Does muscle fiber type determine sports performance?

stretching-498256_1920Fast twitch vs Slow twitch 

Do you ever wonder why some people are just amazing at what they do? Let’s take Usain Bolt as an example.  The guys is fast! Like really fast. So fast that he has at the time of this blog post won 8 Gold Olympic Medals with another one being stripped in the 4 x 100 meter relay because of a teammate who tested positive for methylhexaneamine.  Besides that there can be so many different factors and influences in great and successful athletes but we are going to just take a look at one. 

Muscles can contain three different types of  skeletal muscle twitch fibers. These fibers are categorized as slow twitch, fast twitch, and intermediate twitch.  Everyone has these fibers but muscles are made up of different percentages of each type of muscle fiber. You can have more fast twitch than slow twitch fibers and that is one reason why different body types excel at different sports. As a marathon runner you could excel if your muscle composition was mostly made of slow twitch muscle fibers because you would be able to slowly replace energy as it is being used. To understand why this makes a big difference we need to look at what the muscles use for fuel.

The energy needed to contract a muscle directly comes from ATP. ATP’s full name is adenosine triphosphate and this is the energy molecule that the body produces for energy. Along with ATP the other two major ingredients required for muscle contraction are glucose and oxygen.  When a muscle is not active it will store oxygen in the muscle cells for whenever you need to use that muscle so it is nearby and ready to go when called upon. Myoglobin is the red protein that is responsible for storing this oxygen. The oxygen stored in your muscles is quickly used up during exercise and your body will replenish these oxygen stores via blood flow bringing more myoglobin proteins to the muscles. The other fuel your body uses for muscle contractions is glucose and it is used to create ATP.

(calcium and magnesium are also pretty important to muscle function but those will be in another post)

Your body is able to replenish ATP stores as long as there is enough glucose in the bloodstream and enough of a glucose reserve stored in your muscle cells and liver. If you have ever experienced a bonk or extreme fatigue during training then most likely you are running out of glucose and are unable to make energy which causes the inability to do anything.  These energy and nutrient delivery systems are directly related to the different types of muscle fibers and their structure.jh

Fast Twitch Muscle Fibers

rabbitFast twitch muscle is also known by its other name “white muscle”. The reason they categorize this as white muscle is because of the low amount of myoglobin, fewer mitochondria, and less blood capillaries, which makes the muscle fibers appear lighter in color. So fast twitch fibers have less oxygen stores and less ways to make ATP (energy). Along with that, they have modified contractile proteins that make them very efficient at delivering calcium to the muscle cell which results in a faster contraction.  This is great for powerful and explosive movements but as a result of the modifications to the contractile proteins they tire and fatigue a lot faster.  You can find a greater concentration of these fibers in athletes that excel at short distance events and fast movement activities.

Slow Twitch Muscle Fibers

turtleSlow twitch muscle fibers are called “red muscle”.  These have the opposite makeup compared to fast twitch muscle fibers and contract at a much slower rate.  They have a better blood supply, more mitochondria, and a lot more myoglobin which allows them to store a lot more oxygen in the muscle. Because of this slower contraction rate they are able to replenish their ATP energy stores before they can fatigue, thus keeping them operating longer.  You can see a high concentration of these slow twitch muscle fibers in long distance athletes.

Intermediate Twitch Muscle Fibers

This is a less known type of muscle fiber but it is exactly what it sounds like. Also known as “pink muscle”, they are the middleman between fast twitch and slow twitch. Like slow twitch muscle they contain more capillaries, myoglobin, and mitochondria but they are not as efficient at replacing their ATP supplies. They are however able to produce more force than the slow twitch muscle which gives them more utility.  One theory is that they are fast twitch fibers that have been converted to intermediate twitch fibers by endurance training.

The different makeup of these muscle fibers can have a huge impact on training.  Different body types will respond differently to training adaption. This is a major benefit to the highly popular HIIT training by helping to activate and condition these fast twitch muscle fibers. So what decides this makeup of different muscle fiber types? Research has shown that long distance vs short distance training does not have a huge effect on the distribution of these fibers. There is definitely a genetic component to the total amount of different fibers. 

-Nick Picchetti L.M.T.
Scheduling Info

Here is an example that shows the fiber distribution of how different fiber types can be distributed through different track and field events. People with these percentages would excel at their given track and field event.


