With the UK on lockdown to help control the spread of coronavirus, and many of us stuck indoors, unable to ride or exercise in the ways we normally would, you might be concerned about your strength and fitness levels taking a dive.
But this doesn’t need to be the case. We have teamed up with Phoebe Parkinson, a human and equine osteopath who specialises in rider strength and conditioning, to bring you some easy exercises you can do in isolation to benefit your riding once you can get back in the saddle.
“The main thing most riders need to work on is their posterior chain — the back of the body,” says Phoebe. “People often focus on working the muscles they can see, for example targeting their quads with lots of squats. But the propulsion of the horse’s movement tends to throw the rider forward, meaning the back of the body has to be strong to stay balanced. Most riders need to improve the strength of their upper back muscles, their glutes and their hamstrings.”
With gyms across the country closed and finding fitness equipment to buy online becoming a challenge, Phoebe has an innovative way of adding resistance to strength exercises to get extra bang for your buck.
“Simply grab an old pair of tights — you can use them in so many ways, like you would a resistance band,” she says.
Start off by incorporating the following four exercises into your routine, ideally spending 20 minutes on these exercises, four times a week.
*H&H recommends riders are suitably warmed-up before attempting any of these exercises and that you remain within your comfort zone in terms of repetitions and frequency. If you have any existing health conditions and are unsure about the suitability of these exercises, please check with a medical professional.
1. Bent over row for your upper back
“Stand on the middle part of the tights with your feet shoulder width apart and bend forward slightly, keeping your back straight,” instructs Phoebe. “Hold your tights like reins, bend your elbows and pull your hands up towards your chest, pulling your shoulders back and your shoulder blades together.
“This exercise strengthens the mid-traps — the muscles between your shoulder blades.”
2. Clamshells for your glutes
“Clamshells target your glute medius, on the outside of your pelvis. Lie on your side with your knees bent and feet stacked on top of each other. Tie a knot halfway down the tights and put them around your knees, then lift your top knee slowly up the sky,” says Phoebe.
“Ideally, don’t let your body tip backwards – imagine your body being between two panes of glass.
“Strengthening these glute muscles helps with your pelvic balance. In the saddle, we want our seatbones to be equal – when a rider is weaker on one side of their pelvis, they will be less stable on that side. This is often the reason riders tend to ‘collapse’ their hips on one side.”
3. Side plank for your obliques
“Lie on your side, propped on your elbow, with your body straight and your feet stacked on top of each other, then lift your hips off the floor so your body is in a straight line,” says Phoebe. “Try to hold this for up to 40 seconds, starting with shorter periods and building up.”
“The side plank is great for shoulder stability as well as your obliques, the core muscles at the side of your body.”
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4. Internal rotation hip stretch
“Hip flexibility is really important for riders,” says Phoebe, who recommends holding stretches for up to five minutes to reap the full benefits from them.
“Sit on the floor with you knees bent up and you feet on the floor, a little wider than shoulder width apart, and your weight equally across both seatbones. Drop the inside of your left knee to the floor and the outside of your right knee to the floor, then lean forward over your left knee, trying to keep both seatbones on the floor. You should feel the stretch on the inside of the left hip. Bring your knees back up and swap sides.
“You’ll probably find that this is harder on one side than the other,” adds Phoebe. “When you start the stretch, only go to the first point where you can feel it, then when that lessens you can push slightly further into it – this could be every 30 seconds.”
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