While there are plenty of gadgets to help make stretching post-run more bearable, like yoga straps, foam rollers and TheraBands, it's still a chore. What if you could get that post-yoga feeling of a supple runner's body without the pain and effort?
More than the muscles
That's the idea behind Fascia Stretch Therapy, which targets not only the muscles, but also the fascia - the band of connective tissue that lies beneath the skin that attaches, stabilises, wraps around and separates muscles, bones, joints and internal organs.
Tegan Haining is a Fascia Stretch Therapist and personal trainer who has worked with David Beckham and Natalie Imbruglia. She says fascia plays an important role in every movement you make.
"As we age, or through rigorous exercise, our fascia tightens up and regular stretching doesn't address this issue," says Haining. "Fascia Stretch Therapy stretches the fascia out and gives you greater range of motion, flexibility and mobility, helping you to train harder and move more freely."
"Athletes often think that if something is hurting then they should stretch a muscle and it will help. If it doesn't work then stretching the fascia is an alternative way of managing the body's aches and pains."
The missing element
Tom Myers, author of the acclaimed book Anatomy Trains says fascia is the missing element in the movement/stability equation. Myers was among the first medical professionals to challenge the field's ignorance of fascia in the human body.
"As human beings, we have a tremendous plasticity, a tremendous potential for change. And fascia is the same. Fascia is very fluid, very dynamic, and has these kinds of plastic or viscoelastic properties that allow us to change in ways that we haven't thought we could open and change," says Myers.
Fascia stretch therapy involves the therapist gently moving, pulling and circling the arms, leg, spine and neck through different planes of movement. Clients lie on a massage table with one leg strapped down to secure them in place during the treatment.
The slower the better
Haining says fascia stretch therapy is a great alternative to yin yoga. "People generally stretch one muscle for a short period of time and then move onto the next. For lasting changes you need to stretch for more than 30 seconds. Stretching the fascia involves long, slow periods of gentle stretching and deep breathing to open up the joints and lengthen the muscles."
Fascia Stretch Therapy is said to increase flexibility, correct leg-length discrepancies, aid recovery, increase blood flow through the muscles and improve range of motion and elasticity to maintain stride length.
"Runners typically experience tight calves, hamstrings and hips and a rounded upper body. Fascia stretch therapy can help to loosen these tight muscles and improve running posture," says Haining.
"A fascia stretch therapist can work with other health practitioners like Physiotherapists to help resolve common running issues, including plantar fasciitis, sciatica, piriformis syndrome and gait-related injuries."'
PhysioTrain Sports Physiotherapist Andrew Hoare says runners can use the concept of fascia therapy to get more bang for their buck when stretching.
"Turn a static hip flexor stretch into a deeper stretch of the fascia by adding some knee bend," says Hoare. "This will help stretch the hip flexors, quadriceps and all the connective tissue that links them all at once."
Faschia stretches to try at home
Seated glute stretch: Sit on a chair or bench with ankles positioned below knees. Cross lower leg over thigh of opposite leg. Lean down, lowering the torso toward thighs. Hold the stretch and slowly move slightly backwards and forward for a few minutes. Repeat with opposite leg.
Half kneeling hamstring stretch: Sit on your shins with your knees hips-width distance apart. Straighten your right leg out in front of you. Inhale to lengthen the spine, and exhale to fold forward so your torso is to the left of your right thigh. Gently turn your foot to the left and then right. Do this for five long breaths and then switch sides.
Couch stretch: Start in a table position with your hands and knees on the floor. Slide you left leg back so that your knee fits into the corner where the floor meets the wall. Make sure your shin is flush with the wall and point your toes. Draw up your right leg and post it in front of you, with your shin vertical. Lift your torso (with your glutes still engaged) and hold for a minute, then switch sides.
Thoracic spine stretch: Lie on your back. With your left arm grab a hold of your right knee and gently pull it across your left side to touch the ground. Keep your left hand on your right knee and then circle your right arm up over your head and past your buttock in a slow sweeping motion. Repeat with the opposite side.
Use a foam roller: Like stretching, using a foam roller on your fascia is different than on your muscles. Be gentle and slow in your movements, and when you find an area of tension hold sustained pressure for three to five minutes.
The goal of one day completing an ultra-marathon inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. With a day job in the corporate world, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to clear her mind and challenge her body.
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