All the lifts and backflips in the world ain’t worth diddly-squat if you can’t hold it all together. Today, we’re talking about improving your overall fitness and flexibility with some simple exercises to loosen up your fascia.
Your fascial system runs throughout your body. The term refers to the interconnected sheets of tissue that join, stabilize, and protect your muscles and organs. These sheets of tissue are called fascia (“FA-sha”).
Basically, it’s the stuff that holds everything together in your body (so it’s pretty important). When your fascia is healthy, you enjoy greater strength, flexibility, and balance. When it’s neglected or not treated well, you start to lose mobility and overall athletic performance.
For everyday flexibility and improved balance, try building these fascia exercises into your workout routine.
Rolling cat stretch
Let’s start with a nice easy variation on the Cat-Cow yoga sequence. This will loosen up your abs and hips in a smooth, gentle motion.
- Kneel in front of an exercise ball, with knees shoulder-width apart.
- Rest palms of your hands on the ball.
- Sink your hips and roll forward, extending your tailbone and bringing your chest down, parallel to the floor.
- Once your arms are fully extended, slowly bring your torso back up, arching your back until it’s rounded up toward the ceiling as much as possible.
- Hold, inhaling and exhaling for 1 breath.
- Return to the starting position and repeat.
You can also do this stretch with a chair or on all fours.
Another simple yoga pose, Downward Dog loosens and de-stresses your entire body.
- Start on all fours in tabletop position.
- With hands firmly planted on the floor, bring your head down toward your feet as you raise your hips.
- As you lift those hips, allow chin to tuck into chest.
- Once you reach the full stretch, hold for a minute.
- Return to the starting position and repeat.
Extended Side Angle Pose
This yoga move is a solid strength builder that works on your hips and the sides of your body.
- Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Turn your left foot so it’s facing forward and your right foot to a 45-degree angle.
- Align left heel with instep of right foot.
- Bend right knee to align it above your ankle.
- Bend forward until your left hand is as close to the floor as it can go, or rest it on your knee if you can’t go all the way down.
- Extend right arm so it’s aligned with your body, pointing forward.
- Hold the stretch for a minute.
- Return to a neutral standing position and repeat on the other side.
If you’ve got a foam roller, you can use it on your upper and lower back, legs, arms, and pretty much wherever you need to ease tightness and tension.
For your upper and lower back:
- Start faceup on the floor, with the roller placed horizontally beneath your lower back.
- Bend your knees and put feet flat on the floor and hands either behind your head or behind each thigh.
- Push yourself forward and backward over the foam roller so it covers most of your upper and lower back.
- Hold for a few seconds over one part of your back to release tension, if necessary.
- Return to the starting position and repeat as you see fit.
Seated glute stretch
Who doesn’t want a more flexible booty? The glute stretch will ease even the stiffest ass.
- While sitting on the floor or a mat, bend knees and put your weight on your hands behind you.
- Rest left ankle on right knee, as if you’re lounging.
- Slowly push left knee outward until you feel a stretch in your glutes.
- Hold for a couple of breaths.
- Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
Don’t neglect tightness in your feet. This exercise eases the muscles that run from toe to heel.
- Stand in front of a wall, with one leg in front of the other.
- Place both hands on the wall and lean into your front leg, bending front knee while keeping back leg straight.
- Keeping feet flat on the floor, continue leaning forward until you feel the stretch in your back foot/heel.
- Hold the pose for a minute before switching to the other leg.
Standing figure-four stretch
Your back, core, glutes, and hip flexors will all benefit from this stretch.
- Stand on your left foot (you can use a wall or chair for balance if you need to).
- Place outer right ankle on top of left thigh.
- Keeping hips facing forward, raise your head and chest so your spine is in full alignment.
- Lower into a squat by bending left knee.
- Hold for a minute before repeating on the other side.
Standing hip flexor or quad stretch
Great for posture and pain relief, this final one is the perfect antidote to a sedentary lifestyle.
- Hold on to a chair or place your hand on the wall for balance. With your weight on your left foot, bend right knee and lift right heel in toward your butt.
- Grab right ankle with right hand.
- Engage your core and glutes.
- Lean slightly into your straight leg until you feel the stretch across the front of your hips.
- Hold for a minute before repeating on the other leg.
Life in the 2020s isn’t particularly kind to our fascial system. Long periods of inactivity and poor overall diet can cause restriction in the fascia. But there are other potential causes, such as:
How often should you stretch your fascia?
According to a 2020 study, any amount of stretching, even at low intensities, is better than none. But for peak results, some research in both rats and humans suggests that daily stretching is a very beneficial habit.
This becomes even more true as you get older. Putting aside 10 to 15 minutes each day to work on your flexibility is time well spent.
Yes, stretching preps your body for exercise — but even gentle stretching is still exercise in itself, and you need to focus on getting it just right. One wrong approach can lead to strain.
When you start working that fascia, keep these tips in mind:
- Remember to warm up and cool down.
- Don’t overstretch. Know the difference between feeling the benefit and hurting yourself.
- Ease into a stretch gently — don’t bounce or snap into the motion.
- Remember to breathe as you stretch. Holding your breath prevents oxygen from reaching your muscles.
- Don’t stretch an injured muscle without consulting a medical professional.
It’s not as flashy as pumping iron for sick gains, but body flexibility is vital. With most Americans now spending way too much time sitting on their booties, it’s never been more important to work on your fascial system.
Adding one or two of these stretches to your morning or workout routine should help. Your body will thank you later.