Fascia has long been overlooked as a secondary tissue. It’s often seen as less important than primary structures like muscle and bone.
But trainers and athletes are beginning to see the benefits of fascia release to improve health and performance.
So what is fascia? What does it mean to release it? And what are the benefits?
In this article, I’ll answer all those questions. So let’s get started!
What is Fascia?
Fascia is like a thin, flexible casing that wraps muscles, organs, and blood vessels. It envelops pretty much everything in our bodies. But the fascia surrounding our muscles is what we’ll be talking about.
A sheet of elastic tissue that wraps muscles
Healthy fascia is stretchy and supple like a rubber band. But it becomes stiff and constricted from stress, lack of exercise, and poor nutrition.
Unhealthy fascia restricts blood flow. Which makes it harder for muscles to heal and recover from exercise.
In addition, tight fascia compresses muscles. This reduces flexibility and limits your mobility.
But the good news is, various forms of fascia release can rejuvenate your fascia and make it elastic again.
Benefits of Fascia Release
Emerging science suggests a myriad of benefits resulting from fascia release1. Here are a few examples:
1. Increase Mobility
Flexibility and range of motion are important for a healthy and athletic body. And it turns out, some simple fascia release techniques can improve your mobility.
One such technique, static stretching, resulted in a 6% increase in mobility. And when stretching was combined with foam rolling, mobility increased by 9%2. Although foam rolling on its own was not effective.
Adapted from Škarabot et. al.
2. Decrease Pain
As we get older, many of us experience pain in our muscles and joints. Often, this is associated with tight and restricted fascia. As a result, treating fascia can reduce this type of pain.
To illustrate, one study of 80 nurses with chronic low back pain showed a 53.3% reduction in pain after fascia release treatments3.
3. Enhance Recovery
A review of multiple studies concludes that fascia release reduces muscle soreness after workouts4.
Therefore it can be used as a tool to shorten recovery time. As well as alleviating some of the discomfort that follows rigorous workouts.
4. Boost Performance
As an engineer, I learned to look at material properties in terms of the stress/strain relationship. That is, how much a material stretches under load.
And fascia is just another type of material! So when it doesn’t elongate or stretch, that decreases performance. Like an old rubber band that breaks when you pull it.
On the other hand, when your fascia is limber and pliable, it stretches when it needs to. And that increases your physical performance.
The shaded area under the curve represents performance. The larger the area, the higher the performance.
Released fascia increases blood flow, which can have a direct impact on performance. But it’s important to realize that fascia doesn’t always improve performance directly.
Rather, performance is the effect of the other benefits of fascia release. Such as increased flexibility which helps you to perform exercises in the full range of motion and use more muscle fibers.
In addition, having less pain and muscle soreness allows you to train harder and more frequently. And that translates to a boost in performance and better results from your workouts.
So far, I’ve briefly mentioned static stretching and foam rolling. But there are multiple other fascia release techniques.
Fascia Release Techniques
There are several modalities used for fascia release. Some of the most common include:
After several visits to the clinician, I was able to alleviate pain and correct imbalances caused by years of heavy training. The results were worth it, but it’s not the most convenient method.
On the other hand, foam rolling and static stretching are easily performed at home or in the gym without assistance. They’re also called self myofascial release (SMR) techniques.
You may be familiar with foam rolling already. But stretching for the purpose of fascia release is not your normal warm-up stretch.
For one, you should do it during or after your workout. And it requires a controlled force to stretch the fascia beyond its normal limits.
So let’s take a more detailed look at fascia stretching.
Fascia stretching works by lengthening the tissue under tension. Allowing excess layers to tear and break off. Thereby making the fascia thinner and more resilient.
Fascia stretch training is applied during a weightlifting workout. In this variation, you perform vigorous stretches between sets. Using sturdy objects or the weights themselves to provide tension.
In some cases, it’s beneficial to have a partner assist with these stretches. Also, make sure you stretch the muscle for 10-20 seconds before releasing it.
While it may seem like this will make your workouts longer, it only fills the rest periods. And the active nature of the stretches increases workout intensity – resulting in more progress.
‘High-Performance Bodybuilding’ by John Parrillo has a lot of good info on fascia stretching. Including pictures and descriptions of how to stretch each muscle group. The book looks retro, but the information is still very relevant.
Each of the key nutrients is described in more detail below. And you can click the links to purchase on Amazon.
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant. Many people know it boosts the immune system but it also has benefits related to fascia health.
Such as regulating the formation of collagen, one of the main components of the fascia. Moreover, collagen acts as a natural lubricant to help tissues move more freely during activities such as resistance training.
Biotin & Folate
Biotin & folate are members of the B-complex vitamins. Healthy hair, skin, nails, and collagen come from Biotin. While folate regenerates cells and creates new proteins.
When buying a supplement look for methylfolate on the label. A whole food multivitamin is a good source of both biotin and folate.
CoQ10 is another antioxidant. And it also assists in energy production and collagen regeneration.
Although, levels of CoQ10 drop with age. So supplementation may help counteract the effects of aging such as fascia constriction.
Magnesium is an essential mineral that relaxes muscles and nerves. For that reason, it’s commonly taken before bed for more restful sleep.
In addition, magnesium keeps fascia loose. Look for the form called magnesium glycinate. Because magnesium oxide doesn’t get absorbed.
Glutamine is an amino acid that’s important for your gut and immune health. As well as increasing protein synthesis which is necessary for building muscles and collagen.
However, glutamine gets depleted with high stress. So it’s beneficial to supplement, especially when training hard.
Creatine protects from age-related mutations of DNA which lead to the degeneration of skin and other tissues. But supplementation can help slow that effect.
In addition, creatine increases muscle gain. There are some not-so-great creatine supplements on the market. So be sure to do your homework before spending any money.