Let’s Start Playing With Those Balls…..

The last couple of weeks we have been playing around with balancing on gym balls.

This week I want to give you a couple of ides of things you can add which ever level you are at to improve your riding.

First test is once you are sitting, 4 point or kneeling on the ball and able to stay relatively still, why not see if you can carefully move from side to side and then go back to neutral -without falling off!

This is an exercise in muscular control and will help you to give very precise aids to your horse as you will be able to fully manage how much you move to give those aids.

How about trying to juggle, throw and catch a ball or have someone throw a ball to you? This is great fun in a group so why not try it with some friends at the yard. Again you can do this sitting or kneeling depending on your current skill level. This exercise works on your reaction times, as well as your ability to move your arms and remain stable. This helps with those unexpected moments and day to day your ability to give rein aids without unbalancing your seat.

Adding shoulder exercises perhaps with a band or cable machine combines shoulder stability with the already working hard hip stability. This again goes back to being able to give aids and remain balanced in your seat, but the elements of both hip and shoulder stability make this quite tricky as I have found many riders (including myself) can have great stability in the hips or shoulders when they focus on them but it is not quite so good when asked to have both at the same time!

I will be posting videos of some of these exercises across my social media.

If you check out my Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/equestrianfitnessnicola/

 

Or My new Channel on Instagram TV. *You need the IGTV App then  follow me on regular Instagram @nicola_equestrianfitness and when you go to IGTV it will show you my content there.

 

Kneeling up on a Gym Ball-2 Point

Soooo you must be a bit of a pro on that gym ball by now?

Now for the final mastery before we start adding movement, bells and whistles!

Time to kneel up onto just your two knees-no hands for balance and just learn to sit there are hang out!

As with the other phases of gym ball work there is totally a point to this other than of course looking really really cool.

When you are in a two point position, to stay still and of course upright you need super duper hip and core stability as well as the ability to hold relaxed muscle tension-which means if you are bracing to try and stay there you will be too tense and actually more likely to fall off.

Once you have the hip stability to kneel and stay relaxed you can move on add extra elements like doing band exercises to work the shoulders at the same time, things to improve reactions and proprioception function like throwing and catching a ball.

So, as we have done every week here is a video to talk you through it. Once you know how it’s not as crazy as it seems but I will say it does require a good amount of hip stability so if you find that one hip is collapsing you need to go back and work on that first.

Also, I did my video outside in the arena (soft landing!) but you can as with the sitting exercise do this by a sturdy table, the fence etc. and use that for balance to help you out at first……………...just don’t fall off and knock yourself out on said fence!

Kneeling on a Gym Ball

Ok, did you have a go at wobbling around on the gym ball?

This week I want to take things up a notch and go to 4 point kneeling. I know it sounds really hard! Honestly it’s not as hard as you think, I’m going to talk you through it on the video and most people who have done it this way have cracked it pretty quick and it’s the first step in kneeling up on the ball-which we will cover next week!

So, why should you spend your time trying to kneel on the ball? Well apart from obviously how much fun it is trying and of course how cool you will look, there is actually a point to it in terms of your riding Fitness.

I’m pretty sure you have guessed it’s about core stability but core stability for a rider encapsulates hip stability and shoulder stability. This position on the ball covers core,hip and shoulder stability.

Stable hips will help to control your seat, enable your legs to work effectively and prevent you from gripping or of course falling off! Shoulder stability enables you to retain a good upper body position keeping the rib cage over the pelvis and have a consistent but soft rein contact.

So, not just messing about on a gym ball after all.......

 

Why All The Balls

Well, we’ve been looking at the role of seatbones and using the gym ball to help you get the jist of it. Often I find videos of me or my clients doing daft things on a gym ball get the most traction, maybe people like the novelty value or they see it as some incredible feat that they could only dream of achieving.

 

The thing is I use gym balls a lot in my class and with 121 clients but often it’s not doing the crazy rising trot or throwing balls at each other (although we do that too!) it’s actually because there are loads of reasons to do even the most basic balancing exercises on a gym ball.

 

As you will note the gym ball moves around quite a bit. So in fact the very act of just trying to sit balanced, quietly on one requires core strength. Even more so if you lift your feet.