Slow Twitch %

Fast Twitch %

Marathon 82% 18%
Distance Runners 68% 32%
Race Walkers 60% 40%
Javelin Throwers 50% 50%
Runners 800m 46% 54%
Shot Putter 44% 56%
Discus Throwers 37% 63%
Sprinters / Jumpers 36% 64%
*intermediate muscle fibers are left off of this list.

How to Beat the Heat!

Summertime is here in Austin. School is out, traffic is slightly better, and breakfast tacos are in abundance! It is amazing how empty the city feels when all the students take off for summer break. We had a great winter and spring that stalled the hot weather for a few months, but if this past weekend is any indication of what to expect for summer then we will be in store for a pretty hot one. The good thing is you don’t have to hate the heat and you can stay safe doing it.. 100+ Degree days are back so your going to have to switch things up and get creative if you want to stay cool.

1. Drink plenty of water

Want to become smarter? Drink more water! Your brain is 77-78% water so there is no wonder as to why your head pounds after a night of drinking.  If you have ever had a fish tank you know you need to change the water out every week or else it gets pretty gross pretty quick.  How is the body any different? Your body uses and replaces water on a regular basis for recovery so giving it some good quality h20 will improve your performance and make you feel great!

Remember the Equation to find out how much water to consume daily base on your weight?

Your body weight ÷ Two = Your water goal in ounces

150 Pounds ÷ 2 = 75 liquid ounces
10 Big Glasses of water

Try to drink before you become thirsty to stay ahead of your hydration!

2. Schedule your workouts for early morning or afternoon

The hottest time of the day can vary due to a few factors but it usually falls between 2:00pm – 5:00pm.  This sometimes gets confused by the time at which the sun is at its highest point which is 12:00pm. Scheduling your workouts for early morning or late at night can increase the quality of your workout and protects you from the heat!

Sun picture

You could visit a different trail in Austin and the surrounding area every day of the week and it would still take you over a month to visit them all! Trail sports can provide great tree coverage from the sun at one of the many trail systems around Austin like The Green BeltHill of Life, McKinney Falls State ParkBrushy Creek Lake Park, and Walnut Creek park.

Trail sports have shown to improve mental health and help with depression and anxiety by helping quiet overstimulated pathways in the brain. 

“One group of study participants completed a brisk 90-minute walk in a natural setting; the other group took their walk, of the same duration and intensity, in an urban setting. Upon returning to the lab, the nature-walkers not only self-reported decreased rumination, but fMRI scans of their brains also showed decreased neural activity in an area of the brain associated with mental illness (the subgenual prefrontal cortex). The walk literally changed their brain. The urban-walkers, however, experienced neither of these effects.”

 3. Take a dip in the springs!

barton springs

Barton Springs is the fourth largest spring in Texas and provides a quite cool temperature range between 68 °F (20 °C) in the winter to about 71.6 °F (22.0 °C) in the summer. Starting your workout at Zilker Park and looping back around town lake or through the Greenbelt can provide an excellent opportunity to finish your run with a leg soak or dip in the springs! No prep work needed, just take off the shoes and watch out for dogs!

4. Cold towels can be just as great as hot ones

color-2094431_1920Before a long run or hard workout grab an old cooler, some water, and some ice cubes.  Combine them together before your workout to have refreshing cold towels after your run or workout to help cool you off!

+Bonus Tip: Freeze a second water bottle to take with you so it can slowly melt and you will have nice cold water after your workout.

 5. Be Aware of Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke!

Knowing the signs of heat exhaustion is critical to keep you safe and healthy during this hot summer season. This is a life threatening condition and it can take only minutes to progress by putting stress on your brain, heart, lungs, liver and kidneys. If left ignored then it can quickly turn into a heat stroke. Both the symptoms for a heat stroke and heat exhaustion are very similar so if you do start experiencing any of these symptoms then you need to seek shade, quickly lower your body temperature, and get some fluids in ASAP.

