Just underneath your skin lies a network of fibers, called fascia, that covers your entire body. This network, composed of collagen fibers, wraps around every one of your muscles, bones, nerves, blood vessels and organs. You may think of stretching your muscles, but stretching the fascia tissue in places like your chest is also critical for attaining your workout goals.
Like your muscles, your fascia can become tight, causing stiffness, limiting muscle hypertrophy -- or growth-- and possibly causing discomfort. Your fascia acts like a sheath around muscles, and it connects your organs, muscles and bones together. It adds lubrication to your insides, facilitating and impacting movement, whether you are running a marathon, sitting at your desk or pumping iron at the gym. The muscles of the chest, as well as the ribs and the internal organs that lie within your chest, are wrapped in fascia, just as the rest of your body is.
Tightness in the Fascia
Fascia can become stiff when you fail to use it regularly. When you chronically stress the fascia -- through repetitive movement and heavy exercise -- it can thicken in order to protect the underlying muscles. The fascia of the chest thickens in response to chronic strength training. The fascia of your chest may become riddled with adhesions if you spend a lot of time in hunched-over positions, such as at your computer or in your car.
Stretching the Chest
Chronically tight muscles lead to chronically tight fascia. Simple stretches, such as clasping your hands behind your back and pulling your shoulder blades together, can help relieve tightness in the muscles and the fascia of your chest. Fascia tissue responds more slowly to stretches than do muscles. Gently stretching the area for three to five minutes is the safest approach. You can also use a stability ball to stretch the muscles in your chest. Sit on the ball and then walk your feet forward until your upper torso and head lie on the ball. Let your arms drop out to either side. Don't move your arms; rather, let gravity gently do it's work for up to three minutes.
Some bodybuilders believe that tight fascia tissue can prevent you from attaining greater muscle growth. If your fascia is tight, it cannot accommodate muscles that are trying to expand due to diligent strength training. To help encourage greater size in your chest, many bodybuilders incorporate extreme fascial stretching. This type of stretching involves loading a stretch by, for example, lying face up on a flat weight bench and holding a heavy dumbbell in each hand as you drape your arms open. This type of stretching is controversial and can lead to injury.