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What’s fascia? And why should I be rolling it out at the gym?

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

The question: I have been hearing a lot about "fascia" at the gym and the importance of rolling out fascia and "fascial stretching." What exactly is it, and why is stretching and rolling it out important?

The answer: Thomas Myers, one of the seminal thinkers in facial research, describes fascia as large sheets of connective webbing that unite bones and muscles.

Fascia can be thought of as netting that encases and connects the entire body. Rolling and stretching fascia can be useful, because manipulating the fascia in one portion of the body can create a positive domino effect in other parts of the body.

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Still not sure what fascia is? Try this: Tie a big knot with the bottom right-hand portion of your shirt. Now, try and move your left arm diagonally up and away from your body. The knot will restrict the range of motion.

When you release the knot, your left arm will move more freely. Like tight fascia, the knot created a domino effect throughout the rest of your body.

Deciding which fascial stretch exercise to start with might seem overwhelming. So, let me suggest two of my favourites. They are especially useful if you sit a lot – an unfortunate reality for most of us.

Leg-extension roll: Lie facing the floor, with a foam roller placed horizontally under your thighs and your forearms on the ground. Use your arms to roll your body forward and backward so the roll moves up and down your thighs. As you roll, bend and straighten your knees. Repeat five to 10 times.

Lunge stretch with multidirectional arm swoops: Place your right knee on the ground and left foot in front of you. Push your hips forward so you feel a stretch at the top of your right thigh. Then add these arm swoops:

  • 1. Reach your right palm up to the ceiling.
  • 2. Keep your right arm straight and sweep the arm backward once, then forward once.
  • 3. Clasp your hands together and rotate them to the left.
  • 4. Switch legs and repeat.

Trainer's tip: For more exercises that use the foam roller, take a look at my previous column.

Kathleen Trotter has been a personal trainer and Pilates equipment specialist for 10 years. Her website is www.kathleentrotter.com.

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