|Stretching for Recovery and Performance|
How Fascial Stretch Therapy Can Raise Athletic Performance
By Alfred Ball
Endurance athletes experience injuries that are often attributed to muscle imbalances and repetitive stress. Triathletes with tight hip flexors are at greater risk for leg injuries during running. In swimming, tight chest and shoulders shorten each stroke which limits power and alters shoulder mechanics. Multisport athletes can prevent injuries and improve performance with individualized stretching routines. Well designed flexibility programs ensure proper muscle elasticity, movement efficiency and joint range of motion.
Fascial stretch therapy is one technique elite athletes have been using since 1995 to effectively increase flexibility. Fascial stretch therapy is a type of assisted stretching that manipulates soft connective tissue called fascia. Fascia is a communicative and dynamic tissue surrounding our joints, muscles, nerves and organs. This continuous sheath helps co-ordinate muscular activity and acts as a body-wide sensor to give us environmental feedback.
Sessions often start on the hips as shown in the supine glutes stretch.
Ann and Chris Frederick, developers of the technique have built on research that examines the dynamic links between muscles, fascia and ligaments. The way FST incorporates these interactions is what makes it effective.
Certified fascial stretch therapists use a variety of assessments to understand the way clients move before developing a treatment plan. With a therapist’s assistance, an athlete can experience deeper levels of pain-free stretching than on their own. Therapists use traction during FST to reduce muscle and fascia tension and provide a stretch from the joint capsule out. During fascial stretching, the client’s body is moved in undulating spiral diagonal patterns known as stretch waves. Breathing rates synchronize with stretch waves that vary from very slow to very fast. Fast to very fast waves used during warm-ups enable freer athletic movement by opening compressed tissues and improving muscle elasticity. Slower waves unwind the fascia to restore tissues to more efficient resting lengths by stretching tighter myofascial directions. When combined with deeper diaphragmatic breathing, slower waves achieve lasting changes in the connective tissues that increase flexibility.
Athletes in fascial stretch programs have been found to recover more quickly between training sessions and improve active range of motion from 36 per cent to 52 per cent greater in athletes than other stretching methods.
Liam Firus, 2010 Canadian Junior Figure Skating Champion, started using FST in 2008 to help him recover from a back injury. Weekly sessions help keep him feeling strong, stable and balanced for jumping. Firus says he uses FST “to recover from intense training and stay healthy.”
Since starting FST, Winter has been free of major injuries “which in skicross is remarkable,” and his world ranking jumped from 108 to 54.
Side-lying pectoralis minor stretch brings shoulders back into alignment.
Yoga and FST reduce chronic stresses that make fascia hard, painful and restrictive. They both also increase flexibility. With FST, both sides of the body are treated differently based on individual assessments, while yoga usually flows through poses to work both sides equally.
Active release therapy and fascial stretch therapy both improve tissue elasticity. Active release breaks apart adhesions at specific locations, while FST is more global, treating the entire body before treating more specific locations.
Vancouver chiropractor Carla Cupido says, “Clients seek active release to manage acute injuries and relieve chronic muscle tightness.” Tissues surrounding acute traumas aren’t treated with FST, but compensations remain after healing which often become chronic problems; FST identifies and removes compensations.
Combined with home stretches, foam rolling and strength training, FST can be a key part of taking your athletic performance to the next level.
July/August Issue 2011