August 9, 2012

SPECIAL TWO YEAR ANNIVERSARY ABOUT FASCIA - Everything You Need To Know About Connective Tissue And How It Can Affect Your Performance

As it relates to strength training, fascia (connective tissue that envelopes everything within the body, most notably as it relates to strength training are the nervous and circulatory systems) can easily become a limiting factor directly (circulatory), and indirectly (neurologically), in strength and size development. Obviously if you are training to get the best results given your time and effort, then you probably want to avoid any sort of derailments that could throw you off track.


Adhesions are when the cells and fibers that make up our fascia (connective tissue) get bound together.

Directly, fascial deformations, such as adhesions, can impair the body’s ability to build up optimally in response to your workouts. If the connective tissue is bound together for whatever reason (ex. dehydration), especially in the area of the bodypart trained, it will impair your body’s ability to shuttle much needed nutrients through the blood and into the muscles, thus limiting your results (think of putting a kink in a hose, not much, if any, water can get through the nozzle).

The two ways in which muscles can grow are:

A) The muscle cells themselves can increase in size (hypertrophy)

B) Additional muscle cells can be added as needed (hyperplasia)

Fascial deformations can limit the body’s ability to do both of these things. Adhesions will make it difficult for the body to increase the size of the cells, no matter how much we want them to grow. There just isn’t enough room for the cells to grow if the tissue they are enveloped in is limiting their expansion (growth). This also means that there may not be any room to add more cells either. So you can see how having your fascia resting at its optimal length can influence your results.

Indirectly, fascial deformations can negatively affect function/movement, as tightness in one or more areas can force the body to make unnecessary compensations during movement (ex. exercises). When the connective tissue is resting at optimal length, the muscles for a given movement can perform their task efficiently. But when an adhesion is present, those same muscles have to work harder to do the same task, leading to premature fatigue. To avoid working harder, the body will opt to take the path of least resistance, and make unnecessary compensations. These compensations become ‘memorized’ by the nervous system, and therefore become permanent, which can lead to imbalanced muscular development among other things. Even if the deformations are addressed, the motor pattern developed will still exist, and could take years, if not a lifetime, to correct.

It is for the reasons above that anyone would want to have their fascia functioning optimally.


Here are some key points that will help you understand the importance of fascia as it relates to size and strength development, without getting to scientific:

Fascia is a body wide connective tissue that envelopes everything within the body, most notably as it relates to those interested in strength and size development, as stated earlier, the nervous and circulatory systems. Because of this, any sort of disruption in the fascial system can affect things locally, as well as globally. It is for this reason that what may appear to be an issue in one area of the body, could essentially be the result of a problem elsewhere in the body. Very often pain, or even a dysfunctional movement pattern, is the result, not the cause.

The mechanical properties of fascia as it relates to size and strength development are:

Resistant – Fascia has great tensile strength, which makes it very resistant to pulling forces (ex. stretching).

Elastic – Paradoxically, fascia can also be very accepting and tolerate pulling forces, but will then return to position after the pulling forces desist.

Plastic – If the fascia is under stress (ex. pulling forces) for prolonged duration, it adapts by depositing more connective tissue along the line of strain, and therefore becoming more permanently lengthened.

Viscosity – Fascia behaves more like a solid at low temperatures, and more like a liquid at high temperatures. When inactive (ex. sleeping), fascia becomes more solid like and hardens up, which can restrict movement. When active (ex. weight lifting), fascia becomes more fluid like and loosens up, enabling you to move freely. This is a prime reason to warm up prior to a training session.

These properties are dependent on a number of differing variables such as fiber type ratio (which is predetermined by our genetics, and therefore out of our conscious control), and hydration (which is a variable that we can consciously control by simply choosing to drink enough water each day) to name a few. When the connective tissue is hydrated, it can function optimally, which also enables the nervous and circulatory systems to work efficiently as well. When dehydration occurs, the fascia essentially shrivels up, and the space between the cells shorten, and they can even stick together (becoming an adhesion). Because the nervous and circulatory systems are enveloped by connective tissue, you can bet that they will be negatively affected by this as well.

