A majority of professional equestrians will tell you that the most essential element of any rider’s fitness is their core strength. Having a strong and stable core supports good posture, balance/stability in the saddle, a fluid and following seat, and overall body alignment.
It may seem simple to improve our core strength, all we need to do are more crunches right?
Basic crunches/sit ups target our upper abdominal muscles but our lower abs, obliques/sides, and deep abdominal muscles also need attention.
So what’s an equestrian to do?
We lead busy lives, often holding a full time job while either boarding our keeping our horses at home. Our time is precious. Plus, let’s face it, at the end of the day we’re probably going to prioritize other things from our to do list above exercise.
So here are some dynamic, quick, and easy to do exercises that will help you improve your core strength.
It should be noted that before starting any new exercise routine or movement you should consult your doctor, especially if a preexisting condition is present. Additionally, I am not a certified personal trainer or physically therapist but I’ve consulted with my own trainer and used Delavier’s Women’s Strength Training Anatomy Workouts as a resource for specific information. Delavier’s is a great resource for any female athlete wanting to improve their fitness and we all know that equestrians ARE athletes.
6 Core Exercises for Equestrians
1- Basic Abdominal Engagement
Try practicing basic abdominal engagement while you are sitting. I’ve found that just thinking about engaging my core muscles while I’m driving has helped to not only strengthen them but to also bring my awareness to how I am using them while I am siting down. This will help you eliminate the unwanted lower back curvature that can lead to increased stress in the lower back while riding.
2- Stabilized Crunches- Two Ways
The basic crunch isn’t very effective for equestrians. Here are two of the innumerable ways you can modify it to increase muscle engagement and see improved results.
FYI in case you need a tune up, here’s a quick video from Livestrong.com on basic crunch form and safety: How to Do a Crunch Without A Partner
a. No Equipment: While laying on the floor press your feet against the wall with your knees at a 90 degree bend or if you have a partner have them simply hold your feet against the floor, still at 90 degrees. Use the same basic tips that were shown in the video, focusing on keeping your abs engaged at all times. If you want a little more of a challenge you can begin to engage your obliques by adding a twist each time your shoulders lift off the floor.
b. For even more of a challenge try using an incline bench. This will increase the resistance on your muscles and make them work harder. Be careful not to arch your back, maintaining core engagement throughout each phase of this exercise. Here’s a great video from Super Body that shows the extra twist: Incline Bench Down Crunches for Women
Both of these exercises are great for isolating your core muscles and can be modified to increase difficulty whenever you’re ready and able to.
3- Russian Twists
Russian Twists are my favorite core strengthening exercise, mostly because they make me feel like I can kick anyone’s butt.
Fitness Blender has a great video on basic, weight free Russian Twists here. Want to make it a little more difficult? Try adding weights, extending your arms, or lifting your legs off the floor. Here’s another one from Fitness Blender: Russian Twists Level 2
I hate these, mostly because they show me just how much work I still have to do to improve my abdominal muscles 😉
Livestrong has a great, multilevel video on bicycle crunches for women here. Be careful not to use your leg muscles too much or pull on your neck while you are doing these!
Ah planks. When done correctly they not only work your abs but also your legs, arms, back, glutes, and pretty much ever mental muscle you have.
Brooke Burke and Autumn Calabrese have a great video on how to do a basic plank and additional variations you can use to feel the burn over at Modern Mom.
Deadlifts are another great, total body movement that will really focus in on improving your lower back strength when done correctly. Livestrong.com has another great tutorial video for women at What is a Good Deadlift for Women.
And there you have it! Six, easy, fast exercises you can do to improve your core strength for riding. While making you a better, more athletic rider, improving core strength can also help you reduce tension in your back, protect your spine, reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, improve your digestion, and improve your cardiovascular health all without having to do high impact workouts that put additional miles on all of your joints.
Cecelia Conway is a health and wellness coach/ blogger at Team Sea Star Equestrian. She’s also a PATH Intl. certified therapeutic riding instructor and dedicated Adult Amateur dressage rider and competitor with a little bit of eventing on the side. If you’d like more information about equestrian workouts and at home programs for exercise and nutrition please feel free to contact her through either her website or on her Facebook Page Team Sea Star.