If you are a regular attendee of my Pilates classes I’m sure you will be familiar with my poor counting, dog chat, love of scooters and repetitive talk about myofascial slings.
But what are they and why do I love to talk about them?
Have you ever noticed that the body works so smoothly in diagonals, with the opposite arm in sync with the opposite leg, like when you run or swim? Well, this is all down to myofascial slings.
Without getting too technical, myofascial slings are made of up of muscles, fascia (connective tissue) and ligaments. These structures work together in a chain to create stability and movement. They interact to safely transfer load through the body, particularly from one side of the body to the other. When working in harmony they can optimize movement and sporting performance but weak spots within the slings due to something like poor posture or injury can create dysfunction, malalignment and eventually lead to pain if left untreated.
Knowledge of the slings and how they work can be beneficial for injury prevention and recovery. It can also help improve speed, strength and efficiency within your particular sport/hobby. Think about the power created when Harry Kane strikes a football or when Serena Williams serves up an ace, that’s all created through efficient use of levers and myofascial slings.
Before attending classes at Four Sides London, you will have either completed an introductory session or physiotherapy assessment. During these sessions we identify weakness or imbalance within the body/slings and allowing us to target this during classes – whether that’s to help your posture, recover from injury or improve fitness/sporting performance.
So when we add a magic circle or mini loop to an exercise, its not to be cruel, more often than not it’s designed to target a specific myofascial sling.
(Things might get a little more technical here, so stick with me!)
Think of the torso as the “primary sling”. It’s a cylindrical structure with the diaphragm at the top, pelvic floor at the bottom, transversus abdominus running around the middle like a corset and multifidus running up the back. It provides stability to the spinal segments and creates a stable base for your limbs to function. The different myofascial slings wrap and attach themselves around this cylinder.
We have 4 different major slings in the body:
1.Anterior Oblique Sling
2.Posterior Oblique Sling
3.Deep Longitudinal Sling
Anterior Oblique Sling
Put simply – a diagonal line connecting the rib cage one one side to the opposite groin/inner thigh.
The technical bit – This sling is made up of the internal oblique, external oblique and opposite adductor muscle. It crosses the front of the pelvis and provides stability to the joint that connects the two sides of the pelvis at the front (pubic symphysis). It is particularly active during a golf swing or multidirectional sports such as tennis or football as it helps with change of direction in addition to rotating, accelerating and decelerating the body.
Exercises that target this sling: generally anything with a magic circle but more specifically – oblique curl up, modified side plank with ball squeeze, woodchop, lunge with rotation.
Posterior Oblique Sling
Put Simply – a diagonal line connecting the back of the shoulder on one side to the buttock on the opposite side.
The technical bit –It consists of the latissimus dorsi and opposite gluteus maximus, connected by the thoracolumbar fascia. This sling provides stability and support to the back of the pelvis. It’s involved in most pulling motions and can be seen quite clearly with sprinting when the opposite arm and leg are pulled back at the same time or during the freestyle stroke of swimming.
Exercises that target this sling: 4 point kneeling superman, bridge with band pull down, lunge + row, single leg deadlift + row.
Deep Longitudinal Sling
Put Simply – a straight line connecting the back/spinal muscles to the hamstrings on the same side.
The technical bit – This sling connects the erector spinae, multifidus, thoracolumbar fascia, sacrotuberous ligament and the biceps femoris. It controls movement in a forwards/ backwards motion and like the posterior oblique sling, provides stability to the back for the pelvis and spine. It’s active during standing postures to hold us upright in addition to sprinting, swimming.
Exercises that target this sling: single leg bridge, cobra, deadlift, kettlebell swing.
Put Simply – Consists of the buttock/glutes on one side and inner thigh muscles on the opposite side
The technical bit – The gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and tensor fascia lata on one side and the adductors on the opposite side make up the lateral sling. This sling controls side to side movements. When walking or standing on one leg, the lateral sling works to keep the pelvis balanced and level. If the lateral sling isn’t functioning correctly you can get a pelvic drop on the opposite side know as Trendelenberg sign. It also helps to keep the lower limb aligned when doing squats or lunges – knock knees when squatting is a big give away of weakness within this sling.
Exercises that target this sling : clam, side kick, single leg squat, step up
Hopefully I didn’t lose you too much with all the medical jargon and it’s given you a little insight into why we choose certain exercises for you to do during classes or rehab sessions. Whilst isolated muscle strengthening has it’s role and is certainly important in treating and preventing injuries, Pilates is a great tool for bringing everything together and tapping into the myofascial sling system.
So, why not test yourself and try out some of the sling specific exercises mentioned above – maybe test the difference from left to right and see if you can pick up any weaknesses. Let me know how you get on.