The F-word: why London’s fitness elite are flexing their fascia

Getty Images
Getty Images

You’ve got your cardio-to-weights-training ratio down, you meditate daily, your diet is that of a saint — but how’s your fascia doing? The ‘F-word’ currently has the wellness world abuzz, with a host of new workouts and products promising to condition and work it.

But first: what is it? A connective tissue that is made mostly from collagen, fascia wraps like cling film around all the muscles, ligaments and organs in our body, both controlling their mobility and holding them in place. You could think of it, as Chiswick-based myofascial release therapist Fran Kehoe says, as five or six layers of wetsuit zipped up tightly over muscles.

As we age, fascia can stiffen, with individual layers of the ‘wetsuit’ becoming twisted out of place, resulting in tension. Keeping one’s fascia in good order reduces injury risk and increases muscle mobility: essentially powering up your workout. ‘If you think about the evolution of fitness, from the Jane Fonda aerobics boom through to body building, it has all been about isolation of muscle groups,’ muses Gideon Remfry, head of health and nutrition and Chelsea’s exclusive KX gym. ‘Now people are looking for a more integrative, holistic approach to working the body as a whole. Fascia, which interconnects everything in your anatomy, from your muscles to your central nervous system to your digestion, does exactly that.’

There are two sides to this fascia focus: tension release and prehab (ie conditioning your fascia to perform better while you work out). At Triyoga, myofascial release specialist Suzanne Waterworth uses her feet to feel out kinks in the layers of your fascia, followed by a hands-on resistance stretch, during which she actively reconditions the fascia. ‘Resistance stretching is similar to when you yawn and stretch in the morning,’ she surmises. ‘You tense your muscles first and move through that tension, engaging the fascia and not just pulling on it.’

Nike Recovery Ball, £21.99, at taskers-sports.co.uk
Nike Recovery Ball, £21.99, at taskers-sports.co.uk

For something more active, there’s the RX class at Equinox: a self-myofascial massage prehabilitation on the gym floor designed to eliminate pain, improve posture and enhance performance. At Moving Stretch at Breathe London’s Covent Garden studio, meanwhile, you can also work the fascia via resistance stretch movements, which surprisingly is harder work than it sounds. And if you’re a Pilates fan, sign up to the Melt Method — a workshop being held in October in Camden that applies fascial science to your Pilates mat.

Trigger Point Point Nano, £16, at sportsdirect.com
Trigger Point Point Nano, £16, at sportsdirect.com

Remfry also advocates the use of breath and meditation to activate the fascia before a workout. ‘If you oxygenate it, you can passively affect it and start to relax it.’ He recommends taking time before your gym session to take five deep inhales and exhales (in for five, hold for five, out for five). Try stretching before and after and you’ll be amazed by your increased range of motion.

Inevitably, props to aid fascial conditioning are advancing as well. The GatorTail is a souped-up foam roller (read implement of torture) with a strategically grooved surface. It is short enough to carry in your kit bag and long enough to cover any width of your body: eking out any adhesions in the fascia. The same South Kensington-based brand is launching self-massaging flip flops that work with the fascia and reflexology points in the soles of the feet. Until then, Remfry says a golf ball will do the trick: ‘There is a posterior chain of fascia that connects the sole of the foot and runs all the way up the back and over the top of the head and down into the forehead. You can release that whole expanse of fascia just by rolling a golf ball under your foot for two to three minutes, pushing into the tender parts.’

Gatortail foam roller, £39.97 (gatortail.co.uk)
Gatortail foam roller, £39.97 (gatortail.co.uk)

Long may the fascia-nation continue.

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