 

This is where I think the magic lies for riders. Firstly to sit on a gym ball with feet lifted whether in a chair like position or straddled as if in the saddle (i prefer this way) requires you to have level hips and be sat up straight i.e be equal length in your torso front and back……………..so you need neutral spine just like when you are riding. Secondly even if you can’t at first manage to do this and sit still, the very act of shifting around trying to balance and rebalance is exactly what you are doing on a horse all the time. As the horse moves underneath you, your body is constantly making micro shifts to rebalance the whole time-otherwise you’d fall off at even the slightest deviation from straight ahead.

 

So we will start with this, just have a go at sitting and maybe lifting one heel, one foot whatever you are capable of, hold onto a solid object next you if needs be. I’m a big fan if the cheating option if you need it as I find it can be difficult to grasp what correct feels like if you have never felt it, whereas if you have a hand on a table to help you get your balance you can consider which bits of you you need to adjust, switch on or strengthen to help you stay there in future.

 

So let’s leave that as your task for this week. Grab yourself a gym ball, straddle it as if on your horse, find your neutral spine and see of you can lift your feet, stay there and stay still-and if not at least feel good that the constant effort of rebalancing is improving your riding muscles anyway!

Little tip on gym balls. In the fitness world gym ball sizes are recommended according to your height. Under 5 ft 5” 65cm, 5ft5-5 ft 10 75cm and over 5ft10 85cm. This is to do with the alignment of your spine, hips, knees etc for lying on it etc. so different to what we are using it for.

 

From our very unscientific trials in my classes with ladies of various heights from about 5 ft 2 to 5 ft 10 ish we have come to the conclusion that we prefer big balls for this kind of work. (Stop sniggering I know what I’ve said!) so I would say at least a 75cm if you are on the short side but most of my class uses an 85cm. I get the 85cm from Decathlon https://www.decathlon.co.uk/anti-burst-swiss-ball-large-id_8381486.html

Large is 85cm and Medium is 75cm.

Onwards to Canter

Ok, last week we looked at seat bones with regards to walk and sitting trot so hopefully you’ve been practicing all week and now have totallymoveable wigglyseat bones?

 

This week I want to look at Canter.

 

What should our seat bones be doing when we are in canter?

 

Well we should be moving our leading seat bone with the leading leg. So think of the motion it makes. It lifts up, goes forward and comes down to hit the floor, comes back underneath, lifts up and repeats. Your seat bone should follow the same route.

Unfortunately what usually happens is either we sit really deep and push with our seats, or we bounce up and back, up and back…..neither of which is a) very comfortable for us or the horse or b) actually helping us to move with the horse. In order to ride a light, controlled canter we need to be with the stride of the horse completely. If we can do that and get him listening to those seat bones we ca then use that communication to lengthen or collect the Canter. How else did you think the pros were doing it without looking like they were doing anything at all?

So let’s get those seat bones cantering!

Again this can be done standing (members of my class have been known to do it in the que at the co-op!) or on a gym ball

 

Let’s get back to the seat bones of it

Ok, we’ve spent a couple of weeks discussing general areas of fitness but this week I want to delve really deep into what is actually one of the often forgotten basics of riding………………..seat bones!

Now I know you won’t have really forgotten about them, you just kind of forget how important they are in your seat, aids, communicating with your horse………….

The thing is, your seat bones are the foundation of your seat, forming a triangle with your pubic bone, if you are in neutral spine (which of course you are) they are literally what you are sitting on! If you have more weight on one than the other your horse knows and responds, if one is further forward or back your horse knows. We of course give aids with them and you can also use them to increase or decrease speed, they should move in time with every step your horse takes.

Unfortunately, due to erm, well life stuff the muscles surrounding the seat bones such as the Glutes, Hip abductors, adductors, flexors, hamstrings, quads, low back (you get the idea) can all impact on how well your seat bones move. If there are restrictions in these areas you may find your seat bones are not able to move freely and independently.

The good news is with a little practice you can get them back swinging like a skipping imp in no time.

I’m going to take you through some simple “gaits” with your seat bones. You can do this standing or on a gym ball. * I find it easier to grasp the movement standing but better for my riding connection to do it straddling a gym ball i.e as if on  a horse.

Firstly why?

 

Then we will start with walk.

And then speed it up for trot.

Next week we will look at Canter!

The Dreaded Cardio

We’ve been talking about Fitness for Equestrians generally for the past couple of weeks in relation to improving your control over your body and how this improves your performance and potentially then your confidence.

