Passive strength (part 3): How to get connective tissue to work for you

From school, most people are aware of the way in which bones transmit compressive forces, and muscles transmit tensile forces. Muscles connect body parts over small to medium distances, however, fascia (a type of connective tissue – see my previous post) joins muscle to muscle and is continuous from head to toe. This means that forces applied, for example at your hands, can travel to your feet and back without a single muscle in your body having to contract.

The good thing about this is, that if used correctly and to a high degree, engaging your connective tissue allows you to literally bring the strength of your whole body to a given area. If you were a boxer, you could use this to channel the strength of your legs into your punches, or if you were typing at a computer all day, you could use this to channel the micro-shocks from your fingers away from your neck where they can cause cumulative problems, and into your lower body where the forces can be harmlessly dissipated.

Applied along the correct path (shown in red), passive tensile strength (of connective tissue) can hold compressive elements (bones) in an optimal shape for supporting an applied force

If on the other hand your connective tissue is engaged poorly or only to a partial degree, then forces can accumulate in one area after another, causing mechanical problems which spread. For example, if you were typing at a computer all day, the effects of the micro-shocks could accumulate at your wrist until the wrist muscles are unable to compensate. These shocks would then travel to your elbow, then to your shoulder and neck, resulting in pain slowly spreading from the wrist to the neck.

So, how well you are engaging your connective tissues? The easiest way to test how internally connected you are is to see if moving one part of your body causes movement further away. Try drawing small circles in the air with your hand. As your wrist bends, do you feel this movement in the muscles of your forearm, or does the feeling of movement make it up as far as your shoulder, or your back, your buttocks, or even as far as your foot? The more internally connected you are, the further away, and the more clearly you will be able to feel movement under your skin. This skill can be trained further allowing you to increase your flexibility whilst also increasing the level of internal connectedness and passive strength. The beauty of this skill is that unlike muscle training, you can maintain the sense of relaxed, easy strength into old age.

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