Fascia-Focused Workout

Skin isn't the only thing keeping our innards in place. The body's fascia, a cobweb-like tissue that weaves through muscle and wraps around organs and bones, handles most of that job. It's not unlike the membrane in an orange, which both supports and separates the segments. When the densely packed fascia fibers are healthy and hydrated, our bodies work better: Muscles glide over one another, and movement in every direction feels effortless, says Thomas W. Findley, M.D., research director at the V.A. New Jersey Health Care System. But when fascia loses its elasticity, range of motion shrinks, too.

Scientists believe that exercising the fibers encourages them to regenerate on a cellular level, keeping them springy. Foam rollers, a staple of physical therapy, help keep the tissues supple. But stretches and yoga moves are also effective. Jill Miller, the L.A.-based creator of the Yoga Tune Up program, designed this fascia-focused workout. Before you begin, Miller suggests "waking up" the fascia at the start of each workout with skin rolling: Starting at the feet, grab handfuls of skin, fat, and muscle, and squeeze and knead your way up with both hands. Don't be too gentle—it should feel like a rough sort of pinch.

Related: Here's the Secret to Banishing Muscle Aches

woman doing standing backbend exercise

Standing Backbend

What it does: Strengthens the arms and upper back while stretching the deep fascia and muscles of the neck, chest, and abs

How to do it: Stand with hands interlaced on the back of the head, shoulders down. Draw abs in while slowly lifting the chest and arching the head, neck, and shoulders back, as on previous page. (Stop if you feel pain in your back.) Hold for 10 breaths, then slowly lift up to standing. Do 2 reps.

Keep in mind: The bend is primarily in the mid- and upper back, not the lower.

woman doing sliding chest extension exercise

Sliding Chest Extension

What it does: Strengthens the arms, shoulders, back, and glutes while stretching the muscles and connective tissue along the abs and chest

How to do it: Lie facedown on a towel with arms out in front of you in a V shape and feet separated. Press into your palms and draw the shoulder blades down and then together. Bending your elbows in, use your back muscles to slide your body forward and lift your chest. When your wrists begin to peel off the floor, slide your body back to start position. Do 8 reps.

Keep in mind: The neck should remain in line with the rest of the spine. At the top of the extension you should be looking about a foot in front of your hands.

woman doing matador circle exercise

Matador Circle

What it does: Strengthens muscles and fascia of the arms, shoulders, and upper back while improving posture

How to do it: Stand holding towel taut in front of chest, elbows bent to either side. Reach your fists out to the right on a diagonal and then begin to circle them slowly, in front of your chest, out to the left (shown), and back to the starting position. That's 1 rep; do 8, then repeat in opposite direction.

Keep in mind: Pull the towel taut throughout for maximum strengthening. Keep your abs tight, your shoulders down (away from your ears), and your elbows at shoulder height.

woman doing side leg lift exercise

Side Leg Lift and Hold

What it does: Tones the shoulders, abs, glutes, and inner and outer thighs while activating and strengthening the fascia all along the side of the body

How to do it: Rest the right side of your hip on yoga blocks or a stack of hardcover books (place a towel on top for cushioning). Press your right elbow and forearm into the floor, palm up, while legs hover above ground, inner thighs squeezing together and left arm resting along left side of body. Hold for 30 seconds. Then lift your left leg 6 inches above the right, raising the heel higher than the toes and floating your left arm a few inches above your hip. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.

Keep in mind: Press your lower elbow into the ground to keep from sinking into your shoulder. Keep your abs engaged throughout to aid balance.

woman doing lunge side bend exercise

Lunge with a Side Bend

What it does: Strengthens the arms, abs, glutes, quads, and hamstrings while stretching the fascia deep in the torso

How to do it: Stand holding a towel (rolled lengthwise) taut between your hands, arms overhead a little more than shoulder-width apart. Step your left foot forward into a lunge with both knees bent. Lean your torso to the left, stretching the right side. Slowly straighten the right (back) leg and hold for 3 breaths. Come out of the lean, rebend the right leg, and step the left foot back. Alternate for 5 reps on each side.

Keep in mind: Tuck in your tailbone so hips point forward, rather than toward the ground.

woman doing extended twist exercise

Extended Twist

What it does: Stretches the chest, abs, and hips while massaging the fascia between the ribs

How to do it:  Lie facedown on mat with arms open to a wide T, gazing to the left. Tuck in your tailbone and draw abs in while lifting your left leg up and across the right leg, letting it lower toward the floor. Keep the left shoulder resting on the mat. Hold the twist for 30 seconds, breathing deeply, and repeat on the right.

Keep in mind: Press your hands and shoulders into the ground to maximize the stretch.

This story originally appeared on Whole Living.

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