As I’m sure you’ve heard, fascial release is presently one of the greatest trends of the fitness industry. Despite its prevalence, many are still left with the question of what fascial release is. Keep reading—I’ll give you a quick explanation of what fascia and fascial release are and why they’re important as well as 5 fascial release exercises you can do at home with a tennis ball!
Fascia is connective tissue that runs throughout the body. Its appearance is somewhat like that of a spider web—densely woven and matrix-like, yet pliable. Have you ever looked at a chicken breast and seen the thin slimy tissue on the surface of the meat? That is the Fascia! Fascia interconnects our muscles, bones, nerves, arteries and veins, and internal organs. Essentially, our fascia connects all of our inner anatomy in some way or another. With this, it is essential to treat our fascia and bodies holistically. The picture below depicts some of the major fascial lines of the body. “Like the yarn in a sweater,” if we were to pull on one “string” or section of fascia, we can alter the entire fascial structure. Pretty cool, right? (1)
Fascial release is also known as myofascial release (MR) or self-myofascial release (SMR). The purpose of fascial release is to apply pressure to restrictions in fascial connective tissue. Such restrictions can lead to pain or a decrease in our range of motion. (2) In short, the “release” component of fascial release can be attributed to fascia’s thixotropic property. By applying pressure (along with heat and energy), we can manipulate our fascia and restore its optimal structure or shape. (3)
The question now is “Why is our fascia so important to our fitness?” It is important to answer this question with the mindset that muscle and fascia are one with each other. When we reposition our musculature, we reposition of fascia as well. Imagine when you are sitting at your desk, staring at our computer screen and your shoulders and head roll forward as if there’s a magnetic force coming from you screen. (Don’t pretend like this never happens to you—it happened to all of us.) As your shoulder muscles become accustomed to this position so does the fascia surrounding the shoulder. To this extent, it is necessary to release or readjust the fascial structure around the shoulder to correct your posture. It’s not as simple as just “pulling your shoulders back!”
Relating our fascial structure back to our fitness…let’s say we want to strengthen our shoulders. If we do this with our shoulders in a forward position (because we didn’t release the fascia), then we are only compounding the issue of misalignment and poor posture leading to injury. So what can you do at home between fitness sessions? Here are 5 fascial release exercises starting with the shoulder area!
1. Snow Angels and Rainbows
Lie down on your back with a tennis ball in between your scapula and spine. Make sure not to have the ball directly under either of these bony landmarks! Start to make snow angel motions with the arm that has the ball under it. Keeping your arm connected to the floor, lift and lower from arm. Then, move arm upwards towards the ceiling and over head and downwards towards the floor near your hip. Do this motion back and forth. Make sure to switch to the other side!
Place the tennis ball underneath one glute and straighten that leg. Bend the other leg and place your hands behind you for support in a seated position. Then, begin rolling on the tennis ball. You should roll in a circular motion, up and down, and side to side to properly break down any fascial tension. Remember to pause if you find a particularly tight spot! Then switch to the other side.
3.Freeing the Hip Flexors
Lie down on your stomach with legs straight behind you. Place the tennis ball underneath one side of your hip where your torso and leg would crease if you were to bend at the hip. Once you find the sweet spot, hold for about 20 seconds. Then switch to the other side. Once you’ve done both sides, remove the ball and rest the entire front side of your body on the floor. You will feel your hips sit more “flat” on the floor.
4. Calming the Calves
Assume the same starting position as the exercise number 3 (glutes), except place the ball underneath your calf instead. Roll back and forth on the ball in all directions. Make sure to get all the way down into the soleus and Achilles tendon. Repeat on the other side. You’ll be amazed with the flexibility of your ankle joint after this exercise!
5.Finally, the Feet
This exercise should be done standing without holding onto anything for balance. It’s a great one to multitask with. Place the tennis ball underneath the arch of your foot. Roll back and forth in all directions and apply steady pressure in several spots. For example, you can roll from the heel of your foot to each toe and back. Before you switch to the other foot, glance down at both of your feet. Don’t be alarmed if they are different colors and you see less veins—it’s because of the increased circulation on the foot you just rolled.
For more facial exercises and more specific and elaborate release of the fascia, find one of our facial/muscle release classes or schedule a private!
MPS and Central Core