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Muscle tone – the more the better. Right? Wrong!
‘Tone up’ has become the buzz word of the fitness industry. Unfortunately, this indiscriminate quest for tone usually leads people away from health rather than towards it. Contrary to popular belief, many of our skeletal muscles suffer from too much tone (hypertonicity). Only a minority exhibit a lack of it (hypotonicity) and they tend to do so because their use is being inhibited by the ones that carry too much tone. It naturally follows then, that to tone up muscles that lack tone, we must first deal with the ones that have an excess of it.
As you can see, the distribution of tone among skeletal muscles is never equitably shared out. Some are endowed with too much tone and others are lacking in it. The hypertonic muscles are always found in what Mézières called ‘ muscular chains’ (MCs). Muscle tone is not well understood and many meanings have been ascribed to these words. In popular parlance, tone is a very vague term that is applied both to muscle and to skin.
So, what is muscle tone? It is a permanent, involuntary and slight contractile tension which is present in resting skeletal muscles. It is also the resistance which exists in muscles when they are moved passively. It is controlled by the central and peripheral nervous systems. When muscles develop too much tone, they contract, shorten and pull unduly on the point at which they attach to a bone. Over time, this alters the shape of our bodies and since shape dictates function, our daily activities will start, sooner or later, to become painful and difficult to perform.
The misguided desire to “tone up” extends to “strengthening” our back muscles as well as other muscles in the body. It is a myth which is perpetuated by most schools of physical therapy and most fitness regimes and one which is believed by the vast majority of people with bad backs. It is difficult to explode this myth even though it can be easily demonstrated that painful backs, necks and shoulders are always associated with short, tight muscles that are carrying an excess of tone.