Rider Hip Mobility & Core Strength
You're probably thinking they don’t go together but they do. The pelvis, hips and core are all connected especially when we are riding! If you are a rider that struggles with a lack of mobility especially through the hips you’re going to be restricted in your movement through the lower body and if you’ve not got adequate core strength you’re going to struggle to support your seat in the saddle and what you’ll probably find is your back or other areas will end up hurting! Poor mobility robs you of your ability to generate and absorb force through your joints and muscles which in the long run makes you a very likely candidate to end up picking up an injury. Not what we want & it doesn't make for the best rider!
Strength & mobility go hand in hand & it's so important to remember this! If you struggle to say gain good depth in a squat yes, an element of that will be strength but far more of that will be due to mobility restrictions or limitations.
When we’re riding our pelvis is the command centre of all movement. Every single movement we ask for whether that is an aid from the hand or leg is generated from the seat so if you cannot move your hips as they are intended to move you are going to struggle to give effective, clear aids and get the best out of your horse! In fact, what you'll probably end up doing is just confusing your horse big time due to your movement.
When we think or talk about the core most people will automatically have in their head a picture of those six muscles on the front of your stomach known as your six pack! The rectus abdominis is most definitely part of your core but it does not make up all of it, in fact, it makes up a very small component of your core!
The easiest way to explain what the core is, is by remembering it’s every muscle that attaches to the pelvis so if you look at the front of your body below your chest down to mid-thigh and the same on the back those are all your core muscles. So this includes your glutes muscles, your obliques (side abs), hip flexors, lower back muscles to name a few!
Therefore when we train the core we need to make sure that we are using movement patterns that work all of these muscles & the joints through their intended range of motion and strength and replicate what we use our cores for on the horse!
Hip mobility is important for riders of all disciplines as the pelvis & hips generate all movement when riding as I mentioned earlier. The hips are the centre of control for movement when you’re in the saddle, think about how you ride in your seat and where movement is initiated from. You need to have stability through the pelvis & your hips are responsible for various roles when riding so they need to have the mobility to be able to move through their full range of movement. As I touched on at the start, strength & mobility go hand in hand so if you're feeling weak or not as strong as you'd like it's definitely worth investigating your mobility first!
The hips are responsible for you being able to take your leg back, take your leg out away from the saddle, turning your knee in & these are all movements generated from the hips that can be trained off horse and should be! It’s really common for riders to have weak abductor muscles which means it makes it very hard to take the hip & leg out and that can lead to riding issues such as why people struggle to maintain a secure lower leg position when jumping. Typically riders tend to be weaker through their glutes therefore all of the hip movements will be restricted & the more work you do through extension, abduction, adduction, flexion off horse, the better!
A lack of mobility through the hips means that your hip joint won't have the range of motion it is designed to have. What that looks like is then you struggling to get into certain positions, generate certain movements and a stiff rider! What will happen as well is if the body cannot find mobility around the hips as it should be able to then it will look further up the chain to create that movement.
This is often when the lower back can then seriously lack stability as it’s trying to compensate for the fact your hips are not as mobile as they should be & ends up having too much movement. If you’ve ever struggled with lower back pain I’d highly suggest you focus on hip mobility first and core as second. Just strengthening your core alone isn’t always the only answer!
For most riders, whether you’re a professional or amateur you will probably find that you have very tight hips and abdominal muscles and chest muscles. This is primarily down to lifestyle and how we use our bodies and the majority of us spend far more time seated whether that’s in a car, at the office or on a horse than standing and these muscles then become tight. If the front of the body is tight the back of the body becomes weak and lengthened and this does not make for a good posture!! So if you don’t work on your mobility & only work on strengthing the abs even more, if they’re already tight you’re just going to get a worse posture! The body works together so only solely focusing on fixing 1 area is not always the best answer.
This is where movements like sit-ups or crunches are absolutely not the core exercises you want to be doing! They have their place, if you have the strength and ability to correctly do them by engaging your core and not using your back then fine but for most they only encourage poor posture, you use your back in place of your abdominal muscles to create the movement and if anything create more problems.
Think about your posture when you’re doing a sit-up, you’re rounded through your upper back, shoulders and lower back-is this really the position you want to recreate in the saddle?
Of course not and that’s these movements for riders become totally unfunctional! Think about what your core is responsible for and train it to be able to generate and avoid those movements as it is designed to do so!
Focusing on building your anti-extension strength, not letting your lower back go into extension, preventing too much rotation through the core and hips and avoiding collapsing into your lateral side. These are the movement patterns you want to be training and you can leave the situps at the door! This gives our training specificity to your riding and makes sure it’s actually going to benefit your riding & horse! That's functional & specific training.
Mobility & strength go hand in hand. If you neglect one the other will suffer so remember that! If you're serious about being the best rider but also progressing as an athlete with your own training then working on your mobility goes a long way!
Give these hip and core exercises a try over your winter training & see how you go!
RKC Plank; Isometric exercises holding static positions are a great way to start to build your core strength & get a feel for the muscles working! Focus on your pelvic position here
Deadbug; You've probably seen me share this before. The BEST exercises to work your core & hip flexors & train anti extension!
Pallofpress; One of the best core exercises to teach you to resist rotation through the trunk! Fire that band out, don't let it pull you inwards!
Supermans; These are a more advanced exercise to work on strengthening the back & abdominal muscles. Take slow!
Side Plank Rotation; Side planks are the best for building your anti lateral flexion strength. Start with a hold & progress to adding in movements
Warrior Pulse; This is a great hip movement to open up the front of the hips & stretch those tight hip flexor & abdominal muscles! Gently squeeze your glute on the back leg to feel a stretch down the front
CARS; These are great articulations through your hips, they move the hip through all it's intended ranges of motion. If you struggle take slow-think of drawing a circle with your knee!
Leg Swings; A really nice movement to get the hip extending & flexing but also to feel a nice hamstring stretch!
Kickbacks; These can be done bodyweight as a mobility move or add a resistance band to get some strength work into your hip extension & glutes!
Clams; These are one of the best movements for training your abduction, again start with bodyweight to work on improving your movement but then in time you can add resistance to the exercise to challenge your strength!
All of these exercises can be used in their own circuit for a mobility & core flow or added into your training sessions to focus more on these areas! Initially start with 2 sets for 10-15 reps & build from there. You'll notice your strength increases on the core movements but you should notice overtime when done consistently the mobility exercises really help to improve your range of movement & depth! Enjoy