Suppleness In Riders
For any equestrian discipline, we train our horses to be supple, stable, increase power, speed of deceleration & acceleration, progress skills & develop their mind-muscle connection. As riders, we should be training ourselves in the same way.
Strength training is a hugely important aspect of improving your performance as a rider but often the basics are overlooked.
We want to make sure the canvas we are working with, your body, has good foundations before loading the joints & muscles with external load & ultimately creating stress. We need to make sure you are SUPPLE!
Suppleness should focus on you having a good range of motion through your joints & muscles & long term being able to maintain this good range of movement will help your body to move better, both in and out of the saddle, avoid injury & age well. with less pain.
Many riders lack the ability to be able to bend forward and touch their toes which isn't the end of the world but you want to be working on keeping your body as supple as possible so you are moving to the best of your ability. Being supple & mobile will help you to ride better but also help avoid injury over time. Most riders overlook the importance of improving your mobility but if you focus on becoming more supple over time you will quite quickly notice the difference both in your riding and as well when you perform everyday tasks like mucking out, lifting feed bags, tacking up, picking feet out & bending down to pick up your shopping off the floor.
As your suppleness improves you should feel a good improvement in aches & pains, as your body starts to alleviate the tension it has been carrying this discomfort should ease. Improving your mobility & suppleness is quite simple and you can see benefits pretty quickly once you get started.
For riders, a lot of tension can be carried in the hips & lower part of the spine so I would first focus on hip & thoracic mobility to help improve suppleness, especially if your day job is seated. You don't need to spend hours attempting to do a headstand or hold tree pose every day. First focus on spending 10-20 minutes a day on a simple mobility routine, 2-3 times per week to start with. If you find one area is particularly tight or uncomfortable then focus on this area & work to improve the movement here as well as reduce the discomfort.
Improvements can happen quite quickly but be patient & just concentrate on increasing your range of movement. You don't need to spend hours but being consistent with a gentle mobility routine should really help to improve your movement & get you more supple so you are able to rider better and your training will improve too. We are focusing on moving better so remember that when you are looking for improvements!
Before any strength training session, your warm-up should be roughly 10-15 minutes and use dynamic movements to help elevate your heart rate, bring blood to the muscles & improve your mobility so your body is primed & ready to work. A consistent dynamic mobility warm-up is another key element to avoiding injury from your training. If you can implement a similar warm-up before riding this would also hugely help your suppleness & movement in your seat.
To begin with start simple & just try to move more. Like I said before if your job is seated this is especially important as you spend a lot of your time seated which won't help your back mobility or posture.
Try to stand for at least half of your day. Standing can help to encourage good posture and keep muscles & joints from stiffening up which they do when seated. Standing stretches your body and allows your spine and hips to be in the position they were intended for which will help to improve the suppleness & movement of your lower back and hips.
Find a yoga spinal flow programme and follow it for 2-3 days a week to begin with. You can find many beginner programmes on Youtube ( I recommend yoga with Adrienne) that can really help to improve your movement & mobility quite quickly.
If you want to put together your own mobility flow then I would choose 4-5 movements and do 10-15 repetitions of each exercise for 2-3 rounds. As you perform the rounds you should find your movement starts to improve & your body feels more supple. Introducing a consistent mobility routine can really be the key to improving your riding & movement in the saddle. You wouldn't expect your horse to move well if he was lacking suppleness so why do you expect yourself to?
Here are some of my favourite mobility exercises to use! Do each one and make a 15-minute routine to use 2-3 times per week.
1- Downward dog to rockback. Moving your hips and lower back this is a great movement start slowly and focus on pushing your weight into your hips and then into your hands to stretch your back.
2- Cat cows help to improve your thoracic extension & the rotations will help your thoracic rotation ability which can help to reduce pain & the stress of sitting.
3- Warriors are one of the best hip stretches and are a great starting exercise to improve your hip mobility & help reduce tightness.
These are some simple movements that can really help to improve your mobility over time.
Let me know how you find these & if they help you improve your suppleness!