Core training for Equestrians
When I go through applications to my rider coaching programme I read the problems riders are facing. Over 75% of riders who have applied to work with me in the past 6 months say they are struggling from a lack of core strength and confidence.
Core strength and stability is absolutely essential for equestrians but it’s important to understand what the core is, the role it plays and how to make sure you functionally strengthen it so that it then relates directly back into improving your riding & is specific to the strength & movement you need in the saddle.
The body is a kinetic chain so one thing leads to another, so core strength is not the only thing you want to be focusing on but it is a big area and should be a focus for riders of all disciplines. First of all, what we need to identify is what is the core?
I would imagine the majority of you would think, well that is the middle of my body in my stomach area, my abs, and all about the sixpack. However, your core is defined as all of the muscles that attach to the pelvis. So that is everything on the back and front of your body from below the chest to mid-thigh. Your abdominals, oblique's and deep core muscles most definitely make up part of the core structure but so do your glutes, hip flexors, lower back muscles and it’s important to remember this as we need to make sure we are training all of these muscles & train the core as the whole unit it is.
So now we know what we need to train why do we need a strong core when riding?
The role of the core is to stabilise and balance us. You can think of your core and trunk as being like a tree trunk.
The branches (our arms & legs) can move but the trunk is nice and solid and gives stability to the rest of the tree. What we want is to have is the ability to move our limbs freely whilst remaining stable through the core. The core acts as a shock absorber for the spine so it’s important that we think about how we can train our core as effectively as possible to help reduce lower back pain and make our spine stronger for the long term.
Riding is obviously a sport with a high injury rate to the spine and pelvis areas so the more you can do to strengthen those areas the better! Training them & making them stronger obviously won’t stop you from picking up an injury, we all know that riding is unpredictable, but at least it will make you that bit more bulletproof and if your stronger events like hitting the ground & hard impact aren't going to have such a bad effect on your body!
So now you understand the role of you core how do we make sure we train the core effectively?
That is the key and making sure that what we are doing translates to the movements our core is responsible for in the saddle & the muscles that we use when riding is what we want to make sure our training does.
We want the body working as one unit but we want our limbs to move independently, the core to support and balance us and then we can ride effectively, give quiet yet quality aids and get the most out of our horses. Working on your core will help improve your posture, balance and stability and if you are a little one-sided your core training will definitely highlight this.
Now I have explained what the core is, why you need it and what it does we now need to make sure that you are training in a functional manner, so let’s look at what we can do to build your strength. What we want to be doing is dynamic movements that work different muscles, and get our core working through the full range of motion & movements as it designed to do whilst we maintain stability & position.
Our core has three main movement patterns. What we’re doing when we are training is increasing our strength to be able to resist these movement patterns & retain stability.
Anti lateral flexion
Make sure within your core training you include an exercise for each area above and that will make sure your training is balanced and effective.
When you are first getting started or are new to training I would highly suggest starting with understanding how to control your pelvis then move to stabilisation exercises and then when you have control in those move on to adding dynamic movement in. The more you get used to the movements your strength and capability will improve and you’ll be more confident to push to the next level whilst keeping good form & therefore executing exercises safely. Here are a few exercises for you to try!
Pelvic control; First of all we need to have the ability to control our pelvis, this is fundamental for core strength. Having the ability to move in & out of anterior to posterior pelvic tilt is the 1st step so play around getting this movement
Level 1 Deadbug Holds; Maintaining a posterior hold throughout the exercise, using your core muscles to keep contact with your ribcage, back & the floor throughout
Level 2 Dynamic Deadbug; Adding in a leg & arm extension to intensify the movement. You're aiming to avoid your spine going into extension as you reach & maintain stability
Level 3 Double Deadbug; Moving all 4 limbs whilst maintaining contact with the floor & your ribcage. This will really challenge your ability to resist extension!
The above exercises target the transverse abdominis, pelvic floor, and erector spinae muscle group
Level 1 Side plank on knee; use your bottom knee on the floor to support you & give you more stability. Holding the position by lifting from the bottom foot, hip, elbow & sid.e
Level 2 Full side plank, increasing the challenge by reducing your contact with the floor & therefore increasing the stability demand. Think of lifting your bottom side off the floor & up to the sky.
Level 3 Single arm carrys; Imagine you're carrying a heavy water bucket on 1 side through the yard. The goal of the exercise is to not collapse into the loaded side therefore you're using your lateral core stabilisers to maintain stability, balance & posture.
The above will strengthen the same core muscles as previously as well as your obliques & lateral hip stabiliser muscles such as the glutes!
Level 1 Plank Toe Taps; Start by simply tapping the left toe to the left then the right & alternate. The aim is to have no rotation through the trunk as you do your taps-your midline remains totally stable!
Level 2 Plank Taps; Progressing to reducing the amount of contact you have with the floor. Testing stability by tapping the opposite hand to the shoulder & holding your form whilst in a 3-point plank position
Level 3; Pallofpress; 1 of the best core exercises out there! You are resisting the pull of the band, so you press the band out from your chest directly in front of you & you are not letting the band pull you towards it. Maintaining your position, stability & balance is the key here!
These exercises will work your deep core muscles, glutes, shoulder, obliques & abdominals.
I hope this gives you a good starting point to get your core & ab training underway & remember to keep the movements & training you do functional so it has specificity to your riding! If you have any questions please do let me know & enjoy your training