So last week we started with some anti-spasm exercises to try and eliminate any muscle spasm in the glute area.
Have you been doing your homework? If not please start them for at least a week before adding in the stretches. As I mentioned last week stretching a muscle in spasm will potentially make it worse so to be on the safe side we must treat any potential spasm before we move onto stretching.
If you have keep it up and add on these stretches. Both of these will stretch directly the muscles surrounding the sciatic nerve. It is important to try and relax as much as possible – I know that can be difficult if it hurts so take some long, slow and deep breaths as you stretch it out.
Starting on all fours, take your right leg diagonally underneath you, send your left leg back as far as it will go. Keep your hips square. You can also lean forward to increase the stretch. Hold for 60 secs
Figure 4 Stretch.
Bend both knees, cross your right ankle over your left knee and lift your left leg up, taking hold behind the knee. Try to keep your shoulders relaxed. Repeat other side. Hold for 60 secs
Try and do these stretches every day if you are suffering, after doing the anti spasm exercises.
The more I speak to Equestrians regarding their fitness the more I meet who suffer with Sciatica.
Now I’ll be honest Sciatica is pretty common in general. As the Sciatic nerve runs parallel to the Piriformis which is one of our hip muscles. Due the increasingly sedentary nature of our lives, sitting down all day causes tightness in the front of our hips as they are shortened all day and weakness in the back as they are lengthened and therefore not activated all day.
If you do yard work all day, the constant bending over or poor posture when standing/teaching etc. can also create the same issues.
Then when we ride we actively try to stretch out and use our hip flexors, so depending on our particular problem we are either asking a weak muscle or muscle in spasm to work or trying to stretch out a long and weak muscle. Either way recipe for disaster i.e.pain in the bum literally!
Any tightness, weakness or impingement of our hip flexors particularly our piriformis will inhibit our Sciatic Nerve as it is intertwined between them.
Now without giving a thorough assessment I can’t tell you which side of the coin you are on whether that be weak, tight or in spasm and to be honest even the most advanced of physios will not be able to give you a 100% answer. So, what I would suggest is working from the safest possible point and that is to try to release any muscle spasm first. That is because treating with a muscle release will either a) release the spasm ready for stretching or b) if it is not in spasm it will do no harm. However trying to stretch a muscle in chronic spasm will actually make the problem worse! So safest option first.
So to take out any potential chronic muscle spasm in the piriformis I recommend to my clients an anti spasm exercise called 4 Sign.
This can be done either seated or lying down.
Cross your leg over the opposite knee ensuring that your ankle bone is on the outside of that knee. Press up into your hand with your leg at 20% of Maximum Effort for 20 seconds, rest and repeat Do this 4 times each side 4 x per day
This should be done for at least a fortnight before moving onto stretching. So I’m not going to tell you about that yet as I don’t want you jumping ahead!
As Equestrians we all know that we need good core stability, and if you ever ask for a good way to improve it you will more than likely get told to plank.
The Plank is a great exercise for core stability however is it really riding specific?
Don’t get me wrong I am aware that to be completely riding specific you would need to do it on your horse…………………..anyone?
However there are ways to make things more specific for your sport by considering the movements, actions and muscles at work whilst you are performing.
In riding we use our core stability to absorb the movement of our horse (i.e. to stop us wobbling around) but we are also doing a lot of other things with our legs and hands at the same time.
So, we use our core but we are not on a stable surface and our arms and legs don’t stay still either!
Which is where I think the Plank starts to look a bit basic. If you are new to core training or new to riding then a stationary plank is a great place to start but for those of us a little later in the game it’s time to up the ante with our Planks!
So what are we trying to achieve?
Firstly we want a stable core whilst moving arms and legs.
So how about lifting opposite arms and legs whilst maintaining a stable plank? You could also try moving the lifted arm and leg away from you too.
Then we want a stable core whilst the ground underneath is not stable.
If you have a gym ball try doing a plank with your forearms on the ball, and if you want an extra challenge circle your arms as if stirring a pot.
I think Equestrians have come late in the game to fitness.
For years it has been considered enough to just ride the horse and that be it, and if you needed to improve things you rode some more.
Is that really all there is to it?
The professionals and those competing at the top level have over recent years recognised how improving their own general fitness improves their riding too.
The likes of Laura Tomlinson do Pilates, Jay Halim is now a seasoned lifter and runner and many eventers supplement their riding with time in the gym or out running. In fact strength and conditioning has even reached jockeys training regimes.
If you are a happy hacker you may be thinking that surely you don’t need to be that fit, however how your body moves has a huge impact on your horse-you are sat on top of him!
If we are stronger we are able to carry our bodies more effectively and therefore have a lighter seat. We are also able to use our bodies more effectively in particular our core to give clear aids, and hold ourselves in balance rather than relying on our arms or legs which can give mixed messages to our horse, or cause them to brace and become tense themselves to try and counteract us.
