Written by: Terry Ford
Restorative exercise specialist Terry Ford provides exercises for the shoulders and back to improve your position in the saddle.
Pain in the back, shoulders and neck can have negative effects on our posture and, therefore, our riding. It is, most often, our own bad habits that are the cause.
Habitually sticking our heads forward, for example, to look at computer screens or phones, while driving, reading, eating or watching television, as well as when we ride, causes the small muscles of the neck to tighten in an effort to hold the head’s weight.
Poor breathing techniques can also cause pain in these areas. Under constant stressors, we tend to breathe by elevating our shoulders instead of stretching our rib cages. This affects the shoulder girdle’s ability to influence the positioning of the spine and head, the strength of the arms and our ability to relax and enjoy pain-free range of motion.
Furthermore, too much sitting, overuse and one-sided activities are factors that contribute to muscular imbalances such as shoulder impingement (when the tendons of the rotator cuff muscles become irritated and inflamed), rotator cuff tears, bursitis and tendonitis.
Stretching can go a long way to improving posture and reducing pain, but it must be done correctly. During short-term stretching, force and too much load causes muscles to act similarly to an elastic band, where no permanent lengthening occurs, and the risk of injury is high. Lengthening of muscles is best achieved when the body is warm and the duration is increased gradually.
The benefits of stretching muscles to their correct length, within their intended range of motion include increased circulation, less post-training recovery time, reduced tension and less pain – all of which can improve our riding.
Tight hips and gluteal muscles can also contribute to back pain, so practice the exercises in Part 1 of this series (March/April Horse-Canada) for those areas in addition to performing the following exercises daily for your shoulders and back.
Strengthens the muscles between your shoulder blades to help hold the spine correctly and get the ears back over the shoulders.
- Start on your hands and knees, with knees under hips and wrists under shoulders. Relax your spine and let your head hang downward.
- Bring your shoulder blades together, then apart, without bending your unlocked elbows.
- Try the exercise with the upper arm rotated outward and bring elbow pits forward.
Relaxes the muscles in the neck, lengthens the spine increasing blood flow to the neck, shoulders and back.
- Slide your chin back, making a double chin, to stack ears over shoulders.
- Keep your eyes level and don’t tip your head.
- Practice this anywhere, anytime.
Helps increase waist and spine mobility.
- Lie on your back, with legs straight.
- Pull your left knee into your chest and gently roll your body to the right until your knee touches the floor, if you can.
- Slowly pull your left shoulder back to the floor, letting your bent left arm reach outward to increase the twist.
- Repeat on other side.
While standing, try adjusting your head by pulling your face back and relaxing the back of your neck. Let your elbows come down to your sides and your trapezius muscles relax. Then take 10 slow breaths, allowing your ribs to expand outward.