As far as fascia goes, the body responds to physical stress and strain by adding more connective tissue to areas that need it, in an attempt to add extra strength by thickening the fascia. Unfortunately, this thickening of the fascia disrupts the fiber type distribution that makes up our connective tissue, which results in a decrease in flexibility. Physical stresses to the fascia come in the form of poor posture, injuries, and repetitive movements on a daily basis (which could also result in poor posture).

Poor posture is the result of muscle imbalances created from overuse/underuse in everyday life. When a muscle is ‘locked’ in a lengthened position, you can bet that the opposite muscles, which are responsible for the opposite movements are ‘locked’ in a shortened position. The body will naturally lay down more connective tissue along the lines of strain created by imbalanced muscular development. Because connective tissue primarily has great tensile strength this will affect movement, as well as flexibility, and the imbalanced development associated with having poor posture becomes pretty much permanent and very difficult and time consuming to attempt to correct.

In the event of an injury, the body responds by laying down additional connective tissue to help thicken the fascia in the injured area to add extra strength. Needless to say, an injury will cause dysfunctional movement patterns to compensate as a result of the pain that comes with being injured, which will lead to muscles becoming relatively imbalanced. These imbalances result in certain muscles taking on more work on a daily basis then they were intended to, to which the body adapts by depositing more connective tissue along the lines of stress and strain. Movement and flexibility are both compromised when this happens, and it just becomes a vicious cycle, that doesn’t get better, only worse.

Repetitive movements performed on a daily basis can all lead to imbalanced muscular development to which the fascial system adapts to as well. Common everyday activities that most people perform are sitting at a desk for several hours, or driving. Certain positions in sports can also negatively affect the body. For example, a tennis player holds their racket in the same hand every time they play, and swing the racket in a very similar manner several times over the course of a game, not to mention all the hours of practice that go into it. A pitcher and a catcher in baseball are other examples of athletes that perform the same movement pattern repeatedly. The pitcher obviously throws a great deal of pitches, while the catcher spends a tremendous amount of time in a crouched position.

As with an injury, the body adapts to all of those activities by depositing more connective tissue along the lines of stress and strain. Sitting down all day puts a lot of pressure onto the buttocks, so you can bet that’s one area that your body will thicken the connective tissue. If you drive a lot, and you always steer the steering wheel with the same pattern, and rely on only one arm to hold the wheel, then you can bet that the body will end up depositing more connective tissue in that area, along with the buttocks due to the seated position. The tennis player and pitcher heavily rely on one arm for the majority of their movements to which the fascial system adapts, and the catcher remains in a crouched position causing stress and strain along the joints of the lower and upper body.

Strength training is also perceived by the body as a stress, to which the muscles positively adapt by getting bigger and stronger, but as far as fascia is concerned, the body will deposit more connective tissue around muscles that were pumped during an intense training session. While the increase in connective tissue may be minimal, over the years it accumulates and can significantly affect size and strength development, both directly, and indirectly as stated earlier.

The connective tissue that is wrapped around the muscle fibers perceives the swelling of the muscles as a stress, to which it responds by adding more connective tissue to provide support. The additional connective tissue compromises its elastic properties, which is why most people that put on additional muscle mass end up losing flexibility.


If you were to take a close look at an anatomy chart, you’d eventually notice that certain muscles essentially flow into the next ones as you make your way up or down, or even diagonally across, the body. For example, on the back side of the body, you could easily follow the fiber orientation of the calves upward and notice that they flow in the same direction as the hamstrings. From there, the hamstrings travel up under the glutes, and continue up to where they meet the muscles of the back (erectors), which then travel up the spine to the skull. That would be considered a myofascial (fascia that envelopes muscles) meridian, or ‘track’.

There are several myofascial meridians, or tracks, within the body (to be discussed below). These tracks can be used to help identify where exactly a fascial restriction may be that is limiting function. Using the example above, if there was a great deal of adhesion build up, or even additional connective tissue laid down in an attempt to thicken the structures to provide extra strength for reasons discussed earlier, in any of the muscles along the track, all the muscles running along that track will be affected.