If we are more flexible we are able to move with our horses movement, again this gives us a lighter seat, and enables better aids. Doing mobility work can help to prevent asymmetry which long term could have caused asymmetry in our horse. It also prevents areas of tightness or tension that could affect our position and aids and therefore cause confusion to our horse. Your legs may have said go but your hips said whoa!
In terms of cardio fitness we all know that feeling of being out of breath during your lesson. Improving your general fitness will ensure you still finish your lesson strong and therefore get more from it. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to get something perfect only to have to save it for another day because you are too tired to ride it effectively.
So, yes I do think we should improve our own fitness in order to ride not only because it will make us better riders in general but because we owe it to our horses to be the best rider we can be for them.
If you need any help I offer 1 2 1 training in person or online, as well as programme design, classes and workshops. Just hit reply if you want further info.
I have spoken before on the importance of your breathing whilst your ride. http://www.equestrianfitness.co.uk/uncategorized/how-your-breathing-can-improve-your-riding/
However I want to focus less on the hip relaxing today and more on the energy and connection with your horse.
To be honest it can be quite a difficult thing to explain how and why horses respond to our breathing pattern when we ride them and there can only really be hypothetical answers ranging from it being how our body language/position etc. changes subconsciously, they feel vibrations and electromagnetic fields to plain old magic!
So rather than try and give you any of these arguments I’m just going to give you some things to try out and you can come to your own conclusion.
Just sat still on your horse or at a walk breathe right into your belly and then progress this by imagining you are breathing right into your thighs wrapped around your horse. Do this for a couple of minutes just focusing on your breath going right down into your thighs, down your legs and imagining that breath being felt by your horse. How does your horse respond?
If your horse is really tuned in and communicating with you, you may just find he starts to match your breath too, breathing in and out with you so you draw energy from each other’s breath. Imagine how connected you must be for that to happen?
You could also try breathing in for 8 beats (that’s hoof beats not full strides!) and out for 8 beats. This is great way to relax either you or your horse-or both! It can be useful to practice this at home and then it is comforting exercise when you really need it out at a show or on a hack.
When you are in a rising trot and want your horse to stretch down and really use his back, I want you to rise and breath out but think –breath down-yep rise up and breath down! Just try it…….does your horse stretch down a little bit more? This is only way I know how to get a horse to stretch down!
A great way to improve your seat in the sitting trot and canter is to try breathing in for 2 strides and out for 2 strides. This may be because it helps to free up your hips which in turn can also help to free up a lazy horse but to be honest don’t think about the why’s and wherefores just accept the magic as it happens!
I know many of us can still hear our childhood riding instructors bellowing “heels down” as we trotted around the arena.
No matter what we did they would always creep back up-why isn’t toes down a thing? We can do that!
So with the addition of heels or ballet pumps, spending more time sat down we are constantly shortening our lower leg muscles. I know loads of you spend ages stretching your calves on the stairs etc. to no avail.
I’ve got a really simple solution that might just help. You see the function of the lower leg starts on the bottom of your foot. The Plantar Tendon runs underneath your foot and attaches to the Achilles tendon and into the soleus muscle (one of your calf muscles). Any tightness on your Plantar tendon will cause tightness up the whole chain. And let’s face it we walk around on our Plantar Tendon all day so it’s pretty safe to say it needs some TLC.
This just needs a ball. Any ball will do tennis, golf etc. or you can use the spiky physio balls.
Just roll the ball around under your feet, in all directions up and down, side to side. Focus on any sore spots; stretch the arch of your foot out over the ball just for a few minutes each foot. Not only will this loosen up your lower leg so try it before you ride, it also feels really nice at the end of a long day on your feet.
As horse owners we will spend hours researching the best diet for our horses, yet most of us don’t put much thought into our own diets. However, as with our horses a healthy diet will give us enough energy to ride, much out etc. as well as keep us healthy. We need to stay healthy so we are able to look after our horses …………….and go to work to pay for them!
In the real world though we have so much to fit in the day that making time for a healthy breakfast is not a priority. So I’ve got some seriously convenient options to help you make time to muck out early doors and have a breakfast on the go.
There are quite a few recipes for these out there so if you like the idea just not this combination google some other options. You just add oats, a scoop of protein powder (I like chocolate) to frozen cherries, chia seeds and a cup of coffee – you can just milk instead of coffee if you want to. Mix together in a bowl, then portion out in to Tupperware in the fridge to take with you in the morning. You then head to the yard and eat this whilst your horse is breakfasting too!
