Tensegrity Fascia Training for Improved Performance and Health

Ezekiel cried dem dry bones…..

So lets talk Fascia and Tensegrity, Now I don’t want to cast any aspersions on any childhood songs in particular (cough, cough), but we do tend to simply imagine the body as a rigid frame, For long, we have attempted to understand the functioning of the human body using dissection. And as such the Human body was divided and segmented into bones, muscles, organs, etc.,  this vision of our body led to us dividing movement patterns in order to improve each part of its function, instead of work on the improvement of movement as a whole eg: the biceps pull on the Radius bone to produce elbow flexion. While this is not technically incorrect, is it the most authentic way to view functional (and therefore dysfunctional) structure and movement?

If we were robots not people, then I think it would be fine. In that case, addressing any pain or dysfunction would be more a case of finding the part that wasn’t working and fixing the hydraulics at that particular joint.

There has been some discussion recently about TENSIONAL training as opposed to say lifting weights where the structures of the body are under compression. I’m sure that both compressional and tensional training are happening in some cases already, however most of what goes on in a gym is compressional training.

The body is a TENSEGRITY structure

The term “tensegrity” was coined by architect Fuller in 1955.

Tensegrity (ie: tension + integrity) is an architectural concept “based on the use of isolated components in compression inside a net of continuous tension, in such a way that the compressed members (struts) do not touch each other and the prestressed tensioned members (cables) delineate the system spatially.” (Wikipedia)

Cellular Tensegrity hypothesis was originally proposed by Donald Ingber, for which the human body is presented as a Tensegrity structure where 206 bones work in compression, “hoisted” in the gravity field by the tensility expressed in muscles, tendons and ligaments. This regulated tensility level selfstress the human body.

Tensegriteach from AnatomyTrains on Vimeo.

 

Each body posture we place ourselves in corresponds to a different state of self-stress, itself then corresponding to a distribution (qualitative and quantitative) of muscle tone. The main advantage of a tensegrity structure is its capacity to withstand the stresses applied to it while being absolutely energy efficient.  Without this Tensegrity we are left with the previously discussed Rods and levers belief which Stephen M Levin in his research points out some consequences on the virtual organisation from the application of these thoughts to the human body:

The forces calculated for a grandfather raises his little 3 years old son will invariably dislocate his spine . Catching a fish by means of a fishing rod would cause a rupture of the body of a fisherman from one arm to the other. Each step becomes an opportunity to crush the sesamoid bones of the foot. Calculations shows that the spine would bow permanently under the sheer weight of the head … “.

“So by all means, keep up your compressional training but throw in some tensional training as well”.

 

Indeed, the glory of a Tensegrity structure, is because of the total interdependence of components, each external constraint (in compression or tension) is transmitted to the whole structure. This process excludes the intervention of the lever arm or fulcrum. Thus, the application of a large force extremely local, does not threaten the integrity of the affected area due to the instantaneous redistribution of stress throughout the system via the network tensility. In a tensegrity system, applying a local stress corresponds to a law of nonlinearity. This principle explains in part the mismatch observed between the levels of stress “theoretically tolerable” in Newtonian theory and stress levels actually supported by certain joints.

Kurilpa Bridge was the 1st pedestrian bridge built entirely using a Tensegrity modal, bridging the brisbane River is owned by the Queensland State Government with project delivery managed by the Department of Public Works.

The bridge was completed in September and opened to pedestrians in October 2009.

 

In other terms, if we now look at the work of Myers, in his bestselling book “Anatomy Trains”, Tensegrity describes a structural fascia relationship principle in which structural shape is guaranteed by the finitely closed, comprehensively continuous, tensional behaviors of the system and not by the discontinuous and exclusively local compressional member behaviors. Our myofasciae provide a continuous network of restricting but adjustable tension around the individual bones and cartilage as well as the incompressible fluid balloons of organs and muscles, which push out against this restricting tensile membrane. This is where we come across the term, Myofascial meridian lines.

  • The spiral line, which functions postural to wrap the body in a double spiral that helps to maintain balance across planes and which are responsible of rotation and anti-rotation of the trunk.
  • The arm lines, responsible for pushing and pulling actions and help in stabilising the body.
  • The superficial lines, Back Line – responsible of extension and hyperextension ; the Front line, responsible of flexion of the trunk and hips, extension of the knee , and dorsiflexion of the foot.
  • The deep front line, which plays a major role in the body’s support : lifting the inner arch, stabilizing each segment of the legs, supporting the lumbar spine from the front, stabilizing the chest while allowing the expansion and relaxation of breathing, balancing the fragile neck and heavy head atop it all.
  • The lateral lines, which functions postural to balance front and back and bilaterally to balance left and right, and which are responsible of lateral flexion of the trunk, abduction at the hip, and eversion at the foot, but also functions as an adjustable brake for lateral and rotational movements of the trunk.
  • The functional lines, which are responsible of postural stability in sports activities and enable us to give extra power and precision to movements of the limbs by lengthening their lever arm through linking them across the body to the opposite limb in the other gridle.

