Most people believe that by stretching muscle groups, they will improve their overall flexibility, but that’s not totally how it works. Fascia, a protective casing around isolated muscles, is responsible for how flexible you actually are. If the fascia is pliable and soft, then your muscles are able to stretch more. But if your fascia is tight and under-worked, it becomes almost like thick, brittle plastic and prevents your muscles from stretching to their full potential. Left in this state, it also can lead to serious exercise-related injury.
There are 5 common muscles (or muscle groups) that often suffer from hard, thick fascia:
Hamstrings are the worst. The fascia that surrounds this muscle group is often super tight and inflexible, due to sitting or standing too much, as well as from not stretching properly after intense workouts. These suckers are persistently tight, and require daily attention.
One of the best hamstring stretches, is ‘legs up the wall,’ or Viparita Kirani. Simply lay on your back, facing a wall, with your bum pushed right up to the wall, and your legs straight up. Holding this position for a couple of minutes every day is great for your hamstrings, and also helps to recycle old blood that tends to pool in our feet when we stand and sit too much.
If this stretch is too easy for you, and you can’t feel a stretch, try doing a standing forward fold, or Uttanasana, instead. (Pictured below.)
Hip soreness and inflexibility is a frequent complaint among people who engage in physical fitness. Often, the fascia surrounding the hip socket is so tight, that it prevents natural rotation, which in turn contributes to a tighter lower back and hamstrings.
(See how that’s all connected?!)
Sitting with your feet together, knees out wide, is a great hip-stretching pose. You can do this two ways: you can assume an extended child’s pose (Balasana; pictured below), or you can simply sit up straight, on your bum, with your feet together in the middle, and knees out to the side, making sure you maintain a long spine and good posture (Baddha Konasana – Butterfly pose)
Either way, your hips are being stretched.
Other great hip openers include pigeon pose (Kapotasana) and frog pose (Bhekasana).
Many people don’t notice how tight their fascia is in their lower back, but if you ever receive lower back massage, it’s typically painful and difficult to maneuver.
This is because of your tight core fascia.
The lower back is a hard one, so to properly stretch and work the fascia in this region (as well as the next region), we recommend using a foam roller. Foam rollers can be purchased for around $40, and they’re designed to work in a pressure-and-release type of way. That is, you place the roller on the base of your lower back, and then very slowly roll your body over the roller, holding in particularly sore or painful spots.
This type of fascial stretching isn’t nice feeling; it can actually be painful. But once that roller is removed, you can feel as instant release of tension as your fascia softens.
This works. You can purchase a foam roller at our studio, or you can also try using a tennis ball to relieve fascial tension.
Like the lower back, quads can be difficult to stretch to the point of fascial release. Again, we totally recommend using a foam roller to help achieve the type of softening that will allow your muscles to stretch properly.
Laying on your stomach, place the roller just above your knees. Using your arms, slowly roll back so that your legs move across the roller. Pause at particularly tight spots, and breathe through the discomfort. The more painful this process is, the more you generally need to do it. Tight, plastic-like fascia needs to be stretched, because allowing it to get worse can contribute to exercise-related injury.
A great yoga pose for helping the fascia surrounding your quads, is dancer pose (Natarajasana).
Finally, we have the glutes. This muscle group is huge, and it has an equally huge job when it comes to maneuvering your body. Often people who have sore lower backs think that the lower back itself is the culprit. In actual fact, tight glutes can totally contribute to lower back pain!
Two fabulous poses that help to soften the fascia in this area are pigeon pose (Kapotasana) and figure-4 (Eka Pada Utkatasana). Deep lunges are also beneficial, and if you can hold them for more than a minute, your body will love you!
By consistently working on softening and stretching our fascia, we can make huge strides to achieving better flexibility. If you’re interested in attending a yoga class that is absolutely fantastic for improving and toning your fascia, try restorative, or better yet, yin. For our class schedule, see HERE. For more on fascial stretching, click HERE.
Love, Parallel Yoga.