I don’t know about you but when I search for ‘core exercises’ or ‘core strengthening’ I am hit by a minefield of information.
But what if I told you it isn’t all that complicated – make use of this rainy cold weather, sit inside with a cuppa and take 5 minutes to give this a read…
Learn to sit straight, ride more effectively and create the image of stillness and being at one with your horse.
What do we mean by core?
So firstly the question is what defines the core, which contrary to popular belief it is far more than the 6 pack abs! The core muscles involve everything from your collarbone to your pubic bone.
When thinking of your core, I want you to picture a tube of toothpaste, try and squeeze a full bottle (lid on) and you won’t get much movement. Squeeze too hard however and you will likely burst and squish the tube. Equally take the lid off or cut into the sides it will leak and become useless.
My point being that a strong core requires optimal strength of all the muscles listed below, work on one area and leave the others and your core will be like that of the hole in the toothpaste – useless.
Equally though contract too hard/force it and you won’t be able to sustain it. We need the balance of all muscles to create pressure and strength required to provide movement and stability to our body.
I have identified here for you the key muscles to consider when training our core:
- Key breathing muscle found beneath the ribs – control and awareness of your breathing sounds like a load of mumbo jumbo but trust me when I say it is your key to activating your deep core muscles (pilates and yoga fans will know what I mean).
- The layer of muscles supporting the pelvic organs and stabilising the lumbo-pelvic region. Having control and awareness of this muscle is needed to create the pressure in the abdominal cavity (midsection) needed to stabilise and support movement.
- TVA as it is commonly known, are the deep abdominal muscles like a corset for your mid section. It is vital in providing stability between our pelvis and rib cage and works to protects our spine. This muscle is commonly felt when we cough but one we often forget about/ do not know how to activate commonly leading to slouched/hunched posture, sore lower backs and inability to hold coorect posture/stability in the saddle.
Internal and External Obliques
- These muscles make up the sides of our core and therefore are our turning muscles. The internal obliques orginate mainly from our lower back region coming up towards our midline (linea alba) whereas our external obliques come from our bottom ribs down towards our midline (linea alba). Our obliques are our largest abdominal muscles and play a huge part in stability and keeping an even balance seat. If you have a tendency to drop on shoulder/collapse one side or your horse seems to always go better on one rein, be sure to get him/her checked out but also check your posture, are you straight as often our horse will compensate for our imbalances.
- This is what we know as those 6 pack muscles. When training core with my clients and myself I do not put a huge emphasis on training these (unless the client’s goal is a 6 pack) but a large proportion of seeing these abs is from diet and for a vast majority of people it is actually the over activation and use of these and our hip flexor group that can prevent correct activation of our deep core muscles listed above. The rectus abdominus does work to help prevent pelvic tilt but working these can be incorporated with obliques and TVA.
- This is a plait like muscle running just superficial to our spine working to support and stabilise each joint. This muscle is key to help prevent back pain (Danneels et al. 2002) and hold correct posture.
- This is a large flat muscle on your back stretching from the bottom two thirds of your back up and underneath the armpit attaching in the top of your arm (picture it like our wings). Its importance is hugely underestimated for you as equestrian athletes, it is a huge muscle and trained correctly stops you rounding forward, enabling you to sit deep and stable in the saddle, providing support if your horse does tend to lean on your hands or snatch at the bit (or dive down for a bit to eat when you aren’t looking)!
How will it Help My Riding?
A poor core leads to instability and inability to connect with your horse.
Riding alone is not enough to provide the strength in the core we need to not only help your position but allow your horse to move freely underneath you.
A strong, stable core really is the difference between your average rider and an effective rider, because as riders our main form of communication is through our seat. If we are sitting wonky, tip forward or are wobbly/loose balance in transitions how are we ever meant to feel what are horse is doing, adapt to his/her movement or provide effective aids? Think about when you have given someone a piggy back, if they are moving around, swinging their legs or clinging to your shoulders its far more difficult to move than if they sit still and move with you.
When we think about it our horses put up with a lot and do a lot for us.
Yes it isn’t always you the rider at fault but if your horse is consistently struggling on one rein/not working correctly or you seem to have the same issue arising with your horses chiro/masseuse maybe it is time to take a look at what you could be doing to help your horse.
What Can We Do?
It can be hard to distinguish whether the rider or horse is at fault, but if as mentioned above you are getting a pattern in your horses/similar regular issues focusing on yourself should become a priority.
Having an understanding and awareness of your core will help you train effectively to aid your partnership and not hinder it.
It doesn’t happen overnight but prioritise the time, commit to it and reap the benefits of a deepened your seat, lightness in the hands and really feel the horse move underneath you, create that magical connection.
What Exercises Should I be Doing to Build a Strong Core?
No exercise program can be prescribed to the masses and yield the same results.
I don’t believe in one size fits all – especially in training so seeking out a professional to help you create your perfect fitness routine will bring you the best results without wasting your time excepting great things off a generic video without first learning where your weaknesses lie and how to perform the movements correctly.
Busy schedules/limited time is often an excuse but if it means that much to you you can and will be able to make time.
As always if you want any help please don’t hesitate to get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope this has provided you with more of an understanding of the core, they are plenty more muscles involved in stabilising our body but having awareness of these muscles and how it affects your riding provides the perfect base to build posture, stability and strengthen, on and off the horse.