Heat Exhaustion Heat Stroke
  • Faintness or dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Headache
  • Weak, rapid pulse
  • Heavy sweating often accompanied by cold, clammy skin
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Pale or flushed face
  • Dizziness and Confusion
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle weakness or cramps
  • Throbbing headache
  • Rapid heartbeat, which may be either strong or weak
  • Lack of sweating despite the heat
  • Red, hot, and dry skin
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness

Remember that your recovery needs to be equal or greater to your workload or else things start wearing down. This becomes even more true during these hot months because the heat causes you to lose more water and minerals, such as magnesium, through sweat and evaporation.  Following some of these tips can increase your chance for staying cool, safe,  and injury free this summer.

-Nick Picchetti L.M.T.

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Autonomic Overdrive


How Stress Affects our Nervous System

Stress Response in the Autonomic Nervous System


Stress is extremely detrimental to our health.  It affects us in the background and sometime we don’t even realize it until enough stress builds up to grab our attention.  To understand how stress can affect us long term, without really thinking about it, we need to look at the Automatic response of the human nervous system.

Ever wonder what part of your nervous system takes care of all the bodily processes that you don’t have to consciously think about? Breathing in and out is probably its most famous action but everything from digestion, hormonal production, body temperature, immediate survival, and stress is regulated by the Autonomic Nervous System, which is a subdivision of the peripheral nervous system.

The Peripheral Nervous System is everything in your nervous system, excluding the brain and spinal cord. These are the nerves that run through your gut and to all your extremities.

The autonomic nervous system has two separate and completely opposite divisions that counterbalance each other, they are the sympathetic; fight or flight, and the parasympathetic; the rest and digest divisions. There is an eternal battle going on between these two subdivisions and you are constantly being pulled in each direction like a tug of war rope. Since you don’t fully control this portion of the nervous system yourself, even small amounts of stress can tug the rope and pull your system into high alert mode. This can cause problems with your physical and emotional health because you could be in stressful overdrive when you should be resting and regenerating, and since we don’t consciously control it it is easy to miss.. Remember that your recovery needs to be equal or greater towards your work load or you will start wearing down.

ParaSympathetic Division
aka: Rest & Digest

This division of the ANS (Autonomic Nervous System) is activated and in full swing when your environment is calm and peaceful and there is little to none outside stress in your environment.  This parasympathetic division helps us out long term and plans for the future. Your body knows that after a long day at the office, arguing with your boss, and a hour in traffic, your fuel sources are low and your stress hormones are high. To combat this and prepare for the next day your body needs to recover so the parasympathetic side of the ANS takes over. The reason we have this side of the ANS is so your body can replace energy stores, regenerate tissues, and eliminate wastes.

This guy is in Parasympathetic Mode.

You can see why they call it the “Rest and Digest” division because it really takes control during your recovery and repair. Your body has a hard time starting these regenerative processes when you’re stressed out or in an uncomfortable environment because these things cause the other side of the ANS, the sympathetic flight or fight, to be activated.

Sympathetic Division
aka: Fight, Flight, and Freeze

This division is all about short term survival.  You need to remember that Humans have been around for awhile and a lot of these stress mechanisms were around during the hunter and gathering stage in human evolution. They kept us alive then and they do a pretty good job of keeping us alive now. The easiest and most well known description of the sympthatic response is: What would happen if you are being chased by a tiger?

If you were in Asia and there was a hungry tiger behind you, without a cage, your body would make a few sudden physiological changes in response to seeing it. 


  1. Your heart rate would increase so you can supply your muscles with more oxygen, making them more efficient and your heart would start to contract more forcefully increasing circulation. Better for you to run faster and longer!
  2. Your pupils would dilate, allowing more light to enter the eye, so you can see more of your surrounding and the current situation giving you the best chance at survival. No tripping on roots or rocks!
  3. The blood vessels in your digestive system would vasoconstrict so more bloodflow can be used for your muscles for movement. They can help you get away from the threat. Your body knows there is no point in digesting food if you wont make it another few hours.

This is just an example and the tiger can be substituted with other stressful things, like time management, debt, family, and love.  The sympathetic response will override the “rest and digest” division during physical altercations and emotional stress. Your body does not have time to repair and digest when you’re running from a tiger. So most of your physiological survival fight or flight mechanisms take over.  In your body’s opinion the only thing that is important is to get away from the threat and you can regenerate and recover later when the threat is gone and you are safe. The problems occur when your body is in this fight or flight mode, even when you think you are resting and relaxing.  Have you ever had a full nights sleep and woke up not feeling too refreshed? This could be caused by an overload of stress!