 

It’s been mentioned but we haven’t properly discussed the dreaded……….cardio!!!

 

I reckon you are either a seasoned runner or you avoid anything heart raising altogether (well maybe not everything…..).

 

The thing is cardio fitness has some great benefits for riders.

 

Such as.

 

  • Not being red faced and out of breath at the end of every round!
  • Better ability to ride consistently well from start to finish in your lessons or schooling sessions -or is it just my instructor that goes all boot Camp!
  • Feeling less tired
  • Maintaining better body control
  • Maintaining mental awareness

 

Many of this comes down to your heart being able to pump blood around your body more effectively as your heart will be stronger, and also because you will be more likely to breathe consistently and therefore take in adequate oxygen to power your muscles and brain.

 

There is no need to be scared though as the amount and type of cardio you need to depends very much on your chosen discipline. Although I will explain in a minute how this is not as clear cut but it is a good guideline.

 

Certain disciplines require endurance and steady state fitness

  • Endurance/general hacking
  • Dressage
  • Showing/equitation/schooling
  • Racing

 

Others require short interval fitness.

  • Showjumping

 

And some disciplines require both.

  • Eventing

 

 

The thing is how you gain that fitness is entirely up to you. When people ask me the best exercise to do to get fit I often answer “the one that you will stick to”. As in reality this is true, you see if I said for example it was running, but you hate running then you might go a couple of times then decide not to bother again because you didn’t enjoy it. However if you really like cycling or going to a dance class then this most likely to have an impact on your fitness because you will actually keep doing it!

 

Now if you want to be disciple specific and you are a show jumper then I am sure you are aware that your round will usually be a fast, short burst of energy and then it’s all done. This would tie in well with interval training as this works on the same principle. Something like Tabata intervals which is 20 secs works 10 secs rest x 8 doing whatever you like whether that be running, rowing or burpees would be a really simple and quick way to up your cardio fitness. However you just bear in mind if you have several horses to compete you may need some endurance in their too, but a few sessions of intervals per week regularly should give you enough gas in the tank to manage.

 

Now the endurance sports I listed can be a little less clear cut, as in reality unless you are doing proper endurance riding some interval training will probably be enough to improve your fitness and therefore performance as you aren’t actually training for a marathon.

 

So dressage, schooling etc. If you would prefer short and sharp then go for it, but if you have a cross country round or aforementioned endurance trek then you are going to have to put some steady miles in too.

 

Again how you do these is entirely up to you. If you like running, off you go, but you could also swim, cycle, row, use the cross trainer -there are pros and cons to all of them so it really is whichever one you will actually do!

 

If you are not a serious competitor and just want to stop being out of breath in your half hour lesson, then some brisk walking with the dog will still go a long way to helping.

 

I will reiterate the message though; the best way to improve your cardio fitness for riding is to pick an activity that raises your heart rate, that you enjoy doing and fits into your life so that you will do it consistently.

 

Confidently Fit

This week I presented a demo at White Hill Stud. Also speaking was Camilla Henderson –Sports and Performance Consultant. She gave a talk on Rider Sports Psychology-It was really good and if you are interested in that sort of thing you should check her out.

 

Anyway, one of the things she talked about affecting confidence was competence and fitness.

This resonated with me on a number of levels. Once of course being that fitness is my business but also because from personal experience.

It stands to reason that if you feel weak and wobbly on your horse you are more likely to feel insecure. Also if you feel uncoordinated and not in control of your body this can lead to feeling unsafe.

If this is you then improving how your body performs is definitely a good place to start.

Fitness for riders can be many things dependant on their particular equestrian discipline and of course their own wants and needs.

A few key areas to look at are:

  • Flexibility and Mobility. Having a good range of movement from head to foot ensures your body is able to function uninhibited and without restriction. As riders we do not need extreme flexibility like a gymnast, but any areas where you do not have an average range of movement needs addressing even if I’d does not seem to directly affect your riding. This is because we are joined from head to foot via muscles, tendons and fascia and a restriction in the left foot could possibly affect the function of the rider shoulder and vice versa and all its variants.
  • This refers to balance and muscle strength. Again this does not need to be extreme Strongman style strength but good muscular tone enables us to have better control of our bodies reaction to the horse underneath us and enables us to better hold our position without force or tension.
  • This is a fancy way of saying body awareness and co-ordination. If alongside strength you are able to properly control your body and its reactions this will enable you to feel infinitely more in control and therefore safer as a result of it.
  • Cardio fitness essentially refers to your lung capacity and in simple terms your ability to keep going without passing out! In terms of riding the fitter you are the longer you will be better able to breathe and transport oxygen around your body for energy, but also the longer you will have the physical capabilities to keep giving clear aids and remain in control of your body and also keep a clear mind. The level and type of cardio you require will be different depending on your particular discipline. E.g. a Showjumper needs fitness for a short, fast round like a sprinter, whereas a Cross Country eventer needs fitness for more of a marathon style event.

