does it work with Pilates?
Myofascial stretching (MFS) is a relatively new technique and differs markedly from traditional methods of stretching. Instead of focussing on stretching a specific muscle, MFS works on the fascia surrounding the muscles, ligaments, tendons etc in a specific chain or sling, e.g. extending from the toes to the back of the knee and into the pelvis.
The Pilates exercises I’ve adapted to involve more MFS encourage us to move into and hold certain shapes with the aim of improving the quality of the movement of each link in the chain relative to another.
Other features of MFS I’ve incorporated into the Pilates exercises we perform in class include:
- certain stretches being held for 90-120 seconds rather than the traditional 30 seconds to allow time for the fascia to “let go.” This results in tissue releasing permanently rather than just temporarily.
- active elongation and perpetual motion, two more ways of encouraging the fascia to “let go.” These help us experience the natural elasticity in the body.
- being present during each stage of performing an exercise. I provide cues to help you focus on any tension in the body, encouraging you to breathe into it, to notice the resulting slack as the release takes place, then inviting you to lengthen further and wait for the next release.
The benefits of Pilates exercises that incorporate myofascial stretching
Pilates and MFS together are a powerful combination. They help to nourish and rejuvenate the tissues throughout your entire body and can be used to:
- treat injuries and tight spots gently without the pain associated with traditional stretching and massage therapies;
- enhance muscle performance. Particularly useful for sportspeople looking to go fast, be stronger;
- improve muscle recovery. MFS improves the blood flow to tired muscles, helping them recover faster from intense periods of physical activity and with less soreness;
- increase flexibility and range of movement;
- improve posture and alignment;
- encourage the balanced use of muscles;
- promote spine and joint health;
- promote good hydration of the tissues of the body.
We will continue to explore myofascial stretching through specific adapted Pilates exercises in the classes I run each week online.