It is extremely common these days that people lack flexibility in the hamstrings, as evident in the lack of ability for most people to bend over and touch their toes without bending the knees. Logic would tell you that to improve your hamstring flexibility, you should focus on stretching the hamstrings. But very often, tight hamstrings are the result of an issue elsewhere in the body (perhaps along the same track). Imbalanced development in the pelvic musculature can very often be the culprit of hamstring inflexibility, but as it relates to the scope of this article, it could also be due to fascial restrictions along the track(s) that the hamstrings travel (as they are a part of more than one line).

Using the example above, the easiest way to put this to the test for yourself, is to use a tennis ball, baseball, or golf ball (if you have a high tolerance for pain) and roll one of your feet back and forth over the ball longitudinally (from toes to heel), applying as much pressure as you can tolerate to break/loosen up the fascia, for a few minutes, and then attempt to touch your toes without bending your knees. You may notice that one arm hangs lower than the other. If this happens, that means that you have a great deal of either adhesion build up, or additional connective tissue laid down under your feet to add extra strength, that is restricting all the muscles along the track from lengthening to their potential.

Because many of the myofascial tracks pass through the bottom of the feet, by breaking/loosening up the fascia under the foot, you are enabling all the muscles along the tracks that pass through the foot, to lengthen to a greater degree than would otherwise be possible. If the connective tissue along any of the tracks is thickened, or bound together for reasons discussed earlier, it will ‘pull’ all the muscles along the track towards the bundle of fascia, and will restrict the muscles along the track from lengthening to their potential.


There are seven myofascial tracks that have been popularized by Thomas Myers. Those tracks, from the most outer (superficial) layers to inner (deep) are referred to as:

Superficial Back Line – This line begins under the toes, and travels up the back of the shin (calf) to the knee (hamstrings), up under the hip (glutes), along the spine (erectors), and over the top of the skull finishing at the eyebrow.

Superficial Front Line – This line begins above the toes, and travels up the front of the shin (tibilialis anterior) to the knee, up through the thigh (quadriceps) to the hip where it ends, but restarts at the bottom of the abdomen, travels up the sternum, and ravels its way up to the back of the base of the skull.

Lateral Line – This line begins at the side of the foot, and travels up the side of the shin across the knee (IT band), up through the hip (TFL), and ravels its way under the ribs up to the back of the base of the skull.

Spiral Line – This line is very tricky to follow, as the left and right lines cross paths to form an ‘X’ across the back and front of the body. This line begins at the base of the skull (traps), crosses over towards the opposite shoulder blade (rhomboids), to which it wraps around between the shoulder blade and the ribs, to the front of the body (serratus anterior) where it crosses over the belly button to the opposite hip (which is on the same side of the body that the line started on). From the hip, it travels down the side of the thigh to the side of the knee, down to the inside (medial) part of the foot, loops under the foot and travels up the back and side part of the shin, up the back of the thigh (hamstrings) to the lower back (erectors), and up the erectors back to where it began at the base of the skull.

Arm Lines – There are four arm lines: Superficial Front and Back, and Deep Front and Back. Both front arm lines begin in the pec region, and make their way down the flexors of the elbow (biceps) and wrist (forearms). Both back lines begin from the spine in the trap region, and make their way down the extensors of the elbow (triceps) and wrist.

Functional Line – There are two functional lines: Front and Back Functional Lines. The front functional line begins in the upper arm where the pec attaches, crosses over the abdomen in an ‘X’ pattern very similar to the way the spiral line does, and makes its way down to the contra-lateral adductor. The back functional line begins in the upper arm where the lat attaches, makes its way down to the contra-lateral glute, and wraps around the thigh ending at the lateral side of the kneecap.

Deep Front Line – This line begins under the foot and travels up the back of the shin, up through the inner thigh (adductors), through the ribcage, between the superficial front and back lines, up the side of the face to just above the ear.