Functinal fascia Tensegrity line

(Myers, 2014) These myofascial meridians are considered lines of pull which distribute strain, transmit force and affect the structure and function of the body. The theory of the myofascial meridians helps manual and movement practitioners explore how one structure affects other distance structures in the body.

In Practice

I would suggest the inclusion of “Fascia Tensegrity Training” for improving power and movements efficiency in any sports programme. In the respect of a Tensegrity based approach of training, strength and rehabilitation programs should be based on the following four fundamental rules for more efficient movement, better performance and improved health:

  • Improving power is firstly removing obstacles to the free flow of nerves impulses and avoiding muscle overstrain. How? Trigger points manipulation, fasciae stretches, focus on posture.
    • “Actually, fascial release is probably one of the best-known forms of fascia training. It involves a kind of self-massage of the fascia with special foam rollers, tennis balls or rubber balls. The pressure placed on the connective tissue leads to an exchange of fluids in the tissue, whereby lymph and other metabolic products are removed. Fascia loves slow, steady, melting pressure that decreases fascia and muscle tone and can even relieve stiffness and adhesions. Many people make the mistake after a workout of rolling too fast. Fast rolling actually invigorates the fascia tissue and increases tension, so you should do it before working out and not afterwards!”
  • The Pre-tension in each myofasciae lines have to be optimal in relation to the movement performed. How? Reactive Neuromuscular stretching, pre-activation, pre-fatigue, mental imaging, soft tissue massage.
    • “Stretching improves the mechanical properties of fascia. Since fascia extends through the body in chains, (also known as anatomy trains), each exercise has to include as much of the chain as possible. This is why any attempt to stretch the fascia always involves the entire body. A good stretch for the fascia chain running along the backside of the body from the crown of your head to the soles of your feet is the following: Keep your legs straight and put one on the edge of a chair. Extend your arms straight out in front of you and lean forward while keeping your back straight. Make sure to twist and turn in all directions to stretch every bit of the fascial area. Imagine a cat stretching and bending – this is a good way to visualize your fascia stretching.”
  • Power transmission is allowed by adequate redistribution of external tension (load/stress) through the entire myofasciae line, not joint by joint nor muscle by muscle. Muscles should be trained for its ability to handle an optimal level of tension. How? Provide exercise that train myofasciae lines not just muscles.
    • “Springy movements, like butt kickers, skipping and high knees, are an integral part of fascia training. The aim is to strengthen structures and train your elastic storage capacity. The principle of tensional energy is the basis of all these exercises that work with elastic rebound. Elastic jumps are, for instance, very important for runners. They primarily exercise parts of the body like the Achilles tendon or calf aponeurosis that are a frequent source of shortening and pain in athletes. The plantar fascia of the soles of our feet gently absorbs the impact of the jumps and transfers the energy into the ground as we rebound back up.”
  • Due to the anatomical organisation of myofasciae lines, the ability to optimally direct forces in the direction needed is more important to sports performance  than the total amount of forces actually produced. Train with movements that require production of forces in the direction specific to your sport (Horizontal forces more determinant to performance than vertical forces in 100m sprint according to Morin and al).
    • “Fascia training includes kinesthetic exercises which are designed to make you more conscious of your movements and coordination. Training your kinesthetic sense or proprioception is becoming more and more important in today’s world, where we often get far too little exercise. These exercises should be performed mindfully and without distraction. An awareness of your body allows you to move smoothly and evenly and, in the best case, helps you avoid injuries.”

 

In Practice this could look like:

Movement Category Exercise Description
Fascial Release Foam Rolling Legs, Glutes, Upper back, Lats, Spine
Slow Dynamic Stretch Front/Back of Calf stretch Calf stretch (hold), roll to top of foot (hold) 3×
Hip Flexors, torso stretch Split stance, tuck hip and move to and fro 4×.
Pause. Raise same arm as stretching hip and lean to opposite direction. 1× each side
Forward Flexion to extension Slowly flex forward, pause. Roll up, arms overhead, slight hyperextension. Pause. 3×
Faster Dynamic Stretch Rotation with front arm reach (crossing mid-line) Rotate torso as extend arm in front and cross mid-line. Switch arms. 1 minute
Torso rotation with posterior arm reach Rotate torso and reach same arm as rotating back behind body. Switch arms. 1 minute
Lateral Line Stretch Raise arm up by ear as same side hip slides out parallel to ground. Switch arms. 1minute.
Deep anterior stretch Reach arm by ear, knees bend and push forward, back neutral. Switch arms. 1 minute.
Elastic Recoil Light hopping Light bouncing with two feet leaving the ground or one foot at a time. 1 minute.
Floating Arms Arms at side. Explode (spring) arms up and come to mid-line. Repeat. 1 minute.
Floating Back Flex forward. Pause. Slight countermovement and spring back up. 1 minute.
Fluid Motion (dowel) Stir the Pot Legs wide. Dowel inside right foot. Right arm crosses mid-line to left and makes large circle. 6×. Repeat other side.
Squat to Reach Dowel horizontal in both hands as squat. Reach overhead as stand straight. 6×
Around the World Flexed forward. Left foot in front. Rotate right and lift left arm with dowel up. Continue overhead and return to centre. 6×. Switch.
Refined Movement Spinal Articulation Supine bridge position. Undulating movements performed on small section of spine-10 seconds. Lower spine a bit and repeat.
Very Slow Leg Stretch Side lying. Foot flexed as leg pushes out at a chosen angle very slowly. Pause 5 seconds. Point toe and bring leg in and choose another angle at hip. 6×. Switch legs.

