Why is Core Stability Important to Riders?|Equestrian Fitness

Written by Tuesday, 22 March 2016 15:32

Welcome to the second of a three-part series of blog articles that will help improve your riding fitness. Last time we studied effective goal setting, which will mentally prepare you for the season and will keep you motivated. The next two blog articles look at our physical rider fitness. Apart from cardiovascular fitness, there are two key elements of fitness that can transform your riding; core strength and suppleness. This blog will cover core strength, and next time we will look at specific exercises to help you become supple and move freely with the horse.

What is core stability?

Your core muscles surround your trunk and are at the centre of your body.  These muscles support your spine and hips, and are involved in performing virtually every movement of the limbs.

Why is core stability important to riders ?

Core stability is essential to riders for a variety of reasons:

• Reduced pain – Having a strong core can help reduce lower back pain because all of the muscles surrounding your spine are stable. Instability in the core area means that you can’t absorb the movement of the horse effectively and over time, this will lead to injury because the ligaments and tissue surrounding the spine will be stressed and overworked.

• Enhanced equine performance –  Having a stable core and supported back will make you a much more elegant rider, and allow your horse to move freely underneath you. Riders that wobble on the horse’s back need to grip with their knees and hands to balance and the result is a tight, tense and short striding horse. A recent study has found the horses whose riders that embarked upon an 8 week core strength programme demonstrated increased stride length by the end of the programme. A top rider will create the illusion that they are totally still on the horse. In fact, they are moving at one with the horse, creating a magical harmony that many of us think we can only dream of. With our exercises, this harmony IS possible to achieve.

• Reduced risk of injury – Your core is your centre of gravity and a strong core will help you stay ‘with the horse’.  A strong core renders you more secure in the saddle so that if your horse spooks you will be far less likely to fall off and injure yourself. Strong muscles around the core will help protect your neck, back and hips in the event of a fall.

• Co-ordination - Your limbs are connected to your trunk, therefore unless you are balanced and stabilised in your core, it will be impossible  to move your hands and legs independently of your seat.

Core Exercises

We have outlined below some simple exercises you can use to strengthen a number of muscles in your body, including your core, lower back and shoulders. You don’t need any equipment for these exercises other than a mat or something comfortable to lie on, and there are several variations to ensure you perform the exercises at a level that is suitable for you. Many of the progressions can be carried out with an exercise ball, which adds a bit of fun as well as an increased level of difficulty.

The Plank. What it is.

This is a very popular and simple way to improve the strength across your upper body and core.

How to do it.

Start by kneeling on the floor with your hands shoulder width apart, as though you are about to do a push up.

Engage your abdominal muscles. Take a deep breath in, exhale and rest your weight on your forearms, and lift your knees off the floor, so that the only part of your body that is in contact with the floor is your toes and your forearms.

Keep your spine in a neutral alignment, and hold the body in this position for as long as you can.

Build up from twenty seconds, to up to two minutes over time.

Variations.

To make it easier:

If the above exercise is too challenging, and you are struggling to keep your spine in a neutral position, keep your knees on the floor whilst you rest your forearms on the floor.

Engaging your core in this position will help build your muscles sufficient to be able to perform the full plank. Gradually introduce the full plank for 10 seconds at a time.

To make it more difficult:

Try the plank, but with lifting a limb, and alternating which limb you lift.

Widen your stance and hold yourself up with your hands instead of your forearms, to increase the challenge.

Once you are good at both of these amendments, rest your legs on a Swiss ball rather than the floor, which provides an uneven base to improve your balance as well as your core stability.

Side plank. What it is:

This exercise works the oblique abdominal muscles and helps to prevent the dreaded ‘collapsed hip’.

How to do it.

Lie on your left side, with your body in one long line.

Take a deep breath in, exhale, engage the abdominals and lift your left hip and knee off the floor so that your weight is in the side of your left foot and in your left forearm.

Hold the position for as long as you can – up to two minutes, and then repeat on the right side.

Variations.

To make it more difficult:

When you are on the left side, rest on your left hand rather than the floor.

You can lift your right arm up and stretch it towards the ceiling.

Once you are confident in this position, you can also lift and lower your right leg, to give further challenge to your oblique muscles and also to improve your balance.

Dead bugs. What it is:

This exercise is aptly named, because when you complete the full extended version you look like a beetle stuck on its back! The exercise involves extending your limbs away from your centre of gravity, whilst keeping your pelvis neutral, which is a real challenge for your core.

How to do it.

Lie on your back with your spine in a neutral position, with your knees bent, and calves parallel to the floor. Take a deep breath in to engage the abdominals.

Exhale and lower your right leg and right arm to the floor, using your core muscles to keep your back flat to the floor.

Return to the start position and repeat on the other side. Aim for 10 repetitions on each side.

Variations.

To make it easier:

If your lower back lifts off the floor when you complete this exercise, you are making it too difficult for yourself and can cause injury. If this is the case, reduce the distance that your limbs move away from you.

The easiest option for this exercise is to have one foot on the floor with the knee bent, whilst the other one lowers. In this situation, the bent leg helps support the neutral position of the pelvis.

To make it more difficult:

Move both legs and both arms away from the body simultaneously. You have to be very strong through your core to maintain a neutral alignment of the spine with this variation of the exercise.

Once you have mastered the exercise with both legs and both arms moving at the same time, use an exercise ball to add additional weight and therefore challenge. Pass the ball from your hands to your ankles, and alternate whether you lift and lower the ball with your hands, or your legs.

If you practise these exercises regularly (at least twice a week), you will certainly notice a change in your riding. Let us know how you get on in the comments below. Which do you find the hardest and which do you enjoy the most?

 

Lucy Field-Richards

 

 


 

Lucy Field-Richards : Lucy owns Ride Fit Equestrian, and is from Nottinghamshire.

Qualifications : First class BSc (Hons) Equine Sports Science (Equestrian Psychology),  BHSAI, Diploma in Equine Sports Massage Therapy

Lucy is a lecturer in Equine Science at Nottingham Trent University.

 

 

 

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3 comments

  • Comment Link Dressage Hafl Tuesday, 09 August 2016 09:07 posted by Dressage Hafl

    oh my reminds me of being pretty lazy in this respect recently -.-

  • Comment Link Ellie Fells Saturday, 26 March 2016 12:03 posted by Ellie Fells

    These look really good, and after all the Easter chocolate eating I think I'm going to need to give some a go! I definitely need to improve my core strength!!

  • Comment Link Julie Moore Thursday, 24 March 2016 08:39 posted by Julie Moore

    Thanks for this, I regularly do the plank with my arms straight, as really easy to do at home, doesn't take long and has so many benefits but will definitely try these additional exercises too :)