Following the concept that ‘everything is connected’, these tracks can be used to help identify where the root of the problem is (if there is one), that is affecting function, or causing pain. If there is pain, or movement/flexibility is compromised within the muscles along the line, then it would make sense to use the lines above and look globally, not just locally, to try and identify the cause.


If there is a fascial deformation affecting function, it’s important to address it sooner than later. While there are many ways in which skilled practitioners go about releasing soft tissue, they are often very expensive, which isn’t necessarily practical for the majority of the population, considering that such a vast amount of the population are plagued with adhesions, trigger point development, and an imbalance in connective tissue fiber type distribution which negatively affects flexibility/movement. While some people may in fact require a skilled practitioner to help restore function, self myofascial release is a very inexpensive alternative.

As stated earlier, fascia has what could be termed as ‘visco-elastic’ properties, meaning that at low temperatures it becomes more stiff, and solid like, and at high temperatures it becomes more loose, and liquid like. You can take advantage of this all by yourself in an attempt to break up adhesions, and restore function with foam rolling (and obviously manipulating the temperature of the fascia to your advantage by either warming up, or performing foam rolling in a warm environment).

When mechanical pressure is applied to adhesions, or trigger points as it is when foam rolling, pain will often radiate outwards (that’s actually the difference between the two, as trigger points will cause a greater deal of pain compared to adhesions due to nerve entrapment). Applying pressure increases the temperature of the bound connective tissue, enabling it to just ‘release itself’. Rolling back and forth over the tissue as its releasing will help restore length to the tissue.

Primarily, rolling is done on the lower body only. But that doesn’t mean you can’t perform self myofascial release on your upper body either. I mean, if all of the myofascial meridians pass through both the upper, and lower body, then bypassing the upper body would be incomplete.

To get into the smaller muscles of the upper body, rolling can be done with a tennis ball (as described earlier in the case of the foot), or any other object that ‘rolls’ and can apply a significant amount of pressure. The smaller the object (ex. golf ball), the more localized the pressure will be, and therefore a higher pain tolerance is needed (especially over trigger points).

The most common areas to roll are the:

Hip Flexors/Quadriceps – The major myofascial meridians that would be positively affected by rolling out the hip flexors/quadriceps are: Superficial Front Line, Spiral Line, Front Functional Line

Glutes – The major myofascial meridians that would be positively affected by rolling out the glutes are: Superficial Back Line, Lateral Line, Spiral Line, Back Functional Line

Hamstrings – The major myofascial meridians that would be positively affected by rolling out the hamstrings are: Superficial Back Line, Spiral Line, Back Functional Line

TFL/IT Band – The major myofascial meridians that would be positively affected by rolling out the TFL/IT Band are: Lateral Line, Spiral Line, Back Functional Line

Calves – The major myofascial meridians that would be positively affected by rolling out the calves are: Superficial Back Line, Spiral Line, Deep Front Line

Lower and Upper Back (Lumbar and Thoracic Spine) – The major myofascial meridians that would be positively affected by rolling out the back are: Superficial Back Line, Spiral Line, Superficial and Deep Back Arm Lines, Back Functional Line

Even though those are the most common areas, special attention should also be given to areas unmentioned based on your own personal needs. If you get creative you can roll out your triceps, various rotator cuff muscles, lats, pecs, etc.

If you take your training seriously, and want to get the most out of your efforts in the gym, then you need to take care of your fascia. As we age, our connective tissue loses its elasticity (primarily because of an imbalance in connective tissue fiber type distribution), and the way to prevent this from happening is to maintain your flexibility by stretching, and foam rolling (though stretching is not nearly as effective if there are fascial deformations limiting you).

Neglecting to take care of your fascia will result in less than optimal gains, dysfunctional movement patterns, lack of flexibility, reduce your body’s ability to transport oxygen and nutrients to your muscles, and can result in injury (to which even more connective tissue is built to exaggerate everything just stated). The point is, if you want to enable your body to build up, to the best of its ability, then putting an extra hour or so a week into foam rolling is definitely a worthwhile investment.

If you have any questions about fascia, and how it affects size and strength development, feel free to contact me at I'm available for online consulting and personalized program design, as well as one on one training if you are located in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

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