When you think about the idea of stretching your body, you probably think: back, hamstrings, or IT band. (What's that? You aren't regularly stretching?! 6 Good Reasons You Really Need to Stretch.) But there are many other body parts that benefit from a good stretch besides those tight muscles. One of the newest methods of targeted stretching focuses on something you may have never even heard of before: fascia.
Fascia is fibrous connective tissue that wraps and supports muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, organs, nerves—pretty much everything. Fascia stretching is said to give you a feeling of deep relaxation and rejuvenation that no other regular Swedish massage could ever do. The technique called fascial stretch therapy was developed by Ann Frederick, the first "flexibility specialist" to work with athletes at the Olympics, and it aims to improve every aspect of athletic performance and recovery.
While I'm not an athlete, like many women who frequent tough workouts, I'm always sore somewhere. So, I headed to Stretch Colorado to talk to founder and CEO Amanda Sarbin, a certified stretch therapist, to try fascial stretching myself and to see if it was really worth the hype.
"It works by moving the joint along with the surrounding tissues to help the fascia and muscles relax at the same time," says Sarbin, as she helps me lie on what looks like a standard massage table fitted with wide elastic bands. As she tucks one of my legs under the band and hoists the other over her shoulder, I realize this is definitely not going to be the type of massage you fall asleep during. (Pro tip: Because of all the moving, you'll probably want to wear stretchy gym gear or athleisure, as I didn't realize this and wore jeans. Oops!)
Working from my feet upwards, Sarbin pulls gently on each joint as I push back. This pull-push is a strange sensation and I almost feel like I'm getting longer. "This will definitely help your posture so you stand up straighter," confirms Sarbin. The whole experience takes about 45 minutes, starting at my feet and ending at my head and neck. When I stand, I feel amazingly relaxed and almost like I'm floating. The tension is gone from my shoulders and I realize that I really am standing taller. One session is beneficial, but probably isn't enough to reap all the benefits, says Sarbin. Get a closer look at what you could notice after a few sessions.
Zero pain: Massage and stretching therapies that focus on rehabbing an injury or breaking up scar tissue can be pretty painful, but fascial stretching is incredibly gentle. "You shouldn't feel any pain at all, just mild pressure," says Sarbin.
Fast recovery: In addition to reducing soreness, Sarbin says fascial stretching improves the blood flow to tired muscles, helping you to recover faster from tough training sessions with less soreness. Basketball legend Charles Barkley is a fan and even made a video about how fascial stretching helps him get back in action.
Improved performance: There's a lot of science behind fascial stretching, including how it could help you run faster, lift heavier, boost endurance, improve coordination, and increase flexibility. But for me, the most convincing evidence was that even the Denver Broncos do fascial stretching, going as far as saying it helped them take home a Super Bowl trophy! (At home, try these 5 Stretches Everyone Should Do.)
Injury rehab: "Stretching the fascia breaks up scar tissue and increases the range of motion in injured areas," says Sarbin, who says she became interested in the technique after using it to recover from foot surgery. "By the time I was done with the therapy, the foot that had been injured actually felt 100 percent better than the foot that was fine the whole time," she says. "That's what made me realize how powerful this can be."
Weight loss: Weight loss isn't the aim of fascial therapy, but Sarbin says she's seen the piggyback effects happen for some clients. "When you feel better and move with less pain, you want to move more, and that exercise will help you lose weight."