Do I need to warm up before I ride?
Last week I took part in my first ever podcast! It was a privilege & a very nice surprise to be invited onto The Pony Podcast by hosts Tess & Alex; search the pony podcast on spotify there are some great episodes! It was a really exciting experience & a great way to reach more listeners and riders that need help when it comes to rider fitness. There were some great questions put to us by the listeners & one really good question that came up was;
Do I need to warm up before I ride?
So as always the message is the same here; apply the same principles you apply to your horse to yourself.
Just stop & think about it for a minute, if you were planning a day of schooling & your horse had been stood in all day you wouldn’t just drag him out the box, jump on go into sitting trot & start asking for half pass or flying changes, would you?
Of course not. None of you would even dream of doing that with your horses, I hasten to guess you’re probably quite horrified by that prospect yet time and time again you do exactly that to your own body so absolutely we should be warming up before we ride most definitely. Before you partake in any physical activity, training, or riding you should be warming up and it will help to not only get you physically ready but also mentally get you in the right zone as well as improving & helping the way your horse goes.
Now you know the answer to the question that yes you should be warming up before you ride just as you would for a training session or run I bet your next question or thought is; what on earth am I meant to do?
So what you want to be focusing on when it comes to warming up is dynamic movement. As opposed to static stretching, where you hold a stretch for a period of time statically. Doing this before you’ve ridden or trained will just be pulling a cold muscle & won’t give you much benefit so you want to focus on moving your muscles and joints through that dynamic range of movement. The majority of you probably spend much of your day seated with that either being stuck in front of the laptop, in the car, or on a horse.
As I’ve touched on before too much sitting can lead to poor posture, muscles become tight & ultimately aches and pains can appear which long term can end up resulting in pain especially when you then add in riding. The seated posture encourages your shoulders to round forward which leads to that rounded spine & shoulder posture but also makes the muscles on the front of your body such as your chest, abs & hip flexor muscles very tight & the muscles on the back of your body stretched & weak such as your glutes.
So the first thing you want to be focusing on is getting yourself moving & loosening off; any movement will be better than nothing before you jump on so whatever you do will be a benefit.
You want to think about mobilising the joints & muscles that you are going to be using in the saddle. Focus on opening up your thoracic spine, your hips & shoulder girdle. These are your key areas for riding & I’ll put money on the areas that you guys feel the tightest or stiffness. Mobilising these joints & muscles after having spent much of the day seated before you get on is key! If you are tight or struggling to get yourself into certain positions then this is only going to reflect in your horses movement.
What I would suggest doing is to put 3 to 5 exercises together focusing on these areas. Dynamic movement is key to do before exercise as it will elevate your body temperature, get the blood flowing into the muscles that are going to be working, lubricate your joints & decrease any stiffness. Making sure these movements are riding specific is key so focus on the above areas as these are all joints & muscles that are used in the saddle.
So one thing that crops up time & time again is riders telling me, I have nowhere to warm up. To be quite frank it’s just an excuse, where do you think marathon runners warm-up?
At the start line or in the park so you can definitely find a space to warm up whether it's on the yard or outside the lorry at a show. Obviously, if you’re at a show you’re going to most probably be in white breeches so of course, I don’t expect you to be lying on the floor & rolling around in the mud so let’s use logic & common sense here please!
There are plenty of exercises you can do to get the shoulders, thoracic spine & hips moving whilst standing making it easy to warm up for you wherever you are! The following 5 exercises would be my go-to pre-riding mobility exercises. I would suggest picking 3 of the exercises & running through a circuit of 10-12 repetitions of each exercise in a circuit format & running through 2 rounds. I would select your exercises specific to where you feel you need the most mobility & loosening & go from there. Maybe rotate the exercises round through the week so you end up getting through each movement a few times a week pre-riding!
1; Forward Fold; simply roll down & touch your toes, bend your knees as you need to. Really focus on rolling down through your spine & down through your hamstrings
2; Open the gate; think of climbing over a stile & draw big circles with your hip. Nice deep breaths & work with your movement
3; Reverse lunge; lower your back knee down whilst squeezing the glute on the back leg to stretch out the front of your hip. If you reach up this will add more of a stretch
4; Broomstick stretch; grab a band or a broom & start with a nice wide grip. Keep your ribcage down & just open up your shoulders, if your mobility allows take the stick all the way over to your glutes & back again but DO NOT force the movement work with your range of movement!
5; Thoracic windmills; stand with feet a little wider than hip-width control your breathing as you tap your hand to the opposite foot then back the other way. Take slow, you can hold for 5-10 seconds in the bottom each rep reaching up to get a deeper stretch
Hopefully, this helps to give you some idea of what you want to & could be doing to warm yourself up pre-riding & helps you to understand why it is important to make sure that you are correctly warmed up & well mobilised ready to ride. Remember as ever the same principles apply to you that apply to your horse. You are 50% of the partnership & something as simple as mobilising yourself properly before you get on could give your horse that extra 3% of performance that you’ve been striving for. Give these a go next time you ride & see how you feel!
Any questions please let me know & keep me posted with how you get on!