Freeze Response: There has been another discovery in the sympathetic division of the ANS.  The freeze response is exactly what it sounds like.  Some creatures will freeze and lie still in response to a perceived threat.  This has shown to be an effective mechanism for survival because not everything is trying to eat you, they are just scared of you so as long as you aren’t moving, the freeze greatly increases your short term survival.

How can these autonomic responses affect us?


 So now we know the different directions that our autonomic nervous system’s autopilot can steer us we can take a look how that can be ill to our health.  

Humans are busy and we have other things to think about and that is why a lot of these process are done automatically.  Just like anyone our body can be prone to errors and mistakes.  Think about your last major road rage incident (this is Austin traffic we are talking about). It does not matter who was at fault but can you remember how worked up your body got? You probably experienced anger and frustration, along with an increased heart rate and breathing.  You also may be flexing your muscles which increases muscle tone. This is a sympathetic response and since most all of us have experienced this at some point, you can’t just turn it off.  It can last an hour or a week and it can even resurface when you think about it days later. Combine the road rage incident with a stressful day at work while fighting with your significant other, your body is in complete survival mode.  It perceives multiple threats in the course of the day so you are on high alert leaving no time for rest and regeneration.. Once this negative stress response takes over during normal day to day things you start missing out on a lot of recovery processes in the body.  Road rage is just one common example but if stressful situations are a common occurrence for you then long term it can suppress the immune system and lead to chronic conditions. When you’re in sympathetic overdrive it can keep you from sleeping at night.  Your mind wants you to sleep but your body is weary of predators that can be lurking so it annoyingly keeps you awake, just in case.

How can we keep this automatic response in check?

The good thing is you can fight back against this negative stress response. The most important thing is awareness.  You need to recognize when a sympathetic response may be forming and understanding the different types of stress.  Things to look for are increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, pupil dilation, irritation and perspiration. Once you recognize the signs then ask yourself if you really are perceiving a threat or maybe you are making a mountain of a molehill. Things usually are not as bad as they seem and its important to realize that life in general is pretty tough so its best to tackle stressful situations as soon possible and with your head held high. Every time you complete something that is hard and stressful you will be able to surpass that next time and the hardest things get easier, allowing you to tackle even harder obstacles.

Other things that can help with sympathetic dominance and help push you into rest and digest mode are(in no particular order):

  • Breathing exercises
  • Meditation
  • Massage Therapy
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Mindfulness
  • Chiropractic
  • Well Balanced and non processed Diet

Nick Picchetti L.M.T.

Injuries and Insanity

Have you ever injured the same area twice? What about the same injury but in a different area or on the opposite side? The only thing more annoying than an injury is receiving the exact same injury a second, third, or even fourth time! Random and freaky things happen all the time but there is a good chance you’re doing something wrong if the same nagging injuries keep popping up, season after season. Injuries are a drain on time, money, happiness, and they drive you insane because you are unable to do the activities that you want to do.

First thing you should do after you become injured is to take a look back at the days, weeks, and even months leading up to the injury.  Some questions you should ask yourself are:

Did you change workload or intensity before the injury?

Are you having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep?

Have you noticed any dull aches or diffuse pain that lingers and comes and go’s?

Seemingly unimportant things can be big indicators of a soft tissue injury that is forming. It can be caused by one thing or a couple of variables that creates an unstable environment for something to tear or rip.   This is why it is important to recognize any signs or patterns that could be exacerbating the injury before it gets to the breaking point.  Below I’ve listed the most common cause of injury that I see come into my sports massage practice so they can better help you in preventing your own soft tissue injuries.

1. Fatigue and Overtraining

Too much of anything is usually a bad thing. The body needs time to adapt to a new type of training and intensity.  When the quality of your workouts and training starts to drop because you feel tired or sluggish, that is a sign that your activity is surpassing your recovery and your body can not keep up with the current amount of training.