 

We also then can add the use of creating tension through additional exercises such as the plank, the Ab roll out exercise and loaded Hip Hike (lock) carry to create variations lof tension through the meridian lines with various load and complexity.

Tensegrity training

And more dynamic movements such as my personal favourites:

 

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Transfer of training. Obviously there are many ways to link the gym strength we acquire across to the ability to apply more force during sprinting with the right coordination. One variable that can be used in training programs is the specificity of the exercises. Specificity is the idea that the adaptations that come from exercise are very closely related to the mode, frequency, and duration of the stress or stimuli put on the body. Frans Bosch in his book, strength training and coordination, laid out five categories of specificity. -Similarity in inner structure (muscle action and cooperation) -Similarity in outer structure (joint movement) -Similarity in energy production -Similarity in sensory patterns -Similarity in intention Extending through triple extension on the support leg and flexing with the swing leg into a high post position, creating tension through the ankle and torso creating an increased level of tension and postural stability. This should in theory increase an awareness of this power position and transfer to sprinting. Both high post wall hit and standing long jump have good transfer to sprinting #athlete #athletics #trackandfield #tracknation #trackfamily #jumping #instafit #fitness #runnersofinstagram #running #gym #mastersathletics #road2wma20 #mondaymotivation

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Additional Information Fascia Tensegrity – The Nuggets of Frans Bosch

In addition to the above mentioned elements that help improve the general nature of Fascia and therefore Tensegrity it is worth looking into the world of Muscle Slack, a term popularised by Frans Bosch for the purpose of improving the body’s ability to co-contract and create pretension (this itself is Fascia Tensegrity).

Imagine a rope that is loose versus a rope that is tight before you want to walk across it. The time it takes for the rope to tense to have enough force for you to put weight on it is time lost in athletics.  The degree to which a muscle’s operative tension must be increased in order to become taut is known as muscle slack.  Bosch says the speed at which muscles can build up their tension and overcome muscle slack is usually more important to performance than the amount of force they can eventually produce. This is why technique and timing is so important in athletics.

This concept of muscle slack is also why in a vertical jump a counter-movement, or the quick dip and drive is so effective in adding inches – it pretensions the muscles. Even if the squat jump without the counter-movement has more total force production, the jump won’t be as high as the counter-movement jump because force is generated too slowly.

In sports, Bosch argues that the best athletes make smaller counter-movement’s and allow storage of elastic energy to work.  He then argues that training based on large counter-movement’s will lead to longer muscle slack and poorer performance. Athletes who require the use of large counter movements when performing running or jumping activities are trying to take the slack out of their system.  An athlete with a lot of muscle slack is not springy and takes a too much time to generate force.  Plyometric exercises that involve a rebound like a depth jump, absorption exercises to teach the muscles to co-contract and develop tension quickly like depth drops, and isometric exercises like the video below help eliminate muscle slack in the athlete and increase the use and functionality of our Fascia Tensegrity modal.


Now to further discuss the thoughts of Bosch, let’s consider a block exit for sprinters, as an athlete positions themselves into “Set” at the command of the starter, their actions in doing so will directly affect the outcome once the gun goes!

We have all seen those athletes that seem to be left in the blocks, or appear to have poor reaction time. Well actually their “reaction” is likely to be the same (that is their synapse reaction) but what is lagging is this muscle slack and use of optimum tensegrity to create pretension in the body to elicit faster excitation and force out of the blocks into their acceleration.

By considering the Fascia Tensegrity modal an athlete should engage their system to create a bridge through their body from their hands and through to the feet in the pedals, this pretension has now set the body up for maximum power and propulsion.

 

References :

https://oxfordmedicine.com/view/10.1093/med/9780199674107.001.0001/med-9780199674107-chapter-16

Tensegrity

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tensegrity

https://www.archdaily.com/893555/tensegrity-structures-what-they-are-and-what-they-can-be

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/tensegrity

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6682397/

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