California Riding Magazine • March, 2008

Fit To Ride
A strong back improves riding
and helps prevent injury.

by Sylvie Quenneville

A strong back is essential to good posture, proper balance, and warding off back injuries. It could even prevent falls. Your spine, otherwise known as the backbone, is your chief support in life, so it must be kept strong by performing back strengthening exercises.
Strengthening the extensor muscles along the spine will help you maintain better posture, and will give you the ability to manage more effectively the forces pulling you forward on the horse. It leads to substantial increases in body control while posting, starting and stopping, and landing after jumps.

Many fitness experts are great at enhancing the acceleration in movement but pay little attention to the deceleration or force absorption. In most cases, you must be able to absorb force before you can create force. Training deceleration will allow you to maximize the benefits of the stretch shortening cycle and consequently increase force and power output. Not only can training deceleration improve balance and performance, it can also help reduce the risk of injury, as a large percentage of injuries occur while decelerating your body or limbs (e.g. landing from a jump, changing direction, refusing horse, regaining lateral balance, etc.).

If you are off balance, especially in the landing of a jump, you can really make it difficult for your horse to rebalance himself. However, if you can maintain that centered balance, your horse will be more willing to jump because he will have confidence in you. He will know that you will follow his motion, which, from his point of view, will help him maintain the rhythm of the jump and also make your weight seem lighter.

There are many ways of strengthening your back muscles. Elastic resistance is an excellent choice as a resistance medium as it has an inherent eccentric (meaning “away from the center or axis”) property. Once the band or tubing is stretched, you must work against the resistance that has been created eccentrically as the exercise movement continues to the starting position. Eccentric training is important not only in performance enhancement and injury prevention, but also rehabilitation programs. The inclusion of eccentrics in the training program addresses the need to control the body segments and provide stability.

Equestric Fitness recommends the following exercise to reproduce the horse’s acceleration and deceleration. This abdominal and lower back strengthening exercise will mimic the forward and backward forces that act on your upper body when riding. It will also help you practice off the horse how to increase your body’s awareness and self-control. Jill Wright from the San Diego training stable, Newmarket, demonstrates this exercise.

Start by anchoring an elastic resistance band around a pole, tree or doorway. Hold one handle of the resistance band and place your hands overlapping behind your neck. Your elbows are bent and tight against your head. Your stance should be horse-width while your knees are bent at a 70-75 degree angle and arch your lower back. Curl forward while keeping your knees bent and hands tight behind your neck. Your lower back should stay arched throughout the movement and shoulder blades tight together in your back. Go back to the starting position (upright) very slowly, resisting the backwards pull of the resistance band. There should be very little movement in the lower body.

- Keep abdominals tight to help stabilize trunk
- Keep knees bent for stability
- Always stay in pain free range
- Can be performed on a single leg for advance level.

As always, before starting any exercises for strengthening the back, it is important that all, if any, injuries have had plenty of time to heal. Next you should begin some stretching exercises before any back strengthening exercise activities. Stretching will help to heal these injuries and eliminate any tightness and stiffness in the body’s musculature and surrounding tissues. Back strengthening must be done slowly at first, and then gradually build it up over time. Slow and steady wins the race.