Is glute strength important for riders?
Glutes are something we hear alot about, peaches, toosh whatever you want to call it our Instagram feeds are now full of girls doing the latest “booty blaster” routines showing you how to grow your peach! Strong glutes & a good looking lower body is obviously a goal for many women who want to feel confident & happy in their own skin, but what do our peaches do for us as riders?
The idea of having a big bum in riders is not an appealing one, there are always comments about riders having big bums & ultimately I’d be mortified if someone said my ass looked big in the saddle, so fear not I’m not about to encourage you to grow your glutes into Kim Kardashian’s derriere. However all jokes aside your glutes are one of the most important riding muscles, they are the powerhouse of your movement.
The glutes have many different roles between the 3 major glute muscles;
Glute Maximus; The largest glute muscle responsible for hip extension, external rotation, abduction & adduction of the thigh.
Glute Minimus; The smallest glute muscles, works alongside the medius to help hip extension, abduction & external rotation of the thigh.
Glute Medius; Located on the side of your hip underneath the glute maximus, the medius is responsible for stabilising your pelvis when walking, riding & standing. The medius is responsible for hip abduction & internal and external rotation.
Hip extension is one of our main movements when riding, our legs should have the ability to be able to swing backwards & forwards with our hip being able to move in and out of flexion. The glute maximus helps to control movement from the front to the back of your hips, allowing for this moving of the leg forward & backwards to happen. The glute minimus & medius both allow us to take our leg away from the saddle & bring back in. Your maximus is your powerhouse for hip extension & if this is weak it will really affect your stability & position in the saddle. Many of us due to prolonged periods of sitting now suffer from weak glutes & our spines overcompensating so making sure our glutes are strong is so important. The smaller glutes muscles help you to balance through your seat, allowing you to move your leg away from the saddle whilst keeping you centred in your position.
Often when the glutes are not strong enough or not working as they should be riders can suffer from lower back pain. As we spend so much of our time sitting on our butts rather than using them, whether that be riding, sitting at a desk, driving the glutes can become weak. As the glutes aren’t working as they should be the hamstrings & lower back then often end up compensating which can lead to pain. If you think about it if you can’t control your seat & balance through your hips & glutes then where is that instability of movement going to move to?
It will travel upwards and end up in your spine, which when you’re trying to do sitting trot or lateral work will end up turning into lower back pain. If your glutes are strong and working correctly then this compensation should not happen! Many riders believe that core strength is their answer to lower back pain, which yes I would partly agree with. Having the strength through your ab muscles to ensure you are stable in your seat & can control your horse’s movement is important however the abs are only a very small part of your core structure on the front of your body.
Regardless of how strong your abs are, if your butt is weak you are still going to find you suffer with your stability & managing pain. Consider your core as everything from your chest down to mid-thigh front & back, now what is the biggest muscle within that area? Your glutes. So train them the same as you would your abs. Weak glutes can present themselves in many different ways in riders, often instability through your lower leg can be a result of weak glutes. As you are unable to sit into your seat you cling through your thighs, your lower leg struggles to stay still & balanced & you will end up looking wobbly through your lower body. The same goes for your upper body, if you are unable to sit up properly in the saddle & sit deep into your seat then you will struggle to hold your upper body posture.
“Keep your shoulders back”, is a common line I hear riders telling me their instructors are always telling them but they never can. This is not something that will be changed by sitting on your horse, despite however many times your trainer yells at you. As you have an unstable base of support through your lower body your upper body also becomes unstable & this can often be seen through riders bracing & holding large amounts of tension through their reins & hands rather than riding from the seat & shoulders. When riders tell me they struggle to keep their hands still then I would always suggest focusing on your lower body stability & strength first. Obviously, if you are struggling to maintain a stable & balanced seat then this will also create imbalances in you but more importantly in your horse’s movement, if he leans one way, or is heavier on one rein often this is you. Depending on how unbalanced you are, you can really affect your horse’s movement & in bad cases sometimes your imbalances could lead to your horse becoming lame, not what you want!
The best thing you can do to start improving your glute strength for your riding is to train your butt out of the saddle! I know, I know riders are so busy! You say you don’t have time, busy at home with the kids and horses but do you know what? If you want to improve your position & seat and help your horse then you NEED TO MAKE TIME. Just the same as you do to fit in riding your horse into your day, make your own training a non-negotiable and commit to getting it done. Training 2-3 times a week from home can give you great results & if you don’t think you can spare 3 hours maximum a week to train then I would suggest you reevaluate your goals & also time management. Harsh but true.
Improving your glute strength will give you more balance in the saddle, creating more stability through your seat & entire body. The stronger your glutes the stronger your seat will be as your pelvis will now have the strength surrounding it that it needs, making sure your glutes work as they should & this will help to avoid lower back pain or compensations. The more balanced you are the better your horse will go & the more effective your aids will be so you can see the importance of strong glutes!
These would be my top 3 go-to exercises to start working on your glute strength suitable for all riders!
Glute Bridge; Working on your hip extension, make sure you keep your ribcage in line with your hips and bridge using your glutes not your lower back. This will build your strength in all of your glute muscles! Start with 8-12 reps and aim for 2-3 circuits depending on your fitness level.
Clams; One of my favourite abduction exercises, using a mini band will give you a bit of extra resistance to work with to add more challenge. Make sure as you lift only your knee moves, you lie still on your bottom hip. If you struggle to stay still then do these with your back resting against the wall it will stop you using your back! Aim for 10-15 reps on each side for 2-3 sets.
Donkey Kickbacks; A hip extension exercise that will help you to get your glutes working on each side, these are a great exercise to feel instability or differences in strength side to side. Keep your core braced throughout & your ribcage in line with your hip so your glutes can work! Aim for 10-15 reps on each side for 2-3 sets.
Over time you can increase the repetitions done & the resistance used to give you more challenge & progressively overload the glute muscles. I hope this has helped you to understand the importance of strong glutes for riders!