Pelvic Floor muscles. Their role in riding.
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Saturday, October 24, 2009 08:04 PM
One of my students asked me about the role of Pelvic Floor muscles in riding. She recently started Pilates program and Pilates call upon engaging Pelvic Floor muscles a lot because they are a vital part of the core.
First of all lets talk about what is Pelvic Floor and where these muscles are located. It is the bottom of your torso, literally, the very base of the pelvis between pubic bone, seatbones and tailbone (coccyx). Pelvic Floor consists of several muscles, however, the most important one is Pelvic Diaphragm(PD). The following is an insert from one of my absolute favorite books "Anatomy of Hatha Yoga" by H.David Coulter - The deepest layer, the pelvic diaphragm, is a broad, thin sheet of muscle and fasciae that spans the entire diamond-shaped region, encircling the anus posteriorly and lying deep to the genitals anteriorly. Seen in three dimensions it is shaped like a deep hammock. Stand up and envision such a hammock at the base of the body. It is suspended between the pubic bones in front and sacrum behind, and it supports the internal structures of the pelvic cavity...(P. 179)
What role does engaging pelvic floor muscles play in riding? Do we need them to be engaged? Because they are the bottom part of our core structure and riding requires activation of the core the obvious answer is "Yes", we have to activate pelvic floor muscles for riding. However, it is not that difficult. With correctly done Abdominal Push the PD is activated through the reflex that connects deep abdominal muscles, pelvic diaphragm and multifidus (small muscles of the vertebral column). The only time we relax PD during Abdominal Push is when we go to the bathroom and strain for the bowl movement. If you do exercises to develop your Abdominal Push you do not need specific workouts for your pelvic floor muscles. During riding they will be activated in accordance with intensity of Abdominal Push.
If you are not convinced that properly executed abdominal push activates your PD try exercises for developing core muscles. During the exercise focus on the area at the base of your torso behind the pubic bone. During exhalation and increase in intra-abdominal pressure you will feel a tightening sensation in the area which corresponds to activation and lift of PD. It may take some practice to really feel it happening. If you work enough on training your diaphragmatic breathing and Abdominal Push the PD will stay engaged during any activity where core support is required.
My concern with activating pelvic floor muscles lays with overdoing it not with not doing enough of activation. Especially, if you do Pilates and heard from instructor - to activate your pelvic floor muscles think of " pulling the seatbones together". This does not really activate your pelvic diaphragm properly as a whole but only it's rear portion around the anus, plus it is very hard not to engage Glutes and thighs start to rotate outward which will create disastrous consequences for your seat in the saddle. This type of activation usually creates tension in the hip joints. Riders who have chair type seat in the saddle are more inclined to activate a rare portion of PD which will only make things worse. Riders who have neutral pelvis and thighs rotated inward to allow inner thigh muscles lay flat on the saddle will not feel comfortable activating rare portion of PD through the nature of their posture in the saddle. As you can see just the activation of PD is not enough to make it work. It must be done together with activation of the deep abdominal muscles (Abdominal Push) and with proper posture in the saddle.
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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