Sitting Up Tall

Last week we talked about recruiting your core correctly whilst riding by visualising sticking your bottom rib to your hips. I have found this technique works really well, however another element to this is being able to keep the chest open to avoid the shoulders rolling in.

Unfortunately as most of us spend the majority of our time hunched over a desk we struggle to do this and instead bend from our lumbar spine sticking the chest up to create an open feeling in our chest. This unfortunately then undoes all the good work you had done on creating a neutral pelvis and shortening and activating the core at the front.

Remember how I mentioned that the front and back of your body should be the same length? In order to create an open shoulder and chest without compromising this length is to create space at the rib cage and height.

This is actually very subtle when you see it but I promise you the effects can be magical. I have mentioned before how if we are hunched and heavy in front this transfers more weight to the front of our horse, which can go a few ways from a very heavy horse in the hands, being on the forehand or struggling to really use the shoulders-either way it’s not what we are after.

To help you learn this technique I have an exercise for Thoracic extension. That is essentially upper back extension. It is a really subtle and small movement that focuses on keeping that bottom rib to hip with core engaged and then trying to separate the other ribs up and away and from each other.

Begin lying on your front, arms down by your sides.

Engage your abdominals so that you should feel them lift away from the floor a little. Keep your bottom ribs on the floor throughout, gently starting at the top of your chest imagine separating your ribs out and lift forward so that your head will come up but the only movement should be in your upper back. Return to the start position.

This can be made harder by putting your hands on your forehead as this adds additional weight.

This exercise should be done slowly and with real focus on the ribs. Try working up to 2 x 10 reps.

Can You Stick Your Rib To Your Hip?

This week I have been looking at how riders can better activate their core whilst riding. As I regularly come across riders who have great core strength on the ground but struggle to activate this on the horse.

The thing is when on a horse the position many riders often put themselves in actually stretches the abdominals and therefore makes it more difficult for them to work. When we are asked to sit up tall we simply stretch up-often sticking our chests out (your headlights as I call them) and have then created admittedly a taller frame at the front but our abdominals are now in an elongated position and we will be shorter at the back.

In order for our core to work effectively we actually need to be equal in length at the back and at the front.

In order to create this and then be able to use our core effectively we need to be able to stabilise from our bottom rib to our hips and then extend up from our upper ribs to keep the torso straight rather than hunched.

As this is all quite complicated when you first begin to work with it so I am just going to ask you to work on activating the core and imaging you are trying to get your bottom rib closer to your hips for this week.

This can be done by modifying the basic crunch exercise. I very rarely do abdominal crunches with clients as they actually have very little benefit to the abdominals (they actually work the hip flexors) and more potential to cause back pain.

However when done correctly they are a great exercise to teach riders this bottom rib to hip concept.

So I want you to lie on the floor, knees bent feet hip width apart. Your hands go behind your head-purely for support they do not pull on your head at all! Your elbows should also stay out to the sides throughout. You are going to recruit your abdominals and as you breathe out pull them back towards your spine. Do a few breaths like this first to get the hang of it, breathe in let your belly rise, breathe out, recruit and draw in towards your spine. You are trying to prevent your belly from popping up as you lift up. Now breathe in to prepare as your breathe out recruit the abdominals and send your bottom rib towards your hips, your shoulders lifting as you do so. Keep your eyes focused to the top corner of the room. Your belly should not pop up as you lift.

If you feel this in your neck you are not recruiting your abdominals correctly and may need to focus on just the breathing pattern for a while until you master it.

These are really tough to get right so don't be disheartened if you find them difficult.

Work up to doing 3 sets of ten reps.

Next week I will show you part 2 where we learn to then lift from the ribs without switching the core muscles off so get practising these before then!

 

 

 

Sent from my iPad

What Does Your “Bum Shake” Say?

This week I attended The Mary Wanless Ride With Your Mind Demo Day. If you are not familiar with Marys’ work she places great emphasis on rider biomechanics and how we as riders can affect our horses’ way of going. She was years ahead of her time!

One of the things Mary spoke about was the power of a handshake. You know how particularly in Corporate Settings your handshake will give the other person clues about your personality, well every time we get on our horse we give him our own hand shake…………..except it’s a “Bum Shake”.

When you are in the saddle your horse is learning important things about you.

Do you sit heavy or very light?

Are you sat equally on both seat bones?

Do you follow his movement quietly, slide around in the saddle or are you merely perched on top?

Do you sit up near his withers, or back towards his quarters or in the middle?

He is noticing these things and in turn they will affect his way of going for you.

Try to imagine (or actually doing this is really powerful) you are walking carrying a rucksack.

