This one is from @cbe_equestrian who is wanting to learn some exercises to strengthen her core and correct her “hollow” back.
“Hi there. Any exercises I can do to strengthen my core please? And also I have a hollow back so any exercises for that please? Thank you”
As I have outlined in previous posts, the core is HUGELY important for horse riders.
As a child/teen rider I remember doing100 sit-ups a day, knowing that the core was important, but not really knowing the right types of exercises to do.
Now I know that whilst sit-ups are a core exercise, they are not really the best choice to help develop our core muscles for equestrian.
The first step is knowing what the core muscles are and what core stability is.
In a nutshell…
THE CORE: The core simply refers to the musculoskeletal system of the trunk- including the pelvis, spine, and scapulothoracic region along with all the layers of muscles and fascia. To simplify the core for equestrian riders it is helpful to imagine your core like a box. In order for a box to be stable, each side of the box must be strong. (Read more on the core box here)
CORE STABILITY: Core stability is an individual’s ability to control the position and motion of the trunk during movement and function. (To find out more on core stability click here)
Getting an awareness around your core muscles is a start, and I outline this in the 10 FREE rider specific exercises (which you can access via the homepage or sidebar of this blog).
I also provide a heap more core stability exercises as a part of The 8 Week Rider Specific Exercise Program.
To give you a general idea- whilst sit-ups, crunches, and leg lowers are superficial core exercises, it’s important that the deeper muscles are strengthened appropriately first with isometric activations (similar to what we do when riding). These types of exercises are found in the 8 Week Rider Specific Exercise Program.
But here is one exercise you can try right away…
“DEAD BUGS” – for core stability, coordination, independent legs & hands (as featured in the 8 Week Rider Specific Exercise Program)
The second part of your question is about your “hollow” back.
Let’s first define what is meant by a hollow back.
We have natural curvatures of the spine. Our spine is not inherently “straight” from front to back. It forms a somewhat S shape which helps to give the spine it’s shock-absorbing properties.
A “hollow” back generally refers to an increased LUMBAR LORDOSIS. Which is an increase in the natural forward curvature of the lower back.
This type of posture tends to be more common in women, and is also often accompanied with an anteriorly tilted pelvis (see post on how to sit correctly on a horse for more details).
To correct a lumbar lordosis, all you need to do is strengthen the neural pathways and muscles that produce the opposite movement (lumbar flexion and often a posterior pelvic tilt).
Lots of riders struggle with too much lumbar lordosis (hollow back) and anterior pelvic tilt (sitting more on the crotch).
The muscles that create the hollow back/anterior tilt postures are the hip flexors and the lumbar extensors. So we often need to release and lengthen these. Releasing can be done through bodywork, massage, foam rolling, or using a spikey ball. Lengthening can be done through stretching.
The muscles that help to produce the opposite movements (lumbar flexion and posterior tilt) are the gluteals and the abdominal muscles. So we need to strengthen these in order to “correct” a “hollow” back. Practising posterior pelvic tilts and lumbar flexion exercises can help with this.
In the 8 Week Rider Specific Exercise Program there is a focus on lengthening hip flexors in the mobility sessions. Most of the workouts also include gluteal and abdominal muscle strengthening.
Once you have ensured you have lengthened and strengthened the appropriate muscles, it’s time to reprogram your riding neural pathways and practice the opposite of the hollow back position at the halt, walk, trot, and canter. Dedicate some rides to purely focus on correcting this. At first, you will need constant reminders (eyes on the ground are helpful for this), but after a while, the new position will become automatic and feel like your new normal.