Hard Core!!!

Core strength… if you haven’t heard whisperings of it, read something about it, or been told you need to improve it, you must live a life of blissful isolation (or have very polite friends), as it’s been something of a buzz term recently.

Our rider fitness expert Aislinn McKenna looks at what exactly is “core strength” or “core training”, and (more importantly) why it is important for horse riders…

Core training does two really important things —  it supports your spine and helps with things like balance. Sounds rather useful, right?!

But if that’s not enough motivation to have you hitting the gym, here are a few more reasons why having a strong core is so important for us equestrians:

  1. Aids control…….engaging our core helps to control the pace of our horse, without having to touch the reins.
  2. Helps pull you out of tricky situations. This is where some people are better at hanging on and pulling themselves back into the saddle when everything has gone pear shaped! It’s your core that you need to pull yourself back into place quickly.
  3. Injury prevention: when you’ve gone past the point of recovery and there’s no hope of staying in the saddle,having a strong core helps to support your lower back which is a common point of injury for riders.
  4. Posture…need I say more!

There are hundreds of core exercises out there. Knowing which to focus on is key as it can be difficult to really hit your core hard enough to increase its strength, before some of the supporting muscles start screaming at you. I have found that suspension training is the best way to really get your core muscles working, without putting strain on your hip flexors or neck.

So here are my top 5 core exercises: (make sure you have done a 5-10 min warm up before starting)

Plank (Intermediate)

How to: Adjust the suspension trainer loops to mid-calf length. Begin in a suspended plank position with your feet in the suspension trainer loops, toes facing down and wrists directly underneath your shoulders. Your body should be in a straight line from head to toe. Hold for 30 seconds, take a break and repeat. (you can hold for longer or less, just take note of your times so you can monitor progress)

The-Plank-rider fitness

Side Plank/with twist (Intermediate)

How to: Lie on your left side and place both feet into the cradles. Stack your elbow under shoulder, and lift yourself up into a side plank. To make it harder, reach your free hand under your torso to the floor behind your body. Looking for yet another variation? Try lowering your hip to the floor and raising it back up into the side plank. Hold for a few seconds at the top, and then repeat.

Obliques Twist (Advanced)

This movement helps to build balance, stability and control. Its works your obliques whilst also engaging the chest, shoulders and triceps

How to: Adjust the suspension trainer loops to mid-calf length. Begin in a suspended plank position with your feet in the suspension trainer loops, toes facing down and wrists directly underneath your shoulders. Your body should be in a straight line from head to toe. Keeping your legs together bring your knees to your right elbow and then return to plank position. Repeat on the left hand side

Obliques-Twist

Pike (Advanced) / Knees to chest (Intermediate)

Pikes help you build a strong core by challenging your balance and stability, along with your abdominal muscles.

How to: Adjust the suspension trainer loops to mid-calf length. Begin in a suspended plank position with your feet in the suspension trainer loops, toes facing down and wrists directly underneath your shoulders. Your body should be in a straight line from head to toe (a). Pressing down through your palms, lift your hips up towards the ceiling by drawing your legs towards your chest until you look like an upside-down V, or as high as you can go (b). Slowly lower your legs and return to the starting position (c). Repeat.

If this movement is too difficult perform Knees to Chest crunch instead.

Adjust the suspension trainer loops to mid-calf length. Begin in a suspended plank position with your feet in the suspension trainer loops, toes facing down and wrists directly underneath your shoulders. Your body should be in a straight line from head to toe (a). Pull your knees towards your chest (b). Slowly extend your legs back to the start position (c). Repeat.

Pike

Hamstring Runners (Beginner/Intermediate)

Hamstring runners look like a mountain climber except on your back. As its name implies, this is a great exercise to fire up those hamstrings. But, since your hips are raised throughout the movement, it’s also good for your glutes, lower back and core. To make this harder, move your feet away from the suspension point to add more resistance. To make it easier, bend both legs in towards your body at the same time.

How to: With the straps at mid-calf length, lie on your back, facing your anchor and place your heels into the foot cradles. Rest your arms flat on the floor alongside your body, palms facing down. Pushing through your heels, lift your hips off the floor (a). Contract your right hamstring to draw that knee in towards your body slowly (b). As you return your leg to the starting position, begin to draw your left knee in towards your body for one rep (c). The straps should remain taut throughout the exercise. Repeat.

That’s it! 5 simple (ish) exercises to strengthen your core, flatten your stomach and improve your riding. Give it a go for 4 weeks, doing the above exercises 3 times a week and I promise you, you will feel the difference.

Do let me know how you get on! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them in the comment section below.

Until next time…

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