Monday, June 13, 2011

The Extended Fascial Paradigm and its Implications in Athletic Conditioning: Part 1

The Extended Fascial Paradigm and its Implications in Athletic Conditioning
Gavin Broomes B.Sc.

In the field of Strength and Conditioning, the ultimate goal is to extract the best possible results of human athletic performance and reduce the potential for injury.  Consequently, the Strength and Conditioning professional is charged with the formulation and implementation of very specific protocols that are designed to meet these goals.  The precise formulation of training protocols is significantly easier if all of the training variables are known which will therefore result in a profoundly more efficient and effective plan.  The emerging study and research into fascia has resulted in the medical community, clinicians, and strength and conditioning professionals taking a more in-depth look into the contribution of fascia across the entire human organism.  These investigations extend not only to mechanical and orthopaedic contribution, but to systemic and metabolic contribution as well.  It is this emerging interest and scientific study that lead to the investigation of the role of fascia in the development, maintenance, and rehabilitation of the high performance athlete.  There is a significant amount of research that is currently available that identifies fascia as an important sensory organ as well as a prominent contributor to force production and transfer.  Based on these facts, the implications of increased focus on the development of the extended fascial system is significant and has a direct positive effect on the desired goal of maximum potential performance.   

The field of Strength and Conditioning has made some important progress in achieving maximum performance in the high performance athlete.  These progresses have been made on many important levels from the analytical perspective (for example, Gray Cook’s Functional Movement screen) and from the developmental / implementation perspective as well.  It is these progresses themselves that have amplified the fact that dynamic human performance is a vastly complex and comprehensive function that has a lot of untapped potential for improvement.  A large portion of the scientific focus regarding athletic training has been directed towards the skeletal muscle paradigm, that is to say that much attention is given to what is perceived to be the primary contributor to dynamic movement.  One can consider this as a specific scientific paradigm which by definition means that everything surrounding athletic training (program design, implementation, rehabilitation, and conditioning) is governed and shaped by the specific set of established protocols and beliefs.   The strength and conditioning professional is therefore guided by the specific scientific foundation and uses it as his / her platform on which the rationale of their philosophy and approach sits.  As the research and study into athletic performance increases, the number of new questions increases as well.  This triggers the search for answers that may exist outside of the established paradigm resulting in a potential paradigm shift.  Paradigm shifts typically occur during a time of crisis (1) or, to be more specific, when the number of growing questions increases at a rate much faster than the rate of answers provided by the established paradigm.  The intent of this article is not to suggest that we are in a “time of crisis” within the field of strength and conditioning, rather that there is a potential “paradigm-like”  approach to training that, not only presents realistic opportunities to improve maximum athletic performance, but ABSORBS AND INTEGRATES the current established paradigm.  Therefore, the intent of this article is to present the Extended Fascial Paradigm as a potential important approach that will result in significant improvements in the analytical approach to strength and conditioning and consequently result in profound gains in human athletic performance.

The term “extended” is used to highlight the vast and varied implications that fascia has on the human body and therefore athletic performance. Fascia is typically used as a group term that is meant to generalize a given set of structures; however it can be categorized as many functionally distinct tissues (2):

Superficial fascia
-Serves as storage of fat and water
-Found on face and neck while it fills unoccupied place in the body
-Composed of areolar connective tissue
Deep fascia
-Fibrous connective tissue (elastin and collagen)
-Surrounds muscles, bones, nerves, and blood vessels
Visceral fascia
-Wraps and fixes organs in position

The Extended Fascial Paradigm suggests that the reason fascia plays such an important role in dynamic performance is because it has 2 specific functional appearances: anatomical and architectural (3).  The anatomical appearance is the one that we are most familiar with; fascia as the tissue that serves as the simple “wrapping” for the more sophisticated structures such as muscle and internal organs.  The architectural appearance is what clearly identifies fascia as an important contributor to dynamic movement.  Fascia, or to be more precise connective tissue, exhibits two functionally paradoxical tendencies; it “connects” and “disconnects” (3).  The connective tendencies are the ones we are more familiar with and typically have a relatively good understanding of.  The “connecting dimension” allows for mechanical interaction of different body segments and therefore contributes to movement (fig.1 and fig.2).  The “disconnecting dimension” is somewhat more elusive and counter-intuitive.  Fascia also separates individual muscles allowing them to slide independently without interference with adjacent muscle bellies and structures (fig.3 and fig.4).  This disconnection is vital for the efficient performance of athletic movement.  The implications of fascia are far-reaching and therefore should be considered as an important focus or training variable on its own. 

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