Efficiency, an issue not only for athletes
Efficiency, an issue not only for athletes

There are two aspects to efficiency increase in Rolfing. On the one hand there is the elimination of opposing tensions, on the other hand the storage of kinetic energy in the fascial system. This is not just a question for top athletes, but it affects each one of us, the older the more. The goal is to move economically and with little wear. Efficiency in Rolfing stands for:

  • Elimination of opposing tensions
  • Storage of kinetic energy in the fascial system
  • Reduction of wear and tear

3 Main Fascial Restrictions

Efficiency – Elimination of opposing tensions

Muscles in fascia like skaters on ice
Muscles in fascia like skaters on ice


Muscles glide in their fascial envelope on their underground like skaters on ice. Now imagine that the skaters cannot change their position. In addition, all runners are connected by a network of thin threads. Consequently, the whole network would have to change constantly depending on the orientation of all speed skaters. I.e. in the course of a turn it would be stretched obliquely to shorten itself on the straights when the runners straighten up. This net symbolizes the gliding of the muscles against each other.

The gliding of the skates on ice corresponds to the gliding of muscles against their environment, be it bones, ligaments, blood vessels or nerves. In addition, there is still a glide within the muscle. Muscles are not homogeneous masses, but subdivided again and therefore possess their own elasticity. If this elasticity fades, it is as if a skater is always adjusting too slowly to the new orientation, thereby obstructing all others in the movement.

Tension can build up when fascia

  • is gliding too little around and within muscles
  • is too tight to the environment and hereby irritating nerves or compressing blood vessels
  • hinders a rapid response within a muscle

Muscle tone

fascial therapy rolfing - efficiency muscle tone
“Tension hinders movement like fighting dogs

To allow movement, one side has to give way. And the same applies to our muscles. We can only actively tense and shorten a muscle, the other side must then passively stretch. For example, in the upper arm there is a pair of biceps and triceps. And to stretch our arm, the biceps must lower its tension, its tone.

Muscle tone – self-test

However, for many of us the basic tone of the biceps is so high that the bicep is always “on”. Even in relaxed lying the forearm does not even touch the surface. Just try yourself: in supine does your forearm rest relaxed or does it turn and fingertips act as unintentional support. As a result your shoulder will also be “on”, as such a tension does not abruptly stop at a joint of the body, but rather continues to propagate.

Muscle tone – consequences

We can not turn off this too high tonus, just as we can not relax on command – some yogis maybe the exceptionnormal. For us mere mortals, however, a too high basic tesion is a problem. And with the following consequences:

  • Reduction in efficiency, because you always have to work against this basic tension
  • Compression of the blood supply and nerves and thus a poor tissue supply
  • Thickening of the fascia to support posture by connective tissue, i.e. fixed posture instead of agility
  • Pain as an alarm signal for potential risk of m. a. issues

Terefore a muscle can feel like the discus between the two dogs in the picture above.

Muscle tone – Rolfing

Rolfing is able to lower the basic tone mainly by working on the muscle insertions. In the above picture, that would be the two dogs and not the discus. The supporting scientific assumption is that receptors, mainly located in the muscle attachments, are readjusted. This readjustment will accept decreased tone as the normal value, causing less stimulation of the muscle.

Storing energy in the fascial system

fascial therapy rolfing efficiency preload caching
Fascia can store energy like a spring

Efficiency through caching

It is amazing how efficiently we walk and how little energy we consume. Part of the secret is storing the energy in our fascial system. So our arch of foot and back both have strong flexible fascia layers that are repeatedly tightened while walking. This tensioning of the fascia layers happens passively without us having to actively do it. And this preloaded fascia releases its cached energy back into the movement system. But feet with a large base tension or a straight lower back just prevent this efficient use of kinetic energy and then ultimately lead to rapid fatigue. In essence, this leads to compensatory overload and ultimately to pain due to tension.

fascial therapy rolfing efficiency preload
More power with preload

Efficiency through preload

Fascia not only serves to directly store kinetic energy, but also to transmit tensions for gaining greater muscle contraction. If you want to lift a heavy bucket you will usually involuntarily strain your thumb. Even if you really do not have to hold anything with your thumb. And this additional muscle tension does make sense! It travels fascialy up to the biceps where this tension provides a certain bias. Due to this preload muscle fibers of your biceps are brought faster and stronger into their working range.

