5 Exercises To Help Straightness & Imbalances
In today's post, I will be sharing 5 of my top exercises to help riders improve their straightness & balance side to side. From previous rider surveys, the most common area riders ask for help with is correcting imbalances & reducing that feeling of being wonky when you ride.
Understanding what is going on with your body in the saddle & also out of the saddle is key to figuring out where you are physically struggling with your balance & then addressing those areas. My first port of call to any rider who felt uneven or unbalanced would be to consult a qualified physiotherapist. Often from riding & the strains of daily life you can find that your pelvis or spine is out of alignment so without some form of treatment training alone will be hard to rectify the problem.
Once you know that you are physically aligned & in good health then you can look at working on each side individually to help improve your straightness. Starting out of the saddle is the best place to start & just run yourself through some basic tests to establish weak & stronger areas & sides.
Start standing on one leg & hold your balance on each side for 30 seconds, which side is more wobbly? Do you collapse into one hip when you're on one leg? Do a single leg glute bridge & do 10 reps on each leg being really aware of where you are feeling the movement & the difference side to side. Do you struggle to keep one heel down in the stirrup more than the other?
Your horse's movement can also give you a lot of clues as to where you may be struggling with your own balance. Think about it does your horse lean more to one rein? Is it easier to get your right canter strike off than your left? Whilst he may stiff & could be imbalanced you are most probably causing some of that stiffness from your own imbalances & dominant sides.
Once you have found your weaker areas & established which is your more dominant side then you know what you have to work on. This will give you clarity with your training & in the work you do out of the saddle & gives you a good place to begin. As we have discussed before humans are never going to be perfectly symmetrical, the same as your horse, you will always have a slightly more dominant side. This is because we are mammals & as humans, we are not perfect!
But that doesn't mean you can't work to reduce the imbalance & create a much straighter, more balanced version of yourself both on the horse & off. We are striving for progress, not perfection. Just as we work on our horse's symmetry & lateral work side to side we must do the same with ourselves. Often for riders, the biggest imbalances can be felt in your legs & lower body. These are the muscles that help to support & stabilise your pelvis (which is the powerhouse of our movement) when we ride.
Starting with focusing on your lower body can really help to address imbalances & will help to strengthen these muscles that support your pelvis & therefore your core stability. If you are imbalanced in your lower limbs the feeling of straightness in the saddle is always going to be a problem as your entire pelvic structure will be out of balance which then affects your core stability & in turn, impacts your upper body movement & aids too.
Not only is it important to address imbalances for a better & straighter position to get you riding more evenly but also it is key to avoiding injuries & long term problems. If one side is constantly overworking, over time you will find yourself with an injury & that is not going to fully disappear until you have worked on increasing your balance side to side. We want to reduce the wear & tear on your body & muscles as much as possible in order to avoid injury & keep you sound so single limb training & a focus on balance should be key.
Try these 5 exercises & see over the next 2-3 weeks how your balance feels & how the movement improves whilst you do them but also if you feel a difference in the saddle. They should help you to really focus on your balance & spot any areas of imbalance that you can therefore work on and hopefully, in time you will find your straightness & position in the saddle improves and therefore your horses performance should improve too.
Remember you are a partnership, if you are wonky your horse will most probably be wonky too. Apply the same principles you apply to your horse & be consistent with your training. You want to nail these basics before moving onto any fancy movements or loading your body with external resistance such as weights. Think of these as your groundwork. Without good basics, you wouldn't expect your horse to be half passing to perfection.
1- Single Leg Glute Bridge;
Lying on your back make sure your lower back is in contact with the floor. From this position hug one knee into your chest & then bridge up pushing from the hip & heel of the leg on the floor. Balance at the top & control the lower down. Try to really concentrate & feel the difference side to side.
2- Bird Dogs;
A great core & lower back exercise working your opposite sling muscles which are used constantly when we ride. Keep your core engaged throughout & make sure your ribs & hips stay in line as you extend your arm & the opposite leg out. Does one side feel much wobblier than the other side?
3- Reverse Lunges;
From standing step back and lower your back knee into a 90-degree position. Pause in the bottom then push from the front heel to stand. Can you feel one side is better balanced? Are you feeling your muscles work more on one side compared to the other?
4- Knee to the Wall;
This is a mobility exercise for your ankles. If you struggle to keep your heels down & maintaining a stable lower leg this is definitely one for you to try! Make sure you keep your front heel on the floor throughout the movement, start with your toe a few inches away from the wall and push your knee to the wall until it touches it. Is one side much stiffer than the other?
5-Side Plank Hold; A great core exercise training you to resist lateral flexion. Hold the position on each side for 25-30 seconds pushing from your bottom shoulder, hip & feet and note the difference. Concentrate on where you can feel the differences, is your shoulder really feeling it on the left side? Is the right side easier?
Perform 10-12 reps of these movements for 2-3 sets, 2-3 times per week. Be consistent and note down each time you do them what you feel. In a couple of weeks time compare your notes from the first session to now. Hopefully, these will help you to start to address some of your imbalances & create a straighter and more balanced seat!
Let me know how you get on, Katie x