So, if you do feel that your body needs a little improvement to help you improve in the saddle I hope this has given you an idea of where to start.

If you would like more specific help I offer 121 in person and on line coaching so get in touch!

 

You won’t even notice it’s exercise

Ok, so last week we talked “Car aerobics”

This week I am continuing the theme of things you can do off horse to improve your alignment and body awareness on horse without really doing any “proper” exercise.

I think the easiest way to incorporate sneaky exercise in is to make it fun and easy to fit in.

For this I recommend some props though.

Most popular with riders is a gym ball.

I know it can be a bit cumbersome but having one all blown up and ready to go at home means you can hop on for 5 mins whenever the mood strikes you.

If you work from home using it as a desk chair is a super-efficient way to use it. I actually find it way more comfortable than an actual chair now, and it means I fidget constantly whilst I’m on it.

You can just sit on with your feet on the floor. This in itself makes you sit up straight and use your core muscles. You can try lifting one foot at a time or if you are really strong both feet!

I also like to sit astride it (as if sat on a horse in a dressage saddle) to stretch the front of my hips out-absolutely glorious when they feel tight.

You can of course do all of these things watching TV. So you can pop your favourite soap, drama whatever on and spend say half an hour watching it whilst sitting on a gym ball trying to lift your feet and stay balanced or, kneeling on all fours or kneeling up (carefully! You don’t want to explain your concussion injury was as a result of falling off a gym ball in your living room!)

All of this will massively improve your body awareness and over time your alignment (when it’s good you will stay on) and your core stability.

Slightly less cumbersome to have around the house is a wobble board. These can be bought fairly cheaply online and don’t take up much space. Just standing on one requires good alignment and stability. Try taking phone calls or sending texts/emails whilst stood on it, when you get really good try standing on one leg. Do squats on it during the ad breaks. Get your partner involved and throw a (soft) ball to each other stood on them.

These can all sound like kind of daft suggestions when you compare it to the strength and conditioning programmes you may see event riders doing, but unless heavy weight training is something you want to do then that kind of training isn’t going to work for you.

Just trust me on this one and try some of these out for yourself and watch your body awareness and core stability improve massively without you even noticing you’ve taken up an exercise programme!

 

Riding Life Hacks and Car Aerobics

Isn’t it frustrating when life, the weather, missing shoes or lameness get in the way of you regularly practicing that riding issue you’ve been determined to crack.

 

A while ago I read a book called ‘The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle. In it he talks about how people gain the skills to perform activities such as kick a ball or play an instrument. It is all down to something called Myelin. In simple terms Myelin is the fibres that attach to our nerves to make them send the messages to the muscles to make them do what we are asking. So in order to kick a ball like a premiership footballer you would need to repeatedly kick the ball with the aim being to gain the same power and accuracy in order to build up the necessary myelin fibres to be able to do it.

 

Now I can hear you thinking “well that’s the point, I was practicing every day and then I had to go away for work, or my horse lost a shoe….” well here comes a little life hack-Myelin doesn’t actually know if you are on your horse or not, it just knows what muscles you are trying to move where.

 

So inspired by my friend who is a regular at life hacking riding practice into driving the car and work meetings-(or she might just have worms) here are some things to think about that you can do whilst doing other every day activities.

 

Whilst driving the car or sat in a meeting

  • Can you feel both your seat bones equally?
  • Is your front and back equal length?
  • Are you equal left to right?
  • Are your upper shoulders relaxed?
  • Can you feel a slight retraction of your shoulder blades supporting your arms as they hold the wheel?

These are all postural requirements of riding that you can train your body to do when you are not on a horse, then when you are back on board it will be second nature!

 

Give it a go this week and see if you can feel the difference when you ride from all that extra practice!

 

Biomechanics, Posture and Performance for the Equestrian

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