Train your Pilates clients like a Fascia-nista

I’ve referred to myself as a fascial fanatic. I am truly “fascia-nated” with fascia! It is intriguing because it is a game-changer. Our basic assumptions at the foundation of fitness training are being challenged. The number of research papers discussing fascia has increased exponentially in the last few years, and whole conferences are dedicated to fascia. In the Pilates world, fascia has also become very topical. As Marie Jose Blom puts it, “fascial training is the future of peak performance.”

“What is fascia, anyway?”

I was first introduced to fascia back in 2006 when I attended Tom Myers’ workshop “Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians.” I was intrigued by the properties of this tissue. It is a tissue that unites the entire body, connecting literally every cell in the body as well as connecting all of our cells to the mechanical world. In fact, if all other tissues were removed from the body, we would be left with the most complete image of ourselves. Hard to believe that when I was in the dissection lab in 1988 we discarded this tissue looking for the muscles it encased!

“How does it work?”

At the time, I was already thinking about muscles in terms of chains of activity in closed chain work, referring to agonists, antagonists and synergists. Fascia, however, shed new light on the idea that nothing works in isolation. The head-to-toe nature of the myofascial lines also interested me. Our connection to the ground is important to movement, as is establishing a central axis. The historically-overlooked fascia really functions as guy wires — like the ropes on a ship which balance the mast, the fascia adds stability to the free-standing structure of our body.

Perhaps the biggest game-changer for me is the idea of Tensegrity. Most movement education rests on the notion of musculoskeletal support and a compression body moving through a series of levers, but this notion is being seriously challenged. The elastic fascia provides tensegrity support through a balance of tensions. Since the body is supported through tensegrity, this means that the bones lie in the connective tissue matrix and the balance of tension in this tissue determines bony alignment, joint spacing, and movement within the joint! This means that as movement trainers, we can affect all of these areas by focusing on connective tissue balance through fascial training.

“What does training the fascia do?”

Since my first introduction to fascia, I have taken more courses with Tom Myers. My practice is slowly evolving in an attempt to optimize fascia’s function as the body’s support system. I have developed a series of principles that can be used so that with a little change in emphasis, the Pilates repertoire can be used to very effectively train fascia.

By optimizing fascial support, the body can be effectively decompressed. Since compression is often the source of pain in various musculoskeletal syndromes, I have had success in providing people, including myself, with pain relief. Previous to my knowledge of fascia, I sustained a back injury with herniation of the L4/5 disc. This has been an intermittent source of discomfort for me over many years. Through an integration of fascial training principles into my Pilates practice I have been able to establish good pain control. A number of my clients report a similar experience. More recently, I sustained a severe injury to my right foot after jumping from a falling ladder. This injury could have been absolutely devastating to an active person and runner like myself. Very early in the recovery, I began to put some balanced tension on the tissue in order to stimulate healing. I continued to load the tissue as I could tolerate. I also focused on balancing the tension in the tissue up into the leg and trunk, and I also paid close attention to restoring proper movement. I am happy to report that one year post-injury I have made a full recovery and returned to activity without restrictions or compensations.

For me, an emphasis on effecting the fascial system has been life changing. I have incorporated these principles into all of my activity. In my forties, I feel better physically and emotionally than I did in my twenties! I often say that incorporating these principles into your lifestyle is the fountain of youth. I am looking forward to sharing these fascianating principles and exploring their application in the Pilates repertoire in my upcoming fascia workshop this weekend at Body Harmonics. I hope to see you there!

Have you ever worked with fascia? Do you have any questions for Kris? Ask them in the comments below!

Kris Desjardins graduated from the University of Toronto in 1992 with a Bachelor of Science in Physiotherapy. She first started doing Pilates in 2001 and was immediately hooked, with a special interest in Pilates as a Rehabilitation method. She was first introduced to fascia at a Tom Myers workshop in 2006 and has actively pursued continuing education related to fascial training since. You can visit her at her studio in Tecumseh, Ontario, or you can join her at her upcoming fascial training workshop at Body Harmonics.