  • The rucksack is very heavy-how does your walk alter to deal with this? Do you lean forward and pull from your shoulders (or perhaps I should say do you go on your forehand…..)
  • The rucksack is very light-how do you walk now? More briskly perhaps-maybe you break into a little jog?
  • The rucksack has a shorter strap on one side so it is pulling one way-how do you walk now? Do you have to alter your posture to try and counteract this? Or maybe you start to drift as you walk?
  • The rucksack is moving around quite a lot-how does that feel? The rucksack is very light and very still-can you still feel it there, are you still noticing its presence?
  • The rucksack is sat very high up on your shoulders-how does it feel? The rucksack is down on the top of your bum-how does that feel?

You are your horses’ rucksack. Except in your horses case the rucksack also has limbs attached that wrap around his middle and attach to his head so he can feel every breath.

Next time you ride your horse think about the bum shake greeting you give him and then ask what kind of rucksack you would be?

If you aren’t convinced you are good load to carry it might be time to do some schooling on yourself.

 

Farm Foods….

Well we have had a little taste of some spring weather-if you blinked you may have missed it!

However with the clocks going forward we can’t be too far away from light nights and long weekends at the stables. These are the days that make all the mud wading through winter worth it.

With those long days at the yard our diet can go one of two ways.

  1. We don’t eat all day
  2. We eat unhealthy convenience food.

Both of these options can leave us lacking in energy and concentration which is bad news for riding our horses.

We often forget to think of our own nutrition for riding but it is every bit as important as our horses in terms of performance. If we do not provide ourselves with adequate fuel we will lack the strength and energy to ride at the best of our ability.

This can be difficult if we are eating on the run at the yard but with a little planning there are some great options.

  • Instant porridge is great. It can be bought in pots and you just need to add water and within minutes you have a healthy, filling and tasty meal. You can keep them in your tack room ready for whenever you need them.
  • Protein shakes. These can be made up in advance and shaken up before drinking or take a shaker with the powder in and you can add water or milk when you want it.
  • Snacks like nuts, granola or protein bars make great filling options that can be kept in a cupboard at the yard-make it a vermin proof box if you can though.
  • Prepare in advance. I know you think you don’t have time but I promise you start it becomes a really quick, efficient process which means you always have a healthy meal prepared, ready to take to the yard with you.
  • Take some fruit with you –and share with your horse!

So next time you are in the supermarket drop in a few healthy yard snacks to fuel you up for a summer of riding success.

 

Shoulder,Hip, Heel Alignment

There is so much to think about when we are riding that focusing on our own alignment can be really difficult. Also, we can’t see what we look like so what we think is happening is not always the case.

The basic principle of alignment is that the shoulder, hip and heel should be in line.

That is the bony middle point of your shoulder, the side of your hip bone and roughly the back of your ankle bone.

It is often said that you should ask if you would land on your feet if someone took the horse out from under you? I reckon the shock of my horse disappearing would make me fall over-he he!

How this looks in principle will actually look different on everyone as we are made up of different lengths of torso, legs etc. but the points should still match up.

So why do we sit in this alignment?

The answer is balance and security. If your legs are too far forward you are more likely to be leaning back and therefore behind the horses movement; if you are leaning forward with your leg back if your horse suddenly slams the brakes on well………..There are also many variants in between also and in some way they will either be unbalancing your horse or putting you in a vulnerable position-y’know more vulnerable than being sat on half a ton of muscle with a mind of its own!

So, if we are sat with our shoulder, hip and heel aligned we are more likely to be sat centrally in the saddle with equal weight on the seat bones.

Obviously this is not actually always the case as our bodies can make all sorts of compensations to make it look or feel like we are doing all of this but in reality we are not.

A great way to practice and get the feel of what is correct is obviously to be videod whilst riding, being told when your alignment is correct and giving feedback on your seat bones. Sometimes what feels all wrong to you is actually correct! You have to embrace the wrong!

Aside from doing this on your horse I often use a gym ball to teach riders to feel what balance is in their seat.

Sitting astride a gym ball lift your feet up. Firstly this should give you an idea of shoulder, hip heel alignment (roughly as if you have particularly long legs you may have to bend them quite a bit to achieve this!)

Once your feet are lifted-firstly can you stay upright on the ball?

Is it rolling one way or the other?

Maybe you are staying on but it’s quite hard work to stay still?

This when you start to experiment with your body, moving your pelvis, maybe your waist or your shoulders to find that point where you are sat astride, feet lifted and fairly relaxed with the ball pretty much still.

