Core strength is a popular topic in fitness, and for good reason. Our core muscles stabilize our low backs, protecting us from injury as we use our arms and legs. A strong, flexible core allows for controlled, smooth movements of the whole body.
A strong core is particularly important for riders. It keeps us centered over our horses during spooks, trips or other quick movements. Controlling our core also controls our horse. When we engage our core, we resist the rocking of the horse’s gait. This, in turn, provides the basis for half halts, downward transitions and collected work. Extension also requires a solid core, as you need to increase the swing of your low back in a way that keeps you stable and doesn’t hurt you.
The best way to strengthen your core is to perform exercises where you keep your low back still and move your arms and/or legs. Below is one of my favourite core exercises, with variations for almost any level of rider.
The Exercise – “Dead Bug”
The starting position for this exercise is shown in photo 1, with your knees in the air above your hips and your shins parallel with the ground. Be careful not to twist or arch your low back as you get into or out of this position. Gently press your low back into the floor, so that you can feel if it lifts up during the exercise. Place your hands on the front of your pelvis – this helps you to identify if you’re twisting or tipping. It is important to keep your pelvis and low back still. To begin with, you may find just holding this position for 30 seconds is enough of a core workout. If you feel comfortable holding the starting position for two minutes, then progress to the next step.
The next stage of this exercise is to slowly straighten one leg at a time, alternating between the two legs and then returning to the starting position. Initially, start with a small movement, as shown in photo 2. As you become comfortable, you can go as far as an inch or two above the floor.
Finally, once you are confident that you can feel whether your low back stays still without your hands on your hips, you can add an extra level of challenge by straightening your arms towards the ceiling. Continue to do the same leg motion, but now pair it with diagonal arm movements, like in photo 3.
The right level of intensity should challenge your muscles, but still allow you to breathe normally and keep your pelvis still. The goal is to perform this exercise for roughly two minutes, so pick the version that you can perform well for this long. Don’t be afraid to take a step back if you feel you’re losing the quality of the movement. Try integrating core exercises into your daily routine three to four times per week.
When to Get Help
This is a challenging exercise, even in its simplest version. Sometimes people need a little help to feel their core muscles working, especially if they’ve had a low back injury in the past. The opposite may also be true – if you’re an advanced rider, this