This post has good information and stretches for anyone, not just riders!
Now you have had a chance to explore some lower body stretches. hopefully, you have found some areas that needed to elongate and relax, and you are noticing some changes in your leg position or your ability to be straighter in your seat. If you are not a rider, perhaps the benefits are manifesting in other activities.
Let’s look at the upper body next. Many of us work at a desk or spend quite a bit of time seated. Gravity works against us, and gradually we slump forward and our heads slide out ahead of our chests.
Now our center of gravity is ahead of our movement…riders, we are on our forehands! Ideally, whether riding or elsewhere, the ear should be directly above the shoulder which should be above the elbow above the hip, then knee and ankle if standing.
The farther forward the head slides, the more it “weighs” as our shoulders and posterior neck muscles have to hang on to it. This causes those muscles to become tight and overused. Likewise as our chests drop, the pectoral muscles shorten. When our upper body collapses forward on itself, it is difficult to engage our trunk muscles and follow the movement of the horse.It send our center of gravity forward and may make it more difficult to balance the horse onto his hindquarters.
How can we retrain our upper bodies? First we need to lengthen what has become short and tight. Later, I will show you how to strengthen the muscles that keep our heads and torsos in the most anatomically efficient and balanced position. Do these in the order presented, as one mobilization leads to the next.
Let’s start by mobilizing the thoracic spine; the segment spanning the rib cage.
One of the best ways to do this is with a foam roller. (They are available online at a number of sources. You can cut them in two, if you want to share one or keep one at work.)
As you see, the idea is to drape yourself over the roller and allow your spine to bend back into extension. Support the back of your head, letting it drop back as much as is comfortable., and keep your knees bent. Start with the lowest part of your ribcage, spend a few seconds there, then move to the next section up toward your head. Keep working your way up to your shoulders, taking your time and allowing the release of your paraspinal muscles (the ones that run along each side of your spine). This can be painful at first, but try to breathe deeply and slowly. If you do it daily, you will be amazed at how quickly your back adapts, and soon it will not be uncomfortable. If it really is hard to handle, try a towel or other padding until it becomes tolerable. Each pass up the spine should take 20-30 seconds. Once or twice daily should reap results.
Pectorals/ shoulder rotators:
Now that your upper spine is free to move, you can stretch your chest and front of the shoulders. The two stretches below will allow you to bring your chest up and forward, and roll your shoulders back. In the first stretch, it is important to extend your whole hand and fingers back. Do not grip or clutch. Turn slightly away from the outstretched arm to increase the stretch. You may feel some tingling through your arm -the nerves may be getting a lengthening, too! The bent arm version focusses more on the pectoral muscles specifically, but both are useful. Short holds of 5-10 seconds, about 6-8 per arm.
Lastly, the neck may require some stretching. The upper trapezius muscle runs from the base of the skull, fanning out to attach to both the cervical (neck) spine and the back of the clavicle, becomes overdeveloped to counteract the weight of the forward-sliding head. If the shoulder or upper arm is weak, the “traps” are only too happy to take their jobs, too. Now you may really need to stretch them. This will help sternocleidomastoid (SCM) as well as the scalenes. With rounded shoulders and forward head, SCM becomes vertical and short, rather than long and obliquely oriented.
Anchor your hand under a bench or chair seat so you keep the shoulder attachments away from your head. Slowly and lightly pull your head away from the anchored side. You may need to rotate or bend your neck to find the angles that work best. Be gentle, and hold 5-6 seconds repeating 6-8 times. You may find one side of the neck is tighter than the other.
There are plenty of other stretches for the shoulder and upper back. For now, we will stick to these as they address some of the most common issues people face. With practice, you will be able to assume a more upright position, taking in more oxygen, and staying balanced in the center of your saddle. Soon, we will start some exercises to help maintain the good posture.
Thank you, MV, for posing for these photos.
Not all exercises are suitable for everyone and this or any other exercise program may result in injury. Any use of this exercise program assumes the risk of injury resulting from performing the exercise and using the equipment suggested. To reduce the risk of injury in your case, CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE BEGINNING THIS EXERCISE PROGRAM. The advice and instruction presented are in no way intended as a substitute for medical counseling. Jennifer Westerfeld and Westerfeld Fitness disclaim any liabilities or loss in connection with the exercise and advice herein.
Feel free to post questions and comments below, or contact me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org for a personal consultation or fitness plan.