Fascia is often referred to as connective tissue that surrounds, protects, and supports the muscles in the body. Interestingly, there is no beginning or end to fascia, as it is web-like and extends and intertwines around all areas, including surrounding and protecting organs, in the body. Fascia and skeletal muscles make up the myofascial system that help to keep muscle groups together.
As we age, our fascia is always changing; it's structure depends on the demands we place upon it and can become "bound" and thicken in some areas in response to poor posture, injury and/or inflammation. This "binding" can stress other areas, creating more pain and limited range of motion. Fascial fibers run vertically and horizontally in youth; the aging process causes cross-linking or adhesions, which can cause the fibers to lose their elasticity and create fibers that stick together as opposed to gliding across each other. The good news is, fascia is highly adaptable and can be changed over time with better posture practices, self-myofascial release, adequate hydration, and attention to injury.
Most of us are no stranger to tightness and know the discomfort of foam rolling and/or stretching. Sometimes we become aware of a knot or trigger point in our muscles when pressure is applied during foam rolling which may cause pain to radiate to other areas in the body. Self-myofascial release with a foam roller or lacrosse ball allows one to control the intensity of pressure being applied. It is best for beginners to begin with a less dense foam roller. Once trigger points are released, this allows for improved movement patterns and better function with less pain and enhanced performance.
Have you heard the saying, "no pain, no gain"? While pushing yourself to the next fitness level is ideal, pushing through injury or any questionable twinge or pain, is not smart and can often exacerbate problems. Placing loads on joints, ligaments, and muscles that are restricted in their range of motion may increase risk of a muscle tear. It is important to have body awareness at all times but especially during activity.
Body and postural awareness is good to have because poor body mechanics from daily activities is often is the cause of muscle dysfunction and is repetitively perpetuated without recognition. Body awareness also aids in recognizing the presence of stress in the body. Increasing awareness improves overall mind/body function.
Although it may go against instinct, if you are experiencing tightness and/or are very sore, self-myofascial release may help alleviate experienced discomfort, as well as improve performance levels. With patience and practice, self-myofascial release may help restore normal function to muscle groups that are limited in range of motion.
Additionally, it is important to adequately hydrate during physical activity and in stretching and mobility exercises, as the fascia holds water and dehydration may cause fascia to bind which can cause movement to become stiff and problematic. Regularly incorporating self-myofascial release into daily activities can help encourage fibers to become "unstuck" and glide more easily which promotes healthy tissue.
Although foam rolling is great to perform at any time, it is especially important to do after working out, just before stretching. Performing self-myofascial release prior to stretching helps prepare connective tissue and can encourage greater flexibility of fibers. For best results, incorporate self-myofascial release into daily activity.
Although it might be hard to believe that any woman can have visible abdominal muscles after giving birth, it does happen and it isn't by magic or luck.
I am always so impressed when I meet a fit woman who has had one or multiple children. The human body is so amazing and the changes the body undergoes during pregnancy are even more fascinating. The degree to which organs are squished and/or stretched is incredible.
Skin and tissues (including muscle) in the body are elastic. We can think of these tissues as rubber bands. When the integrity of a rubber band is solid and strong, it can be stretched for a period of time but will return back to its resting length once the tension is no longer applied. If the rubber band is really old or has been kept in a stretched position for too long, the elasticity has been compromised and it will often remain stretched even after there is no longer any tension being applied.
Often, when one loses a lot of weight after years of being overweight there will be a lot of loose skin dangling. Similarly, some women experience loose abdominals that seemingly sag, giving her the appearance of still being pregnant, after she has delivered.
Having a baby is challenging enough without the fear of losing your pre-baby body. Your hormones are elevated, physiologically your body is experiencing major changes, and lastly, your whole lifestyle changes once this new life emerges.
Women who exercise regularly, more specifically who lift weights regularly, before, during, and after pregnancy are significantly more likely to return quickly to their pre-pregnancy body. Why? Because women who lift weights are strong so their muscles and connective tissue are naturally pulled back to their original resting length with ease. Those muscles have essentially been encouraged before, throughout, and after pregnancy to return and remain strong. Women who make regular exercise a priority before conceiving and continue throughout their entire pregnancy will bounce back faster than those who do not.
My favorite part of this super fit pregnancy story is that my friend was 35 when she delivered her daughter. It is my favorite part because it could easily be argued that a 25 year old would have visible abs after delivering, and this shows that age doesn't necessarily dictate your experience of pregnancy. She lifted weights regularly long before she became pregnant and continued that practice throughout her pregnancy. 6 weeks postpartum, she returned to regular weight lifting and has since continued.
She has always been a fit person so it didn't surprise me that she looked amazing as soon as she delivered, but the fact that her abdominal muscles were visible only 4 months after delivering really illustrates the impact exercise has on the body in a way that other examples don't. The body is pushed to extreme limits during pregnancy, so knowing that you do have some control over what can happen physically is very exciting and encouraging for all women who know they want to become mothers in the future.
The absolute best advice I can give any woman who knows she wants a family some day or who is currently pregnant, is begin exercising as soon as you can! Do not put it off and if you have trouble motivating yourself or need guidance concerning appropriate exercise selection, invest in yourself and work with a coach who you feel connected to because it will change your whole life in many ways, including ways you never expected.
Julia Broome is passionate about health and exercise but is most excited about educating women concerning the short and long term impact of exercise on pregnant women and their baby.