If you have ever taken an anatomy or physiology course you were no doubt taught about the body’s “systems”: the circulatory system, nervous system, musculo-skeletal system, etc. Not surprisingly this method of teaching is called a “systems” approach.
While the systems approach is a tried and true method to learn how the body works it is also a disjointed one. The fact is the body “works” as a whole system often simultaneously or at least sequentially. In a healthy state all the systems compliment and harmoniously interact with each other.
In spite of this generally recognized holistic view of the body, teaching via the systems approach persists. The main reasons are quite legitimate. For one, it makes the incredibly complex subject manageable, or at least more manageable. It allows one to get a toe hold, divide and conquer or employ whatever segmental analogy you prefer. A second reason would be that it offers a chance to focus in on an area, especially if there is a problem.
The muscular system is divided up into parts. There are the upper and lower arms, the upper and lower legs and the front and back of the body. While this gives us the building blocks of the body sooner or later one begins to question how all this works together. After all, one of the basic tenets of coaching is to train movements, not individual muscles. Refined movements become the techniques that optimize the muscles’ contractile forces and initiate stretch reflexes to produce performance-directed movement.
Technical movement, after all, is the sequential and coordinated movement of muscles and bones, joints and levers that creates the nuances of movement. To me this is what the technical aspect of coaching is all about, particularly in the speed and power events.
Okay, no great news flash here. We know that muscles cross joints and usually attach to a bone via a tendon. Ligaments are the soft tissue that attach bones together. Joint capsules are another form of ligament that encapsulates a joint offering protection and stability. A fifth type of soft tissue is the fascia.
If you have ever prepared a raw chicken breast and pinched the meat you can usually raise a translucent, grayish tissue that exhibits almost a cellophane wrap-like appearance; that is the fascia.
In fact, the fascia is everywhere in the body. The role and function of the fascia is minimally studied, often seen as “junk” tissue by many and a tissue that serves no purpose.
But consider that the network of the body’s fascia is so extensive that you would be visibly recognizable if you somehow lost all your skin and only your fascia remained. A key word here is “network” because recent study (over the last 20 years) has confirmed that the fascia is connected in lines or tracks that crisscross or run the length of the body and coordinate and facilitate movement.
Truthfully this is revolutionary thought, especially for those mired in a “systems approach” mindset about the body. The fascia is the tissue that connects and helps coordinate the closed kinetic chains of the body, the stretch reflexes and helps produce a powerful summation of forces.
Hydration plays a role in the functioning of the fascia. In that the fascial sheaths slide over each other dehydration can cause the body’s fascia to stick to surrounding tissues forcing the body to work against itself creating unnecessary tension and producing early fatigue.
It is premature to call the fascia the “last frontier” in the study of the human body but I certainly see it as a frontier. Research and debate continues in attempts to define the function of the various fascial lines, how to recognize the presentation of fascial dysfunctions and ultimately how to resolve those dysfunctions. This knowledge will have a direct effect on how well an athlete can run, jump or throw.
In an effort to shed some light on the subject this issue includes a short article on the fascia and some questions and answers from Dr. Emmett Hughes, who has done much pioneering work in this area. It seems almost ironic as I write this that the study of this “system” may help promote the alteration of the “systems approach” to anatomy and physiology, generating an impetus to adopt a more holistic view of the body, more closely aligned to the way the body really works.