Rider Hip Mobility
Hip mobility is a common area all riders struggle with. It’s very common for Equestrians to have tight quadriceps (thighs), hip flexors & abdominal muscles. This is mainly down to spending so much time seated in the saddle when riding but also our daily behaviours like driving or sitting down. Whether you ride 10 horses every day or spend 10 hours behind your laptop, it's an area all riders find needs constant improvement & mobility work to keep as supple & dynamic as possible.
The more mobile your body is the more efficiently you’ll move, the better you’ll be able to absorb your horse's movement & therefore the more chance you have of keeping your joints & muscles injury-free! Training should always be focused on making you as strong as possible to avoid injury particularly as riding is such a high-risk sport!
The pelvis is the powerhouse of movement in the saddle, our glutes absorb the horse's movement & we generate power through our aids from our seat. For example swinging our leg back is generated by our hips going into extension. Our glutes give us a stable & balanced seat & every part of the core is connected to the pelvis so it’s so important to make sure you include glute work in your training programme as these are the muscles that generate the movement.
But before we get to the point of strengthening your hips first of all we need to make sure you’re as mobile as possible. Your balance & strength completely changes the way your horse moves & his ability to move, so if your movement or mobility is restricted then you should consider how this is impacting his movement & gait too.
First of all, we want to focus on stretching, allowing room & increasing your flexibility & around your hips. If your hips are tight then they’ll be affecting your position in the saddle as the front of your body becomes shortened & weakened which can cause a rounded posture & you then struggle to support your position & good posture. Stretching can help to lengthen & relax the muscle. Tight quads affect your ability to sit deeply into the saddle so you won’t feel balanced or with your horse as he moves so it's important to implement stretches.
To begin with, focus on stretching your hips, really think about squeezing your glute whilst you do these stretches. As the glute is the opposing muscle, if you squeeze it you’ll get a deeper stretch into the hip muscle down the front. Really control your breathing too during static stretching. Deep exhales & controlling your breathing will allow you to really relax & can help to remove lactic acid from the muscles.
These are my favourite 3 hip focused stretches, start nice & easy & make sure you feel just a gentle pull, to begin with. I would suggest holding each stretch for 40-60 seconds.
Warrior pulsing stretch-Squeeze the glute & feel the stretch down the front of the back leg
2. Frog stretch-turn your toes out, thighs & knees against the floor. Imagine you're in a squat position, push your hips back towards your heels & deep exhales to open up the hips.
3. Dynamic Lunge-simply hold the bottom position. So back knee on the floor, squeezing the glute. The arm on the same side as your front leg opens up towards the ceiling, deep exhales. Over time you can turn this into the dynamic movement as part of your mobility
Once you’ve got used to stretching your hips & started to focus on your flexibility then you want to think about adding some dynamic mobility movements into your routine too. Dynamic exercises move your muscles and joints through a large active range of motion & prepare the body for exercise. Over time improving your mobility will increase your range of movement & reduce your risk of injury so it is really important to prioritise your mobility.
Your hips are responsible for many movements whilst we ride & also out of the saddle. Focus on these riding-specific movements for now!
Flexion-lifting your leg up; as in when you walk up the stairs or lift your leg to get on from the ground
Extension- taking your leg backward; as in moving your heel back to ask for a transition
Adduction-moving your leg inwards towards the saddle
Abduction-taking your leg outwards away from you/the saddle
Medial Rotation- turning the leg in from the hip
So it’s important we think about incorporating all of these movement patterns into our mobility routines so we’re taking our hips through their intended range of movement. These are a few of my favourite hip mobility exercises to give you a good variety of all of the above movements. If you find your hips feel stiff when riding or you know they affect your riding then perform these before you get on too!
Aim for 6-10 reps & run through the movements one after the other in a circuit format. To begin with I’d aim for 2 sets & over time you can increase that as you feel you need. For now, we’re just focusing on mobility but once you’ve improved your mobility the next step would be to think of working on your strength…..
My 3 favourite hip mobility movements;
Hip 90/90s; The 90/90 stretch targets many of the muscles surrounding the hip capsule, including your glutes, piriformis, psoas, hip flexors, hip abductors, and adductors which are all used ALOT when you ride! Don't force your knees to the floor to begin with & place your hands behind you on the floor if you need more support.
2. Adductor to Gate Pose; I love this movement as it hits the inner thigh (adductor) muscles whilst also stretching out the front of the hip flexor. Take these nice & steady to begin with-you may feel a deep stretch in your lower back. This is normal as if the hip muscles are tight your pelvis may be misaligned which will put tension on your lower back
3. Kneeling Hip Circles-start kneeling as it will help you to control the movement & make you aware of moving through your hips & not your back. Think of drawing a circle with your knee throughout this movement. Take your knee out, to begin with so we're abducting the hip then drawing out into full extension. These are great for taking the hip through their full intended range of movement
I hope this helps you to begin to start to design your own routine to help improve your hip mobility. Start with stretching then move onto mobility, if you're consistent & perform these a few times a week over 4 weeks or so you should start noticing a difference! Good luck & let me know how you find these.