The three major things I look into for recovery are:

  • Getting enough sleep at night 7-9 hours minimum
  • Drinking enough water (half your bodyweight in ounces)
  • Having a clean diet focusing on fats, protein, and vegetables and staying away from fast food

Major symptoms of overtraining are:cat-641474_1920

  • Fatigue
  • Lack of sleep
  • Depression
  • Weakness in the immune system
  • Loss of love for your activity

2. Inflexibility

During sports and activity we need to be able to move in all different directions at a moment’s notice. Flexibility is important to allow the joint to move through its full range of motion. You lose power and efficiency in the muscle if it is restricted at all.  This becomes prevalent in some sports more than others, but none the less the ability to move through this full range of motion is crucial. If the muscle and tendon cannot stretch far enough then it will surpass the load and tear. This can happen in the primary muscle or the opposite muscle group called the antagonist.

ex: The Biceps are the primary mover and the triceps are the Antagonist. So when the Bicep contracts, the triceps need to fully relax and lengthen or else there would be no room for movement.

3. Strength (or lack of it)


This cause can go both ways.  You can have too much strength that surpasses the load and you can also have not enough. “Too much too soon” in a new activity or after a long break period is when this becomes problematic leading to torn ligaments or tendons. This can even happen if you are a seasoned athlete that switches to a new sport because the new activity produces a new type of stress that your body is not used to or conditioned for. All of your tissues have a max load and strength training can help increase that max load but it takes time for the tissues to remodel.

4. Excess Muscle Tension

Tension is produced by a lot of small muscle fiber contractions. This tension allows us to move around, maintain posture, and live life.  The thing is when we are not moving and resting on the couch our muscles should relax but sometimes they don’t. This Chronic muscle tension can build up over years from repetitive stress from sports, emotional stress from everyday things, and poor body alignment. This makes the whole muscular system rigid, less flexible, and promotes poor circulation because your muscles are always tight! The sooner you do something about it the less this becomes a problem.  Cooling down after activity, foam rolling and massage are extremely helpful in helping to get the muscles to relax and can prevent long term tension patterns.

5. Improper Warm Up & No Cool Down

  • No Warm Up

This is another common cause of injury that can easily be prevented. By warming up you allow the tissues to obtain more elasticity. Your body does not provide 100% circulation to all the areas of your body all the time, it prioritizes what area needs blood the most and will allow more blood flow to areas that have increased work load.  Before working out you need to get blood flow to all the muscles in your extremities that you will be using during training so getting in a proper warm up of varying intensity can provide that circulation. A good sign that you are warming up enough is you should be breathing heavy but not so much that you are unable to talk.

  • No Cool Down

Cooling down after a workout can also be effective in getting the muscles to relax and allow them to lengthen to promote recovery. One of the worse things you can do is going straight from a hard workout to a seated position for an extended period of time.  The muscles become short and tense and that can lead to chronic tension holding patterns. Try walking around for 10 minutes and some gentle stretching after you are done your workout.

6. Unsuitable Equipment 

Properly fitting workout equipment is essential in maintaining healthy biomechanics. Your equipment can help protect you from injury, just as much as it can contribute to the injury.  The equipment you use undergoes an extremely large amount of repetitive stress so that any change or size difference can greatly affect the structure. Here are a few things to look at with equipment.

  • Shoes that fit too tight – your foot swells during activity and if your shoes fit too tight then the pressure increases with nowhere to go.
  • Support of the shoe – Motion control, stability, and neutral are all different types of running shoes that are recommended for different foot types.  Your best bet is to go to a running store that has employees who run and train and can properly analyze your gait.
  • Shoes that are worn out – look for a new pair, roughly every 300 – 500 miles. The rubber on the shoe will start to wear out and provide less support and cushion and that can be a good visual cue that replacement needs to come soon. Body weight and running surface can influence that number giving you more or less miles.

Bike fit – You have 5 body Contact points on the bike and they need to be dialed in to have pain free riding.

  • Two Hands
  • Two Feet
  • Bike Seat (Saddle)

Signs of improper bike fit can be numbness and pain in the hands or arms, bouncing on the seat as you ride, or knee and foot pain. A proper bike fit is invaluable and you should get one if you are having issues.


Braces are good for support during activity.  The brace should not be too tight and you should only wear it during activity.  Wearing it all the time can cause bio mechanical issues over time.

