Dancers LOVE to stretch… it feels good… we need flexible and strong bodies… and everybody thinks of stretching in terms of muscles. Most know that each muscle is wrapped in fascia, which is also called connective tissue. Did you know that each muscle bundle and each muscle fiber is also enveloped by fascia?
Yup! That’s a lot of fascia!
Dancers are returning to classes after summer break and there are many of them that are going to be sore after the first class or two back.
That soreness is often called delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS for short. You feel great in class, but the next day or even two days later your muscles ACHE! It used to be said that it was caused by an increase of lactic acid but lactic acid is reduced fairly quickly in the body while muscle aches can last for days.
This soreness is coming from doing an activity that your body isn’t ready for – like being out of shape or away from class and then jumping back in full tilt boogie:) It can involve eccentric contractions which is contracting a muscle while it is being lengthened. It can also come after trying a new movement pattern that that the body isn’t trained for (yet). DOMS goes away typically within a few days, and the next time you go to do the activity it feels better. You are conditioning your muscles AND fascia:)
Research suggests that it’s the fascia that has been strained rather than the muscle fibers. In fact – the number of pain sensors is far greater in fascia than in muscle. Fascia can be inflamed, stiffen up, dry up and wreck havoc with our movement. Remember the post about the lumbar fascia, which is a key player in lower back pain, stiffens up and looses mobility? You can rewatch the 2 clips of healthy lumbar fascia vs lumbar fascia from someone with lower back pain.
Fascia likes being stretched across multiple joints, as fascia connects and weaves long lines of muscles through the body. This is why when you roll a ball under your foot, your hamstrings might feel looser on that side. The hamstrings and the bottom of your feet are connected through the fascia. Often a solution to a flexibility problem may be far away from the targeted challenge area.
Fascia also responds to dynamic stretching. An example of a dynamic hamstring stretch I love is placing my foot on a chair in front of me. I then contract my quads on the leg that is being stretched and shift my sits bone backwards as if I was sticking my pelvis out. Keeping the quads contracted you can slowly and gently flex at the hip until you have a strong yet not painful stretching sensation. If you let go of the quad contraction you will lose the effectiveness of this stretch.
A nice way to get ready for class is to do a few jumping jacks, or brisk walk around the studio and then take a few minutes to roll on the pinkie ball or foam roller followed by lying on the floor and stretching your body as if you were just getting out of bed and yawning and stretching. Twist and bend your body in as many ways as possible and wake up those long lines of fascial connections.
If you live in Canada you might consider coming one of the workshops I’ll be offering on Anatomy of Technique: A Fascial Perspective where we will dive deep into looking at technique through the lens of fascia. Space is limited and they are happening in October!
To your success!