Do you recognise the following advice from trainers? “Don’t tense here, you don’t need to, you are wasting your energy!” But our body is usually not that stupid and the question should actually be: “Why does it help with push-ups if you thighten your thumbs as in above picture?”. You can see the strength in the right bicep and the tension in the right thumb and yes, it makes sense. The bicep can work more efficiently as long as there is a good fascial connection along the arm.

A reactive fascial system is therefore the basis for efficient movements.

Rolfing preload sport
stored energy
Increasing efficiency in sports

There are sports in which a pre-stretching to increase the power is particularly visible: golf, tennis or as here in the example badminton. The overstretching of the curve of hand, shoulder, side chest, waist produces tension like on the arch of a bow. This initial tension can be converted directly into acceleration. In addition, the efficiency of muscle contraction is increased by this stretch.

Most athletes will find in their own sport movements that are enhanced by greater acceleration. Whenever you have a backswing producing some stretch before the actual movement starts. These are all kind of ball sports and most martial arts, to name a few. Muscle strength is always a contraction and shortening. But dynamics and speed only arise in a rapid change of contraction and extension.

In sports, however, it is often not just about acceleration, but simply about power. An example is a pull-up, in which not only shoulders and arms work, but a supportive preload is drawn in from almost every part of the body. This makes the pull-up a full-body exercise.

Increasing efficiency and Rolfing

Rolfing supports this differentiation of the fascia, so energy can be stored better and a bias loss-free be forwarded.

Reduction of wear and tear

fascia wear and tear"

Life leaves marks on fascia like on old shoes

Marks on our fascial system

Repeated loads leave marks, not only in our shoes, but also in our fabric, which adapts and tries to balance these strains. Our muscles are getting stronger, our tendons thicker and all our fascia layers that permeate the tissue tougher. As layed out above, reinforced fascia layers result in reduced gliding and delayed transmission of forces throughout our body.

If we lift our arm forward and change nothing else in our body, we fall forward. Usually we don’t and the rational behind is an activation of our calf muscles to stabilize right before our actual arm movement. However, the fine adjustment of this stabilization is also done mechanically by sliding in the fascia system and passive stretching of receptors. This transmitted information then triggers all required readjustment. Thus,  efficiency in movement corresponds to spending just the required energy and not more. Again, too much effort will lead to increased wear and tear of joints and increase in muscle tension.

Marks on our coordination

Our brain has a large library of miniature movements from which a plot can be assembled. However, injuries, negative experiences, and one-sided, repetitive stress  will teach our brain to not use some of these miniature movements. Hence, the size of  our library for movement patterns motion is shrinking over time. In the beginning this is not effecting big movements. We are still able to lift our arm. It is more a question of how. It is like beeing able to choose a pizza from an italian menue card or to have only one frozen pizza in the fridge. 

Rolfing efficiency wear and tear

We usually do not pick up a lumbago, because we have not lifted a heavy beer crate according to our back training. More likely we will pick it up when we try to catch a falling toothbrush in the bathroom. And it is with these small unconcious everyday moves when suddenly some details are missing. Minor, well tuned compensations are unavailable. As a result tensions spread in the body where they are recognized as a danger and compensated by an excessive tension. At this point all prerequisite for an acute lumbago are present.

Conclusion to efficiency increase

Rolfing is more than just “mechanical” fascia therapy. Moreover, Rolfing is also a retraining of perception and movement aiming at a maximized repertoire of movement pattern. The goal is to reduce the wear and tear and hopefully this way you can retain your mobility up to a ripe-old age. For this reason Rolfing supports an overall well-being.