  • Torso – Your torso needs to be directly over your butt. Too far forward or too far back can cause shoulder and back issues.
  • Arm Rests – This is a huge one that I find. Your shoulders need to be hanging down and not propped up at all. If the arm rests on your chair are too high then they will awkwardly twist your shoulders and that will cause extreme shoulder pain up by the neck and down through the arm.

Standing Desks – The reason that standing desks are so awesome is that they do not give you an opportunity to slouch forward or backward.  They also allow you to hang your shoulders down in a neutral and comfortable position that does not put stress on the muscle around the shoulder blade.



There are other factors that can  contribute to injury, but these are the most common offenders that I come into contact when working with athletes. People and sports are all extremely diverse and different factors and variables work for different people. It is beneficial to go see alternative health care professionals like a massage therapist or chiropractor that specializes in sports and performance to get the best treatment and give you their first hand experience in the sports world. It is not a coincidence if you are receiving the same injury over and over again and you need to be the first line of defence.

-Nick Picchetti L.M.T.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  -Albert Einstein


Water Intoxication, Are you at Risk? How Hydration can slowly be Killing your Recovery.

Drink too much water and you can die!  Sound extreme? Yes, it’s true.  Consuming a large amount of water extremely fast can cause your salt saturation levels to plummet leading to a dangerous condition called hyponatremia or water intoxication.  But the odds of this are low if you are in good health and if you are spacing your water consumption throughout the day. There have been a few cases over the past twenty years of water intoxication, mainly during endurance events. That’s because even during exercise your body can only process and replace so much water at any given time. It turns out binge drinking water can be just dangerous as alcoholic beverages..

I would venture to say that most people are at risk of dehydration from drinking too little water.  Most people are not aware of how much water they should be drinking each day to replace lost fluids and stay properly hydrated.   An easy way to estimate how much water you should be consuming is to take your body weight, divide it by half, then convert that number to ounces. Lets see how much water I should be drinking a day.water1

I take my weight, 170 pounds and divided by 2

170 ÷ 2 = 85 pounds
85 pounds = 85 liquid ounces
8 liquid ounces = 1 cup

85 liquid ounces = 10 ½ cups of water

At my body weight, 10 ½  cups of water is the amount of water I should be trying to drink throughout the day and as an athlete, I would say you can drink a few more cups over the suggested amount and be perfectly fine. That may seem like a ton of water, but your body is 70% water! If you are not re-hydrating and your overall water level drops by 5% you can start experiencing side effects of dehydration. At 10% drop in water levels, your body will be unable to process normal metabolic reactions at the normal rate.  Your metabolism is all the chemical processes and reactions that take place throughout your entire body to maintain life and that is the last thing you want to slow down. If your one of those people that believes you have a slow metabolism then dehydration could be contributing to that! Water may very well be the most valuable nutrient we have.  It helps regulates body temperature and transports all the other nutrients throughout our body! This is why drinking adequate amounts of water is so important in the recovery process for athletes.

What I like to do is carry around a refillable water bottle with me all day and just fill that up whenever it gets low.  At the end of the day, I end up drinking about 4-5 full water bottles and easily hit my water goal.  Soda, coffee, or tea unfortunately do not contribute towards your daily overall water goal because they can have a diuretic effect. These drinks will actually cause you to become more dehydrated. One thing I have noticed while riding my bike is I perform a lot better and become less tired when I have water readily accessible versus than when I have little or none.

The important thing to remember is to slowly drink all that water spread out throughout the day and not all at once. I have been achieving my daily water goal for over 5 years now and I consider adequate water consumption to be one of the most important factors in overall health and staying injury free.

-Nick Picchetti L.M.T.
Scheduling Info

Body Weight

Liquid Ounces Cups of Water



5 cups



6 ¼ cups



7 ½ cups



8 ¾ cups



10 cups



11 ¼ cups



12 ½ cups

220 110

13 ¾ cups

Muscles, Bones,… and Fascia??

What Is Fascia?

The word Fascia gets thrown around a lot in the health and sports world.  Myofascial release is more popular than ever and there is good reason for it! The fascial system is one of the most important connective tissue systems of the body. I have people asking questions all the time:

  • Why is the Fascial system even important?
  • Don’t the muscles and bones do all the work?
  • Is there only one kind of fascia?
  • Why do I have to Foam Roll?

