Many of us as riders have a strong focus on our core strength, for most your main goal is to improve core strength. So first of what is your core? How would you personally describe or identify what parts of your body are your core?
For many of you the answer will instantly be my stomach, my abs. I hear the most common misconception of all time; I have lower back pain due to my weak core. So first of all why do you believe your core is weak? There is no solid way to measure core stability or strength, this is an immeasurable variety so how are you measuring your weakness or if your strength is building?
So for starters, lets just look at your core & really establish what this is made up from. Your core stabilising muscles run from the top of your ribs down to the bottom of your bum both in the front & back of your body, think about where the centre of your body is, the powerhouse of your movement. I'm sure most of you will think oh yeah, my abs, that's not quite right, your pelvis is your control centre for your body. Think of your pelvis as the driver on the train. Your pelvis dictates your movement especially when in the saddle, when we are seated we need a strong pelvis to hold us stable so that the rest of our limbs & trunk can carry out the movement required without our spine wobbling around & becoming sore.
Your core includes your pelvic muscles, abdominals, internal & external obliques,glutes, rectus abdominis ( superificial layers when your thinking of a six pack which also include the erector spinae & multifidus these are both muscles in your back.) To simplify this your core is much more complex than you probably think & requires different ways of training & movement to make sure your training each muscle within your core effectively to really help your core strength.
Now back to back pain, as that's our number 1 biggest struggle for us as riders. Soreness & stiffness in the back due to other areas being weak can cause your spine to overwork. Your core is responsible for stabilising & protecting your body, the spine & pelvis, so if it is weak other muscles overcompensate which often leads to a bad chain reaction! Your gluteal muscles (in your butt) are also extremely important when we are talking about core strength, your body works together as one big chain so if one part is weak this will heavily influence another. Weak glutes muscles can also be causing lower back pain due to unstability in your hips, so don't always assume its your core where the problem lies as pelvic position & stability is a huge factor of importance when we are looking at your core exercises. Training the core & glutes in harmony would be my number 1 focus when trying to fix the struggle of lower back pain, remember your body is one big chain reaction working together.
There are a couple of exercises you could perform to try & get a feeling for your core strength. Try the hollow hold, so lying on your back shoulders off the floor and feet lifted off the floor & you hold this position keeping your lower back on the floor at all times, if you can hold for 10 seconds this is a good indication you have relative core strength.
Now down to the important part, TRAINING! And of course pain free. I think the most common question I ask my equestrian clients is does your back feel ok throughout the session. It is so easy for you to slightly lose focus and let your core strength decrease & pain starts to fester in your back. So to avoid back pain for now I would avoid any crunching movement, the position a crunched position will cause in your spine will not help any pain. You are curled over encouraging a poor posture & placing alot of stress on your back so this is an absolute NO! Any back based movement & dynamic planking is a great place to start, with a strong focus on your core. Really concentrate on performing the exercise with perfect form, at a slow tempo & listen to your body to what you are feeling working.
1) Deadbugs; Lying on the floor push your pelvis & lower back into the floor, imagine you have a lottery ticket between your lower back & the floor you've got to keep it down there, don't let it slip out. Legs up at 90 degress, hands by your chest you're going to extend the opposite hand & leg at the same time straight out & hold. If you find your lower back arches then place hands on the floor and keep your legs slightly higher when you extend. You should feel all of this in your abs!
2) Plank Shoulder Taps; Here we are trying to make our core work to stabilise our whole body, we are looking for as little movement as possible through our hips. From high plank position take the opposite hand to the opposite shoulder and tap keeping as still as possible. These will really work your rectus abdominis & your transverse abdominis (think muscles in that six pack!) and should feel hard work. To regress place your knees on the floor.
3)Half Kneeling Pallofpress; The pallofpress is one of my favourite core exercises, all you need is a resistance band or cable. Whilst performed it trains you to keep rigidity through the trunk & the hips as movement is occurring. This will improve the stability of all these muscles & in turn improve the power. This exercise your body is resisting rotation so you should feel like you are really working. You must make sure you maintain a neutral spine position throughout this exercise. The half kneeling position will add stability for you to start so I always recommend adopting this position.
Start with these 3 simple, yet super effective exercises and see how you get on. I would continue to perform these until you can do 4 sets of all exercises for 10 repetitions on each side with full control & the exercise starts to become easy for you. Start with 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions and see how you go! Hopefully these will help you to train those abs & progress without suffering lower back pain!
Have a great day guys