David: Tell me a little bit about your fitness backgrounds, interests, and careers?
Jenna: I’ve been a certified personal trainer for almost 5 years. I’ve previously held certifications with the American Council on Exercise, however; I am currently certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. I also hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Science, with a minor in psychology. I focus most of my reading around strength training with progressive overload, specifically for women. In a nutshell, I help women build mental and physical strength, stability, and confidence through positive experiences with food and exercise. Those are my main interests and passions. I also dabble in what I call recreational powerlifting— or getting really strong with no *current* intentions of competing in the sport. I have been certified Fascial Stretch Therapist for 2 years now, and have completed an estimated 500+ hours of treatment time.
Mallory: I was a competitive swimmer for 10+ years. Being a nerd, I chose to focus on my education rather than pursue collegiate athletics. Once I stopped swimming 4 hours a day, I realized I needed a new way to stay in shape. I started working at 24 Hour Fitness and fell in love with personal training from a scientific standpoint. I was fascinated by the science of human movement. While I held many different positions in the club over the course of 8 years (from front desk receptionist to operations manager, from master trainer to fitness manager), I found that my passion was in working with clients one-on-one. I founded Foxy Fitness LLC three years ago, and have been inspired and supported to continue my journey by tailoring my career to fit my passion. I have over 10,000 hours of experience working one-on-one with clients as a Personal Trainer, and approximately 150 hours as a Fascial Stretch Therapist. I was in school throughout the course of my career, and hold Bachelors degrees in Business Administration and Communications, Masters degrees in Geriatric Exercise Science and Health Sciences, and a Doctorate in Health Sciences. I am certified through the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a Certified Personal Trainer, Corrective Exercise Specialist, Performance Enhancement Specialist, and Women’s Fitness Specialist. Yes, I am a nerd. 😉
David: What are your inherent biases? For example, you are both FST practitioners. Do you feel that this might sway your responses one way or another? Why or why not?
Jenna: Of course this might sway my responses, I have seen FST change lives for multiple individuals, and that is often hard to separate. That being said, there is some really great scientific evidence as well as plenty of anecdotal evidence from my extensive experience that simply cannot be ignored.
Mallory: As an FST practitioner my responses will be affected by my training, practical experience, and knowledge of the science behind the technique. As an FST client, I will also have bias because I have been treated for movement dysfunction. I experienced FST as a client first, in an effort to address weakness/tightness in my left hip. After the first session I felt a difference in my range of motion, mobility, and felt a lightness in the socket.
David: How exactly would you explain what FST is to someone with no prior knowledge of it?
Jenna: FST is gentle, movement based stretching that utilizes methods including traction, circumduction, and oscillation to quickly improve range of motion, decrease pain, and increase function.
David: How would you say that FST differs from other forms on manual stretching? What is its secret sauce, so to speak?
Jenna: Ooo the special sauce 😉 FST is wildly different from most forms of stretching because it is PAIN FREE. It provides rapid results with immediate, but also long lasting effects. Many clients who have experienced other therapies and training report never feeling as good as after getting an FST session.
Mallory: Awesomeness 🙂 In technical terms FST differs from other forms of manual stretching by utilizing circumduction and traction of the joints, and PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) to treat the full fascial net. By “romancing” the central nervous system, we move into the parasympathetic nervous system (where digestion, healing, etc occur) and guide the client to release the neuromuscular stimuli guarding the muscle tissue. PNF enables the client to participate in the conscious activation and release of chronically tight tissue to deactivate overactive mechanoreceptors in the tissue.
David: FST is fairly new to the mainstream training scene; however, that’s not to say similar techniques haven’t been used before with success. For example, DiGiovanni and colleagues (2003) found that tissue-specific plantar fascia-stretching exercise was superior to standard weight-bearing Achilles stretching in treating chronic heel pain. From a physiological perspective, what is happening to the fascia that leads to some of these painful conditions? Further, how does simply stretching it alleviate pain?
Mallory: Tissue remembers trauma. Many rehabilitative treatment methods cause temporary pain, which triggers an automatic response of tension and flexion of the injured tissue. Although an injured muscle will heal and recover in time, the fascia remembers the trauma and is at a greater risk of re-injury. Static stretching and weight-bearing stretching places stress on the joints and stabilizing tissue (muscle and connective), potentially triggered adverse neural responses. Tissue specific stretching performed in a passive manner, combined with movement (stimulating blood flow), can reduce demands on the injured tissues and allow the tissue to deactivate triggers.
David: FST relies primarily on the use of traction, static stretching, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). A study by Marek and colleagues (2005) out of University of Texas at Arlington tested the acute effects of static and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching on muscular strength and power output. They found that both static and PNF stretching caused similar deficits in strength, power output, and muscle activation at both slow and fast velocities. Similar results have been found by numerous other studies looking at the effects of static stretching on strength and power output. Based on this information, do you feel there is a risk-to-benefit ratio that needs to be incorporated when using FST? Or is FST different in some regard?
Jenna: First off, FST is actually closer to dynamic stretching than static stretching. There is very little static component during an FST session. This is important because in contrast to static stretching, dynamic stretching is not associated with strength or performance deficits. In many studies that find negative effects on strength and power output, the problem is that “stretching” is poorly defined. There is absolutely a “wrong” and a “right” way to stretch. There’s actually a great article that Chris Frederick (one of the founders of FST) wrote on this topic. You can check it out here.
Here’s another good systematic review on this topic which contains multiple studies that show that dynamic stretching does not illicit strength, performance deficits, and actually has shown to increase power as well as jumping and running performance.
