Muscle Tone
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Friday, February 13, 2009 09:54 AM
When muscles are working they have high muscle tone and it is constantly changing. However, muscles can have a substantial tone even when they are idle. Good muscle tone is sort of readiness or "alertness" in the muscle to start working, to change. People have different muscle tone because of the genetic predisposition and how active they are. Usually these two conditions correlate with each other. A person with naturally high muscle tone is more active and likes to exercise and a person with genetically low muscle tone is more prone to become a "couch potato".
Muscle tone plays an important role in ability to balance effectively on a back of a horse. Riders with naturally high muscle tone progress more quickly and generally more effective. Men have 30% higher muscle tone than women. Male riders usually have more stability in their body even if they have flaws in their posture. Many women and girls on the other hand do not have enough basic tone in their muscles and even if they do they try very hard to relax and lower it down. Their core and thighs are first places to suffer from such "relaxation".
There is more to the story. Natural muscle tone even the high one is not enough for effective riding. Your muscles have to be engaged even if they do not appear to move any parts of your body. Such muscle work has a fancy name Isometric contraction. Muscle is working in isometric contraction when it is working against resistance without actual shortening. Postural muscles work like that, Yoga postures and many Pilates workouts require isometric contraction. On a horse the rider appears quiet because most of the muscles are in a state of isometric contraction: core muscles, back muscles, thigh muscles, calf muscles, shoulder muscles, etc. The level of intensity depends on the horse's gait and fitness level of the rider. Muscles that able to work for a long time in isometric contraction have different skills compare to flexion and extension of regular workouts. Body builder will not necessarily sustain effortless posture on a walking horse for a period of time. He will get tired very quickly. Skilled male rider will tell you he is relaxed because for him isometric contraction feels like "home", he does not notice it, it is automatic. On the other hand, do not confuse toned muscles with tight and stiff muscles. Toned muscles allow movement to happen, they are like steel rods, they can hold the shape and they can flex . Tight muscles are more like wooden boards, stiff and easy to brake. Relaxed muscles are like ropes, they cannot hold their own shape they collapse and wobble. This is one of many misunderstandings about riding. You must have a sufficient amount of muscle tone when you think you are doing nothing, just sitting on a walking horse. When you feel unbalanced in trot and automatically stiffen up and your instructor tells you to relax it will not fix the problem it will create a new problem on top of the old one.
The amount of muscle tone needed is difficult to explain in words, especially, when everybody has a different starting point. It is interesting that girls and young women have hardest time realizing the necessity of the muscle tone in their core and thigh muscles to control their horses, especially, in trot or canter. It is sort of coming to them in stages. In the beginning they didn't have enough respect for the idea. However, every time they are faced with the challenge they discover the effectiveness of core strength, thigh control, back control, etc. The great part that very often they discover it on their own which is far more effective than me telling them they need more. With older women the story is a little bit different. They take the idea seriously, they understand they need more. However, it is much harder for them to create. They get tired very quickly and come back to old compensatory patterns.
Understanding the importance of muscle tone when you are in the saddle and exercising on regular basis to increase your basic muscle tone are two first steps to start developing more stable and effective seat for riding. For more information on correct posture, core strength and exercises to develop your muscle tone visit my website.
Happy riding...
 
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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