Foam Rolling for Equestrians
Most riders suffer from some form of pain in their bodies, whether that is joint pain or muscular discomfort it’s a common struggle for riders of all disciplines to feel sore or stiff.
In particular, the hip and shoulder areas can get very tight and become immobile which in turn can cause discomfort and also lead to your body trying to compensate for the lack of mobility in one area from another, such as through the lower back if your hip mobility is reduced.
How you spend the majority of your day has a big impact on your mobility and where your muscles are tight. If you spend a lot of your day sitting behind a desk or driving you’ll probably find your hip flexors & the front of your thighs often feel tight and sore. If you ride all day you might also find the same that you get very tight hips and maybe your shoulders or back also tends to ache towards the end of the day.
Considering old injuries as well is important because for some riders this could lead to recurring pain or constant niggles. If you are struggling with pain or discomfort then I would always suggest you refer out to a qualified physiotherapist or osteopath who can help you improve your comfort levels & find out what is going on but there is lots we can do ourselves from home or in the gym to loosen off our bodies and make our muscles & joints more comfortable!
The majority of riders own a foam roller but they probably rarely pick it up or actually know how to use it at all! A foam roller is a great piece of kit and it is a self-massage tool. It’s great for alleviating muscular tension and reducing soreness through the muscles and is a self-myofascial technique.
It is a therapy technique we can implement at home to improve our flexibility, mobility, speed up recovery & increase the blood flow to the muscles. When you roll you increase the circulation in the muscle which allows more oxygen to release these trigger points or sore areas & it is the increased oxygen flow that can help to speed up the recovery process & lead us to heal faster!
Rolling is referred to as self-myofascial release which is simply self-massage we can do ourselves using a roller or a ball to release muscular tightness or discomfort.
By adding rolling to your routine regularly you can get a similar effect to having been for a massage, I’m by no means saying massages don’t have their place but adding a bit of foam rolling in can be a great way to herself manage your soreness and equally a cheaper option too!
As rolling increases blood flow to the muscles it's great to use within your warmup before training, riding or doing exercise as well to get the muscles warm and the body ready for more intense movement.
If you are consistent over time with foam rolling you should find that your muscle tightness begins to reduce, you feel more comfortable and your mobility also improves! Once you get into a habit of doing it a couple of times a week you’ll probably find it is also quite a nice mental therapy to help you switch off. If you have recurring niggles you may also find that rolling helps to reduce the. There is still a lot of research going on to discover more about foam rolling but evidence has shown there are no negative effects & it can help to improve flexibility, soreness, joint pain, performance & increase blood flow. So worth a try!
Now you know the science we want to focus on rider tight spots that you can implement into your routine. With rolling you may experience discomfort but never push past the point of pain! For riders, our typical tight areas are the fronts of our thighs, hips, shoulders, lower back & mid muscles, calves, hamstrings & glutes so we can pretty much roll anywhere! Make sure when you roll you roll over the muscle & not the joint itself.
These are some of my go-to foam rolling spots for riders & you might be surprised how they feel when you give them a go!
These are the muscles on the front of our thighs & if our hips are tight our quads are often very tight too! These can be more the case for those of you who are office-based & equally runners can experience more quad tightness. Start slowly, do one leg at a time & control your breathing. If the intensity is too much then support yourself by taking your bodyweight more with your hands!
2; IT Band
The IT band is the muscle running from the side of the hip on the outside of the leg down into the side of the knee. This is often a really painful area to roll & like your quads if you run a lot this can be a really overworked & tight area. If you suffer from knee pain rolling your IT band should be something you implement too! Start on your side & go super slow, if it's very tight start at the top of your IT band & in time work your way further down
3; Glutes & Piriformis
Our glutes are constantly working when we ride & our piriformis is the tiny muscle in our bottom responsible for taking our leg outwards & into external rotation. When we're in the saddle it's constantly working & for riders it can become extremely tight. Adding a ball or a roller into your piriformis can really help to release tightness. If this is super tight that can in turn often cause lower back pain!
Typical tight area for riders, the hamstrings can become weak & lengthened when we spend a lot of time sitting & riding which causes tightness. Add your roller to the back of your thighs & see how they feel! Again focus on your breathing & do a little bit at a time. Aim to roll each around for around 30-60 seconds depending on what you feel you need. If it's painful start with 1 leg at a time!
5; Lower Back
You can foam roll your lower back area but be careful not to foam roll over the spine itself & don't put too much pressure on the lower back muscles, to begin with. Some physios may suggest you never roll your lower back & this is a much researched & discussed topic. Obviously, everyone is different & if you're concerned about rolling your lower back focus on the other areas first & see if that helps. If you suffer from recurring back pain then always refer out first
Your lats are your big wing muscle running down the side of the back. This muscle can become incredibly tight again if you spend a lot of your day seated but as it's our pulling muscle it helps us to ride & maintain stability so can become overworked quite easily. Our lats can be a bit awkward to roll & you may find it's too uncomfortable, to begin with so go slow!
7; Upper back & traps
Our upper back muscles such as the rhomboids & trapezius can get overworked really easily. If you tend to have a bit of a hunched posture through your shoulders this area will probably be very tight. You can foam roll to alleviate the tightness & this is a good place to roll pre-session!
8; Adductors & Calves
Our inner thighs are doing ALOT when we ride but sometimes they can get neglected. If you end up gripping when you ride you will probably find they are tight most of the time. This can lead to reduced mobility through the hips & groin so focus on your adductors. Our calves can become incredibly tight & stiff calves limit our ability to keep a strong lower leg & heel down position in the saddle. If you run too definitely spend some time here!
Those would be my go-to areas to start with foam rolling & focus on for the time being for riders. Once you get into a regular routine rolling 3-5 times a week you should really start to notice a positive difference & find where your tighter areas are! Hopefully, this helps you to understand what foam rolling does & how to actually start using your roller!