The front and the back of your body need to be the same length which will maintain your neutral spine, once you have got this you need to have just enough muscle contraction to hold it but not so much that you are tense and bracing. If you can start to move the ball around underneath you but still return to neutral without putting a foot down you’ve cracked it-think horse spooks and you regain control!

I know this can be tough-trust me I’ve spent hours! But it’s a really great way to play around with your seat at home and you can hold onto things for balance, do it in front of a mirror whatever you need to get some improvement and you can then build on it from there. Practice makes perfect!

Here’s a little video of me taking you through this.

Don’t forget it’s less than a fortnight until our Bootcamp starts at Warren Farm Formby, places are limited so to secure yours click here. www.equestrianfitness.co.uk/upcomingevents

 

Riding With The Brakes On?

I imagine as a rider you have inner thighs of steel!

We use them for so much-forward, sideways sometimes for stability. We also by the very nature of sitting on a horse ask them to work in an extended position i.e. with the ends of the muscle furthest away from each other. Ordinarily when we want to work a muscle we contract it by bringing the origin and insertion (that’s either end) closer together –think bicep curl in the gym; the bicep is brought closer to the body to lift the weight.

When riding we elongate the adductors (inner thigh muscles) and then ask them to work in a static position there.

Then in our everyday lives we walk around with them typically in their shortened position as our legs are together. So we are contracting them to walk and then we ask them to contract when we ride-do they ever get a day off!

Now, many of us will have been led to believe that rock hard inner thighs are a good thing. Whilst a strong inner thigh is a good thing we also need to balance that with a relaxed inner thigh. This is because as mentioned we use them as aids to our horse so if they are always switched on…..you guessed it you are always giving an aid! Depending on a number of factors some being you and some being the schooling of your horse this can present in a number of ways. Most commonly you are riding with the handbrake on as you will lack a true lightness in your seat and will therefore be giving a very subtle slow down signal to your horse.  This then causes you to have to nag constantly with your leg and label your horse lazy.

It can also have the opposite effect on some horses as a grip on the inner thighs may mean “go” and this will be when you start to suspect you have electric jodhpurs as you swear you didn’t put your leg on!

To be honest the very nature of wrapping your legs around a horse means you will have good range of motion at your inner thighs they just need to learn to let go.

The first exercise I want to take you through is a technique called gliding. You will take the muscle to a stretch position and then move gently forward and back before increasing the stretch a little more and holding it. The stretch is passive as your hands are used to take your weight giving your body greater chance to relax into the stretch.

The second exercise aims to encourage opening at the hip joint but also stability of the pelvis. If we cannot open our hip with a stable pelvis this will affect our adductors ability to relax when we ride. I short it will become stiff to help stabilise the pelvis-so you are back to riding with the brakes on.

Begin standing with weight evenly spread between both feet. Then lift one leg and place the sole of the foot on the inside of the other leg-wherever it is comfortable there is no “correct” place for it to go. Place your hands on the front of your hip bones to ensure that the stay facing forward throughout. Now take the lifted knee out to the side keeping the foot on the other leg. Continue bringing the leg in and out for a count of 5. Repeat on the other side.

Don’t forget just two weeks until the Equestrian Bootcamp begins at Warren Farm, Formby. Places are limited so please secure your slot now if you want to join us!.

Are You Stable?

I talked last week about hip mobility, however equally as important is Hip Stability.

When I discuss the demands of riding to other fitness professionals they often struggle to grasp that we want flexible, mobile but also very stable hips-it’s basically the holy grail!

Well, it is possible and I am going to show you how.

It is important to ensure your hips stay as still and level as possible throughout these exercises. If you struggle just do a couple at a time and as you get better you can do more. Quality not Quantity is key!

Bridge.

Begin on the floor, knees bent feet flat on the floor. Tuck your tailbone under and lift your hips off the floor. Your aim is to create a straight/diagonal line from shoulders to knees.

The Bridge exercise seems very simple at first glance. However there are a number of things to be aware of.

  • Your Glutes/Bottom should be doing the work not your Hamstrings. If you feel your hamstrings burning make a conscious effort to squeeze your glutes more.
  • Ensure your Knees are in line with your hips-not falling in or out
  • Your Torso should be in straight line, your spine should be in neutral neither dipped nor arched
  • Your feet should both be pointing forward and underneath your knees
  • If possible have your arms/elbows off the floor-if you struggle to remain balanced you can work up to this.

Once you have grasped Bridge, we are going to really test your stability.

Once in your Bridge, You are going to maintain your alignment and lift one foot off the floor. I like to put my hands on my hips to check for movement. Also ensure your elbows are off the floor too! Return this foot and then repeat on the other side. Aim to do 10-30 reps.

 

I’d love to know how you get on!

