Consider fascial tissue stretching.

Attention to the fascia–connective tissue found around, within,

and between the joints–is gaining popularity among runners and other

exercise enthusiasts who want to go deeper during warm-up and cooldown

for maximum flexibility, road readiness, and recovery. Because the

majority of soft-tissue injuries occur not in muscle tissue but in the

fascia, stretching the fascia makes a lot of sense, yet many people

overlook it.

Fascial stretch therapy (FST) is sometimes called “fascial

tissue stretching” or “myofascial release,” and there are

variations, such as fascia] training, which aim to exert these tissues

with specific exercises to increase their elasticity, but all of the

warm-up techniques under the main concept of FST are focused on the

fascia, and the procedures can differ significantly from traditional

static stretching.

The science behind FST

Fascial tissue contains nerve and blood vessels, along with over 10

times the number of sensory receptors found in muscle. Consequently,

this tissue is highly active and subject to trauma due to overuse which

can impair nerve activity and localized blood flow (as can undcruse).

This creates local pain (sometimes chronic), and loss of muscle


Unlike stretching that attempts to isolate and stretch specific

muscles, FST usually involves a certified FST therapist who gently pulls

and moves the legs, arms, spine, and neck in a smooth motion at various

angles to remove pressure between joints, release joint-lubricating

synovial fluid, and improve flexibility of muscles. Many people then

continue to stretch the fascia in this way on their own.

The American Council on Exercise recommends that the warm-up phase

also include some fascial training to properly prepare the body for

activity. Fascial elasticity explains how this tissue can store and

return energy during cyclical movement patterns, where loading and

unloading occur quickly, as in running. Controlled bouncing and bounding

movements are deployed to build elasticity and therefore contribute to

strength and power output. ACE notes that fascial training responds

effectively to variety, and not so much to repetition. This means

changing loading angles, tempo, and amount of load by using weights;

fascial elasticity is also best achieved using whole-body movements that

activate whole myofascial chains.

Five fundamental patterns of human movement are: 1.) movement

involving a bilateral bend-and-lift pattern in the lower body, such as a

squat; 2.) the lunge, or any single-leg movement pattern; 3.) the push,

whether overhead or moving away from the front of the body; 4.) its

opposite, either overhead or being brought closer to the body from the

front, such as a pull motion; and 5.) rotation in any form, such as when

the thoracic spine and pelvis are counter-rotating against one another.

Performing movement-based exercises during fascial stretching and

training can improve your ability to use fascial structures to store

elastic, mechanical energy during the lengthening phase of muscle

action. In turn, this develops your ability to more efficiently produce

energy during the shortening phase of muscle actions, in particular

within these five patterns. Known as the stretch-shorten cycle, this is

one of the more effective ways to enhance your movement ability, and can

lead to gains in power and explosiveness in addition to overall

strength, endurance, and flexibility gains. For the best results, do

minimize the transition time from muscle lengthening to shortening

within a given movement. Runners regularly utilizing FST principals in

their pre- and post-run regimens will soon find movement with more ease,

and over time very likely feel faster and stronger. You might see

increases in stride length and you’ll almost certainly begin to

notice faster recovery.

What about static stretching?

There is a role for static stretching, but with this type of

stretching, the “when” becomes key. For decades the practice

of static stretching before exercise was widely believed to prevent or

reduce the risk of injury and to improve performance. After volumes of

research, the move from correlation to causation has not been a decisive

one. The evidence that static stretching before a workout prevents

injury and improves performance remains elusive. Tissue stiffness and a

lack in range of motion can both contribute to injury, and static

stretching is correlated with both a reduction in tissue stiffness and

improved range of motion. But studies investigating the effects of

static versus dynamic stretching on force and power production have

almost all consistently demonstrated significant reductions in muscle

strength and power production following static stretching versus dynamic

stretching. And a meta-analysis of 350 studies reviewed by the Centers

for Disease Control found no evidence that linked static stretching

before exercise with reduced risk of injury.

There has been a general shift away from muscle isolation and

toward whole-body integration. Related to this shift is the debate over

whether (and which) muscles should be activated versus inhibited during

a pre-race or pre-workout warm-up. Traditional static stretching

involves increasing tissue extensibility by activating Golgi tendon

organs, which occurs after 7 to 10 seconds of holding an isometric

stretch at a certain point of tension. As ACE Certified News points out,

“[T]his activation inhibits muscle spindle activity, turning off

neural and muscle activity to promote connective tissue elongation.

However, if movement requires muscle activation, then why consider

turning off muscles before exercise?” The council goes on to note

that in addition to this, after approximately 5 seconds of developing a

stretch tension, muscles may experience decreased localized blood flow,

potentially leading to premature muscle fatigue during activity. The

above mentioned studies on strength and power production seem to support

this exact conclusion.

Still, static stretching can lower blood cortisol levels that

usually spike during early exercise, and since cortisol may reduce

muscle growth, it would seem a post-rozitine cooldown that involves some

static stretching is still appropriate.

Don’t forget the afterward

The post-exercise component of the workout is aimed at improving

tissue extensibility, and so should ideally include myofascial release

along with static stretching (and perhaps some PNF, or

“proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation,” which is known to

improve range of motion in particular). Focus on the classic problematic

areas like hip flexors, the IT band, and the entire calf complex to

reduce tightness and promote normal muscle function.

Another widely-held belief is that stretching post-exercise will

prevent muscle soreness related to DOMS. Though technically the

microtrauma to muscle tissue has already occurred during exercise,

stretching does reduce muscle discomfort and may possibly accelerate

tissue recovery.

In the end, a range of different stretching techniques at different

times is appropriate, with generally dynamic stretching including

striders, bounding, and slow jogging before a workout, and a 10- to

20-minute cooldown jog followed by static stretching afterward. FST has

a place in both of these stretching intervals, and should be considered

a versatile ally in the quest for improved performance and in the war

against stiffness, pain, and injury.

ACE Certified News,


Sports Med., 2006, Vol. 36, No. 11, pp. 929-939,


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