Riding Fit

Core Stability for Riders

May 22, 2012

Learn how to strengthen your core to improve your back and leg endurance while riding.

By Emily J. Harrington

My last entry addressed endurance and stamina as part of your workout plan to stay in shape for riding.

Next, I’ll look at what you, as a rider, can do out of the saddle if your back and/or legs get tired while you are riding.

I can’t say it enough:  Core, core, core! We are talking abdominals, chest and back muscles. Think of it like posture maintenance. How many of you slouch around at work and home, until you find yourself in the saddle miraculously sitting up straight like you are dining with the Queen of England? Are you slowly raising your arm?

Most of us have an imbalance of back strength to abdominal strength. Think of the front to the back of your upper body staying in constant communication. If your ab muscles are not talking, then your back is going to be doing all the work it can to keep good posture in the saddle.

But there’s more: If your belly muscles aren’t helping out when you ride, not only is your back doing double duty but so are your legs. Yup, imagine your legs having to do the work of not only supporting your horse’s position and gait, but also being responsible for keeping the upper body still.

So what is core stability? It’s the ability to maintain proper alignment and posture in the upper body (back, chest and abdominals) while legs and/or arms perform specific movements. Let’s test stability out of the saddle with this basic test: Put yourself on your hands and knees. Your hands should be shoulder width apart and right below the shoulders.  Your knees should be hip width apart and right below your hips. Your spine, including your neck and head, should be straight or in neutral, your best posture. Extend your right arm and your left leg at the same time in one long line and hold this position. How stable do you feel? Now, add a hamstring curl with your extended leg (your heel will come toward your seat while maintaining a straight upper leg). Repeat the curl 8-10 times. Keep breathing, and engage your ab muscles to assist in balancing your stable position.

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Adding core work to your current exercise plan will give your legs a break and make riding more effortless. Even if performing the above stabilization exercise is not particularly challenging, working on some plank exercises and more flexion exercises such as Pilates is a balanced way to approach a fit body for riding. Also, crunches can be very useful for core strength. Also, be sure to incorporate good stretching into your workout routine.

Good luck with these core-stability exercises. You back will thank you for it!

– Emily J. Harrington, CPT, equestrienne fitness trainer, is a multiple AQHA world champion and top-10 World Show finisher. Visit her website, www.bodybalancefitness.org.