When we walk, run, jump or do any dynamic movement there is a fascinating interaction that occurs between the body and the ground. This interaction may only take a mere milliseconds but it provides the energy source needed for efficient human movement.
Upon ground contact the body encounters impacts forces which are detected by the plantar foot (and sometimes palmar hand) and quickly converted into potential energy.
What happens next is critical to how effectively you take your next step. Even before your foot contacts the ground the nervous system is preparing for impact. This preparation is achieved through what’s called stiffness.
Stiffness is a requirement for movement efficiency
The stiffer your foot & ankle are upon contact the quicker you will be able to load and
unload the potential energy contained within these impact forces. In fact research has shown that it is foot and ankle stiffness that actually translates to running speed. A 2002 study by Brett et al. found that sprinters who could generate the greatest stiffness had the fastest acceleration.
So how do we create this stiffness needed upon foot contact?
The answer lies within the integrated relationship between our muscles and fascia.
Myofascial Tensioning = Stiffness
All of our muscles contain a deep interconnected myofascial web that is continuous with the surrounding tendons and ligaments. This myofascial web runs from around the muscle as a whole (epimysium) to around the muscle fascicles (perimysium) and finally around the individual muscle fibers (endomysium).
Each of these individual facial layers have muscle fibers inserting onto them making their relationship dynamic – as well as one that is necessary for movement efficiency.
The way our body creates stiffness is through isometric contractions. Isometric contracts create tension through this myofascial web – especially through the perimysium. Why the perimysium is important to stiffness and energy transfer is that studies have shown that it is this layer of facia that contains the highest concentration of myofibroblasts. Myofibroblasts are the cells that contain the contractile potential for elastic energy transfer.
This process of isometric contraction leading to fascial tension is what Dr Nigg refers to as the Muscle Tuning Theory and what EBFA refers to as fascial tensioning.
Fascial Training Beyond Foam Rolling
The health and fitness industries have done a great job at bringing myofascial or trigger point release to the forefront however we cannot stop there. Our fascia requires attention beyond simply foam rolling.
To achieve optimal movement efficiency our fascia needs to be trained to create tension or stiffness – a stiffness that must actually be pre-activated before our foot contacts the ground. In addition our fascia needs to be elastic or have a rubber band effect to it. This can be trained through rhythmic movements such as tai chi, gyrotonics or many of the exercises we do in the BARE® Workout.
To explore the concept of fascial tensioning a little bit more please check out the video HERE
I also encourage you to check out EBFA’s Barefoot Training Specialist® Certification!
Brett et al. Leg strength and stiffness as ability factors in 100m sprint running, J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 42(3): 274 – 281. (2002)
Schliep, et al. Active fascial contractility, Structural Integration 2006