It’s all in The Hips

I’m sure you know how important your hips are as a rider. They are your main source of communication with your horse. They give aids, receive feedback as well as help you stay on board.

Unfortunately, our hips are also responsible for an awful lot day in day out and that can cause them to become less mobile. They may feel stiff or tight or perhaps they just won’t do as they’re told!

These are two great EquiPilates™ exercises that can help you to articulate your hips better.

One of them is standing and requires no equipment (except a good soundtrack and plenty of sass!) and the other uses the Gym Ball.

This exercise forms part of the EquiPilates™ Standing Series.

Trotting Hips

Standing up with your spine in neutral (Think tailbone tucked under, stomach pulled back to spine.) Keeping your rib cage still and imagine that your spine is a pole directly through your body. Swivel your hips one at a time around the pole your knee will bend as you do this. I think it helps to imagine you are the front two legs of your horse trotting.

Video Link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbyNppL03gw

Push the Button.

The second is similar but sat down on a Gym Ball. I find this one easier. Sitting up tall, sat on the ball feet flat on the floor hip width apart in front of you. Push one knee forward as if to press a button in front of you, return it and then push the other knee forward. Start slow and then increase the pace. You are looking to keep your hips level as you do this and the ball should not wiggle around too much.

Video Link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUlPZ60kTFo

What If You Could See Yourself?

I hope you have enjoyed the recent exercise based blogs. Let me know if you would like more of the same or indeed anything else?

Today I just want to give you a little tip on how to make some great improvements in your riding for very little time or money.

Just by using your smart phone or tablet. Oh and you might need a friend to hold it.

Have you ever videoed yourself riding? It can be really eye opening and in fact a really simple way to help you improve. Often with our bodies, what we think it is doing is not necessarily what it is doing. Or perhaps you have a little habit you are not aware of-looking down, tipping forward or nagging with your legs. The suddenly you watch yourself on a video and you realise why you are not getting your desired result.

It can be so powerful to video your lesson or even part of it and see for yourself what your instructor sees and how you respond to the instructions given. I have found myself better able to correct my position after I have watched it in action. Next time I am on board I am able to re consider where my head or hands are or if I am sat straight.

So, why not try this out for yourself, have a friend or trainer video you riding and then watch it back and see where you can improve.

I’d also love to see some of your videos so send them over!

 

More Work On Your Balls

So last week we did so totally riding specific core work. This week we are going to do some more great core exercises although I guess what you would call more “traditional” exercises. They are of course still relevant to riders and I will explain why as we go along.

 

Plank on ball-Core without supported hands

plank on ballPlank with your hands on the ball is a great exercise. It encourages you to maintain a stable core whilst your hands are not so stable-like you know every time you ride! This will firstly stop you using your reins for balance but will also help you out if your horse moves his head around perhaps sneezing, or pecks on landing after a jump. No more toppling over the head gymnast style for you!

To do this exercise. First ensure you have a firm footing. I tend to start on my knees with this to get my arms in position and then lift my knees to full plank. If you need to start just staying on your knees that’s fine you can work up to lifting them. Try holding it for up to a minute-5 seconds is totally fine as a starting point!

Stir the pot-This is essentially upping the ante of the exercise above. You know if it was too easy! Once you are comfortable in your plank slowly move your arms with the ball in a small circle, first left then right. Do 10-30 each way.

 

Reverse Hyper Extension. I know most of you wouldn’t see this as a core exercise, but the reverse hyper extension will work both your glutes and lower back. This is important as the glutes are the biggest muscle in the body and also play a supporting role in hip and core stability. So strong booty=strong core. The lower back forms part of the core and is an often underused area of the body. It is an area many people experience pain and would therefore be wary of working; but that is exactly what it needs. If we strengthen the area we make it better able to cope with the demands we place upon it.rev hyper 2

Lie over the ball with your hands on the floor. Your hip bones should be in the middle of the ball and your legs and feet lifted. Squeeze your glutes together and lift both your legs up so they are a few inches higher than your glutes. You should also feel your lower back working here too. Do -10-30 reps.

Ball Pike. This move requires core control whilst moving. This obviously happens constantly whilst riding i.e when you use your ball roll in 1hands, your leg, move into a jumping seat the list goes on.  Ok, people have different methods of erm “mounting” the ball. I like to roll myself forward over it and into a press up position walking out until only my feet remain on the ball.ball roll in 2

You can keep up to your knees on the ball if you need a little more stability. Then you are going to roll the ball in with your feet/knees towards your hands. You can do this firstly with knees bent and then if you can do this try it with legs straight with your feet on the ball.ball pike

Biomechanics, Posture and Performance for the Equestrian

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