I make these in advance in a muffin tray and keep sealed in the fridge so they are ready to grab on the go, although you could reheat them if you wished. Using eggs and bacon or ham (quantities will vary depending on how many you make, however for a 12 case muffin tray I use around 10 eggs and 200g of ham or bacon) Whisk eggs, add chopped ham and some mixed herbs, pour into muffin tray and bake in oven on 180° for around 15-20mins, until the top starts to turn golden brown. You could use all kinds of ingredients in these like adding, mushrooms, a little cheese, some veg (peppers, onion. Maybe) or salmon and broccoli whatever you like!
Again so many recipes for this feel free to experiment. I use a Breville Active Blend as you make it in the bottle, blend it and go. It was about £20 and doesn’t take up much room on the worktop!
300ml milk – I use goat’s milk or coconut milk but regular cow is fine.
1 scoop protein powder – I use chocolate, vanilla or mocha.
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1 tablespoon of oats.
Blend and go!
You may not think equestrians and the worlds strongest man have much in common, but if you have a look at the events these guys do they may start to look fairly familiar.
Farmers carry- carry two heavy objects in your for a set distance-y'know like water buckets.
Atlas stones/keg carry-pick up an awkward shaped object carry or lift it onto something-say for example bags of feed/shavings either stacked or out in a feed bin
Car deadlift-anyone else got one of those two wheeled wheelbarrows? We fill it with manure from the field and then we walk it to the muck heap-they just stand still with theirs!
And the tyre flip-ever tried to flip a round bale of hay?
So what am I getting at? As horse owners we are pretty much performing some sort of strongman task daily.So if you want to get fit so that all of these daily tasks feel easier then you may want to consider not deviating too much from the tasks themselves.
So how about little yard fun with this circuit. Ok I'll give you the gym version too if you would rather do it were the regular people exercise. If you are new to exercise you can use objects that are lighter and/or do less reps, just be creative and have fun!
Carry two water buckets, bales of straw or kettlebells/Dumbbells from one place to another say 20 metres and then back again. repeat 10 times
Pick up a bag of feed and hold in on your front. Squat with it 10 times- less if you're struggling! In the gym you can either use a sandbag or place a barbell in the crook of your elbows for a zercher squat.
With a full wheelbarrow (put bags of feed or loads of manure in it)try running as fast as you can between two points. In the gym if your gym has a prowler or sled, great use that if not push a heavy sandbag.
Cue huge intake of equestrian women at 2017 strongman events 😹
You may not believe this but your breathing has a huge impact on your riding, and not just by stopping you from passing out due to lack of oxygen. Your breathing actually has an impact on your biomechanics.
This is mainly because of our diaphragm. The diaphragm is a muscle that separates our thoracic cavity (your ribs essentially) from the abdominal cavity-stomach. The Diaphragm contracts as we breathe in and relaxes as we breathe out.
But in fact many of us don’t use our Diaphragm to breathe.
We spend so much of our day hunched over a desk, breathing from what is then a narrowed chest area. You can test this by putting your hand on your stomach as you breathe normally, does it rise and fall as you breathe? Or does the movement come from your chest?
The diaphragm as well as being involved in the breath, is part of your core structure. The Diaphragm connects to our lumbar spine and our Psoas (a hip flexor that passes from the lower back to the front of your thigh bone through the pelvis). When riding your Psoas muscle enables you to be long down the front of your thigh and have a relaxed swing through your hips. If this area is tight it is a bit like riding with the front brakes on!
The Psoas muscle is a major player in our fight or flight response due to the nerve links from the spine and therefore the brain; and the diaphragm is constricted though concentration, pain, fear and stress.
Think about all of the emotions you may go through whilst riding. Particularly if like me you are a nervous rider. Your emotions not only cause you breathe more shallow which means you do not use your diaphragm, but also the emotion itself will cause tension in your diaphragm and Psoas area.
Perhaps you are a confident rider but practicing a dressage test or some advanced movements. Again your concentration may affect your breathing pattern and your Psoas area.
Even stress from our daily lives could be causing us to hold tension in this area which will cause problems when riding.
Luckily, there is an easy and un strenuous fix. Breathing exercises!
Try this both sitting/standing and lying down. Relax and breathe normally first to see where you are breathing from. If most of the rise and fall is coming from your chest, really concentrate on breathing in through your nose and filling you abdomen with air, imagine breathing right down into your hips and then breathe out through your mouth to release.
Then try it whilst on your horse. Maybe when you first get on and are just walking around spend a couple of laps just concentrating on your breathing. Breathe right across your ribs, into your belly and down to your hips. Long slow deep breaths.
Try to make this a more natural way to breathe for you. I’ve been trying this for a couple of days now and it is definitely starting to become more of an unconscious habit.
Diaphragmatic breathing is also done as relaxation technique as the focus on the breath helps to clear the mind, so if you are stressed or a nervous rider this will be a great way to release tension