Functional Training Zones

Dissection – A Trainer's Learning Tool

by Thomas Myers

Fascia-less Prosection by the book

The word 'autopsy' means to 'see for yourself'. Fitness professionals train and work with living bodies, of course, and there are ever expanding but limited ways of looking inside a living person: X-rays, MRI's, CAT scans, ultrasound. The other way to see for yourself is to investigate the human form through examining a body after the person is done with it, through dissection. Dissection is a uniquely Western approach to 'Know Thyself' that began in the Renaissance, and has formed the basis of Anatomy and medical training for the last several hundred years. 

Now a cultural change is happening: doctors are doing more and more training on models and computer simulators, and less and less gross anatomy with actual bodies, resulting in a plentiful supply of cadavers (people who have donated their bodies to science for educational purposes). At the same time, performance trainers, alternative therapists, and bodyworkers are revising our ideas about how the body really works, and coming to the body to test their theories.

My own idea in this realm is called 'Anatomy Trains' – a concept of myofascial chain linkage through the fascial planes. Once the concept was fleshed out in theory, I went to the dissection lab to 'flesh out' my ideas for real. Some of my concepts were confirmed while others were challenged and thereby improved – but either way it is an amazing experience. The Anatomy Trains concept is only one of many that are now being researched as we re-envision what our body is at the dawn of the electronic age.

What would you like to 'see for yourself'? The body has been portrayed in very particular ways by our standard anatomy texts, so there is much room for a different vision. I find the whole concept of an individual 'muscle' misleading – and if you come to the lab I can show you what I mean: all the connective tissue you have to cut out of the way to expose this thing we call a 'deltoid' is actually functional, but rarely pictured in the books. Rather than accept blindly what the books show you, I strongly urge you to get into the lab and see how the human form is constructed for yourself. Especially in the realm of fascia and real biomechanics, very little is really known.

Do you have a pet theory about how the hip works? Want to see the inside of a degenerated joint? Want to open up a shoulder and see how the labrum is arranged relative to the rotator cuff tendons? Want to see how the nerves have to stretch in movement? Going to the lab and seeing for yourself is a definite asset for trainers trying to visualize what is going on inside the bodies of their students and clients.

One note: it is very different experience to do the dissection for yourself – actually wielding the scalpel and using your fingers – rather than simply observing already-prepared specimens. The prepared specimens have much tissue removed so that they look like the books; doing the actual process for yourself is a wholly different and involving experience, one that will stay with you all your professional and personal life.

If you do come into the lab, be prepared to confront your own mortality – it is both miraculous and humbling. Though disgust and anticipatory fear is what people usually register before they arrive, fascination and excitement soon overcome these feelings, and exploration begins in earnest. One must also be prepared for occasional waves of emotion as the experience brings loved ones to mind or you get intimations of your own temporary nature.