Whether you’re just a recreational lifter or someone who’s obsessed with the fitness lifestyle, we all have something in common – looking for new, revolutionary ways to improve our gains. This is where fascia stretching comes into play.
It’s interesting that most people have never heard about fascia tissue, and what its purpose is. And no, I’m not talking about your face. Fascial tissue is hidden deep inside the skin, and it encapsulates your muscle tissue, creating a barrier around it. It’s there for a purpose – to prevent injuries and muscle tears, but it can also be a limiting factor when it comes to muscle growth.
Fascia & Muscle Memory
The truth is that the fascia barrier also limits the amount of space your muscle has to grow. So instead of getting a lot of bloodflow (and nutrients) into the muscle as you train it, you’re getting less blood flow then your genetic potential would allow you to, had your fascia tissue been stretched enough.
This makes complete sense if you think about “muscle memory”. You know the lifters who’ve trained for a couple of years, packed a ton of muscle and then for some reason or another stopped training for a couple of months or even years? They go back to the gym and in no time they regain back their muscle mass and strength. If you need a good reference point, just check out Kevin Levrones transformation for the last Mr. Olympia. After not training seriously for a couple of years he managed to pack on a decent amount of size for the Mr. Olympia in a few months.
Muscle memory? Right, you could say that mind-muscle connection that was previously developed also helps. But more than that, it’s the already stretched fascial tissue that allows the muscle enough space to grow back quicker than it did the first time. So as you can imagine, the tissue expands as your muscle grows and stretches it by itself.
Stretching The Fascia Directly
But there are also ways in which you can directly stretch the tissue. Let me be clear however – this is not something I would recommend to beginner lifters who’ve just stepped in the gym. You need to already have a good relationship with your body as well as proper form on most exercises before attempting to do fascia stretching.
The reason is that this is quite an extreme form of stretching that puts a lot of pressure on tendons and joints, so if you’re not careful, you could get injured. But the reason I’m still willing to mention it is because it works really well for packing on size, and it’s a completely natural way to do it.
How To Do It
So how do you actually perform the stretches? First of all, you need to decide which muscles you want to stretch. Let’s take chest as a simple example. You want to improve your chest by stretching out your fascia tissue in that area.
The first thing you need to do is warm up really well. After that you should do a few quality sets of various exercises, hitting the muscle from various angles and getting a lot of bloodflow and nutrients in the area. This is a crucial step for two reasons. First of all, you want to get enough blood in the area to support the expansion of the tissue. And secondly, you want the joints and tendons to be warmed up for the stretch.
Now that you’ve done a couple of exercises, we get to the fun part – the actual stretch. It is performed with some form of resistance. Dumbell flys are most often used for chest fascia stretching because it’s the most convenient way to do it. What you do is similar to an isometric exercise. You stretch and widen your chest by lowering the dumbbells in the dumbbell fly position until it’s not really comfortable. So you go a bit lower than you usually would if you were performing the exercise normally. Then you stay in that position for approximately 30 seconds.
You would do a couple of reps after each workout, remaining in the position. As you progress, you can increase the weight of the dumbbell, or you can increase the time under tension, although it’s not really safe to do it for more than 60 seconds, unless you are really advanced.
If you do it properly you will feel a great pump, and like the area is properly stretched. That’s completely normal, as you’ve just expanded a large chunk of the tissue, allowing for more muscle to fill up the space.
How Often Should You Do It?
Fascia stretching requires a delicate approach to the muscle you’re trying to improve. You should wait at least 4-5 days before training that muscle and doing the stretches again. It is also smart to have a rest week in which you let the muscle completely relax, after you’ve done the stretches for a month or two.
This is of course highly individual, depending on how you feel, but it’s better to do less than to overdo it. Either way, you will notice a difference after a week or two, so it’s better to go slow than to unecessarily pick up an injury.
I’ve used the dumbbell flys to illustrate the point, but there are plenty of other exercises you can use, depending of course on the bodypart.
Here is an example of Tricep Fascial Stretching.
So there you have it – another powerful way to increase your gains in the gym. It should be noted that fascia stretching, and the role of fascia is still something that requires further research.
It’s a very interesting topic, and bodybuilders are again the pioneers of practical knowledge, pushing science further in their quest for finding new styles of training. Hopefully you’ll give fascia stretching a shot and reap the benefits as well.