Additionally, many of the studies looking at stretching and power/performance focus in on one muscle or group, most often the hamstrings. FST is much more than that, and utilizes a total body approach based on fascial lines and meridians rather than one muscle. For more reading on this, look up Thomas Myers and Anatomy Trains.
On the topic of PNF, again the difference is that FST does not use a true PNF (75-100% of max contraction) but more of a FST specific PNF which is more of a 20-60% contract/relax cycle. The study I just mentioned links to some cool research on this. With that being said, any type of manual treatment always contains an inherent a risk-to-benefit ratio that needs to be considered.
Athletes will be stretched differently using FST as a recovery protocol than they will as a pre-game readying technique.
Mallory: Ahh the great stretch debate! For every study discussing the effects of static stretching on power, I can find a study with neutral affect or positive effect. First, FST is an active or dynamic approach rather than a static stretch technique. Many studies indicate dynamic stretches positively affect power . That point aside, yes, there is a risk-to-benefit ratio to be considered before starting FST (as with any exercise modality). The primary risk that I would assess is stretching before an unsupervised weight training session. In short, a couple common effects of FST are released blocked tissue and improved range of motion. An athlete, trainer, or fitness competitor may be tempted to test their newly-gained ROM with a heavy back squat or deadlift. Connective tissue requires more time/training to adapt to heavier loads, and therefore would be at risk of injury when stabilizing movement in the new ROM.
David: A recent study in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that stretching one leg had negative effects on jump height in the opposite (non-stretched leg), indicating that the effects of stretching are largely a result of an inhibitory effect on the central nervous system. What are your thoughts on the central nervous system’s role on an individual’s range of motion and where does FST fit into the mix?
Jenna: I think more than anything, this article supports FST and the evidence of fascial lines and meridians. Without that, how could we explain that stretching one side of the body can affect the other side? Evidence is clear as to the negative effects of static stretching, however we’ve already discussed the differences between FST and static stretching 🙂
On the role of the nervous system, FST uses methods that keep the nervous system as “quiet” as possible— this is where the pain free aspect comes into play. FST maximizes parasympathetic nervous system, rather than amping up the sympathetic nervous system. Fascia is highly neurological, and seems to respond best in a parasympathetic state.
Mallory: The central nervous system has a significant role in movement, including range of motion. The study you cited illustrates the concept of transfer, which is often used in rehab. Essentially the brain innervates the tissue on both the injured side and the functional side, keeping the tissue responsive even when in disuse. So it follows that the CNS would respond in a similar fashion in regard to a stretch. The CNS is not my area of expertise so I won’t focus on it, other than in relation to FST. In the majority of FST work (with pre-game for an athlete being the exception), we are working in the parasympathetic nervous system to aid recovery and healing. The goal is pain-free gains. By reading the tissue and watching for clues that the client is remaining in the PSNS, we are able to use tools to gradually increase ROM and release blocked tissue.
I’ll use myself as an example. As an individual with great mobility and perhaps hyper flexibility, FST has helped me to avoid over stretching with the use of PNF. In short, an FST practitioner is going to test the limits of range of motion with PNF. If the CNS is unable to generate neural response in the tissue toward the outer limit ROM, the practitioner will adjust the stretch wave. I have great mobility but lack strength toward the end ROM. I didn’t know this in the past and wondered why my squats lacked depth when I could easily drop into the splits. Using PNF to activate and strengthen muscle tissue near end ROM has been an incredibly helpful aid in injury prevention.
David: Another tool that is frequently used to target the fascia is the foam roller. For example, many people will foam roll their IT bands if they have knee pain. From a physiological perspective, how does stretching the fascia differ from foam rolling?
Jenna: FST provides many benefits that foam rolling does not. Although foam rolling is beneficial (and there is plenty of research to support this), it is simply glorified smushing. It can be great for increasing blood flow to an area and digging into knots/trigger points. Anecdotally, many clients FEEL better after foam rolling. However, it’s simply not FST. Missing is the benefit of traction, oscillation, and circumlocution that target the joint capsule specifically to increase synovial joint ROM. Also, foam rolling can be just plain painful at times, putting the client in an aroused sympathetic nervous system state, whereas FST utilizes primarily parasympathetic input. Many FST practitioners don’t believe in foam rolling the IT band directly because of its already thick collagenous structure… I thought I had read an article on this but I couldn’t find it for you. Maybe Mal will have some insight there. If not, forget I said it 😉
David: In your professional experience, what types of individuals benefit the most and least from FST?
Jenna: If you move A LOT (athletes, competitors, gym goers, etc) you need FST. If you don’t move a lot (desk job, elderly, sedentary individuals), you need FST.
Those who are hypermobile will benefit least from FST, but true hypermobility is rare.
Most: people suffering from chronic pain, joint dysfunction, muscle imbalances, post rehab, highly stressed or anxious individuals, athletes, weekend warriors!
Least: anyone with conditions contraindicated by stretching (osteoarthritis, recent surgery, fracture, pregnant or postpartum)
David: If you could give everyone reading one piece of advice regarding fitness, health, or life in general, what would it be?
Jenna: Never skip leg day. 😉
But really, if you’re going to work hard in the gym and/or play hard, you need to be doing SOMETHING to take care of your tissue—its’s just as much a part of your program as strength training, cardio, and nutrition.
Mallory: This is actually the hardest question on this interview! My advice is do what your mom would tell you to do: get sleep, eat balanced meals, don’t overdo alcohol/caffeine/sugar, clean your room, have that piece of cake. Some of my clients will call me “mom” because I remind them to do the things they should be doing…I don’t mind the teasing, because I’m getting paid to do it!
David: Where can readers find you on social media or online?
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