Fascia is the tissue that holds the entire body together. It’s the reason we can stand up, tension, and transfer force through our body. Let’s take a look at what role Deep Fascia plays in our body, what it does, and how proper care and maintenance of this system can help us maintain overall muscle health and increase movement performance.

The Anatomy Of Fascia

Fascia is a connective tissue and one of the most abundant tissues in the body. It is mainly made of collagen and covers and wraps everything in the body from every organ to each individual muscle fiber. So bottom line, it’s important! Especially for muscle health and movement performance. This connective tissue framework is so dense that even if you were to remove everything from the body except the fascia, you would still end up with a very human looking shape.  It is completely integrated in us and most people don’t even know it exists!  There are different types of fascia, each with a different role, but the main type we want to focus on today is the Deep Fascia.

On the left: All that white stuff is the fascia between the muscle fibers.         On the Right: That is the fascia that runs across the sternum in the chest.

Deep Fascia has a large concentration of elastin protein that determines the flexibility or resilience of the tissue. This is VERY important in athletics for having powerful plyometric movements. More varied movement allows the fascia to maintain its flexibility and on the opposite side, immobility will stiffen it. It is wrapped around every individual muscle and muscle group. Think of it this way: the outside of a single muscle is covered in a continuous layer of deep fascia creating a “bag”.  These individual muscle “bags” are further separated according to their function into a larger bag. For example: your quads are made up of four different muscles and each have their own fascial bag.  Your body then has one larger “bag” that encloses these four quads to keep them together as a unit. This means there are FIVE separate fascial bags that hold together the quads.   All these “bags” need to move across each other to produce unrestricted movement.


Going along with this bag scenario: try to imagine a bunch of small bags(muscles) needing to move around inside a bigger bag(fascial compartment) that also needs to move smoothly with all the other larger bags (fascial compartments with different muscle groups) in the body.  That can be A LOT of friction and if the fascia becomes stiff, tight, and adhesed which happens with strenuous exercise, awkward posture, and immobility then it can create soft tissue problems. More flexibility in these fascial bags create more range of motion and allow more force to move through the muscles. Soft tissue maintenance, lifestyle choices, hydration, and diet play a huge role in determining the flexibility in these fascial bags.

Why don’t We Know The Fascia System Like We Do The Muscles & Bones?

Dissection and anatomy used to be illegal. Until the 17th Century, it was extremely taboo to dissect human bodies to learn anatomy. To get around this taboo idea, Anatomists would steal bodies from a recently dug graves and bring the body back to  some undisclosed location to dissect it.  The problem with these dissections is most of the bodies would already be in a somewhat advanced stage of composition and there would be no fascia to look at! Fascia will decompose a lot faster than muscles and other type of soft tissue so it was overlooked.  This is the complete opposite of today and we now have sanitary and legal dissections and microscopes to get a really good look at the tissue structure.

Real Life Experience With Fascia

One of the most relatable examples of stiff fascia is how your body feels after you wear an orthopedic device like a boot, arm sling, or cast where some body part was immobilized for a period of time.  When you take the device off, you notice that the area is stiff, weak and has less range of motion.  Some of this is attributed to muscle atrophy, but a large part is actually because of the fascial systems involved. This happens because the fascia will adapt to the new immobilized conditions and stiffen. Receiving soft tissue body work, some type of strength training, and stretching routine is important after injuries to help return to normal movement as soon as possible. The longer you wait after an injury to rehab it, the more problematic down the road it becomes as the tissues will get more and more stiff as time goes on.


How To Keep Your Fascia Healthy

Varied movement is key for training and maintaining the flexibility of these deep fascial systems, which is hard to maintain with lack of movement or constant repetitive stress activities.  With most sports, you perform the same movements and your fascia is trained for that one activity by becoming stiff in certain areas to support it. The moment an outside stress comes in a form that your body is not used to or understands(as in a different sport or activity), it greatly increases the chance of an injury.  Myofascial release paired along with massage in these stiff areas is what returns normal function and movement, along with increased fluid flow.

I highly suggest getting some type of bodywork at least once a month for maintenance care and regular exercise to maintain the fascial system.  I have found that every 3-4 weeks is optimal to keep away any injuries that may be in the process of forming.  Maintenance is important because you can get on top of injuries before they become problematic.

-Nick Picchetti L.M.T.
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