Recently there is more press attention to the problem of sitting: sitting is ‘the new smoking’. Sitting all day- in a car, at a desk, in our leisure pursuits actually creates long term health issues due to sedentariness, weight gain, muscle imbalance and even our body collapsing on our organs. Sitting for hours cannot be undone by a mere hour here or there of exercise, either.
For riders, this modern era, first-world problem has an added dimension: our sport is also seated.
How does sitting impact riding? Many of the asymmetries or other imbalances, tensions and weakness areas that riders show are related to this sitting problem. A few of the key problems include developing a chair seat or hollow back from tight psoas (hip flexors), fatigue and inability to follow the horse’s motion for long periods from weak glutes/thighs, a collapsed chest, and a host of back and hip pain, and body alignment issues. Our bodies are very plastic. The way that yours is held all day long, contributes to the way it will default when riding.
Rider biomechanics and fitness has risen in popularity since I started Equifitt in 2007, because the problem gets worse, not better. The old riding masters never wrote about or addressed the problem, because in earlier times people just didn’t spend as much time sitting. We were a more active society, carrying a more active balanced body into the saddle. The enormous rise of saddle fitting, bodywork and other helps has to do with societal change in the riders sitting on the horses.
We also ride seated. That means that actual riding is not sufficient to undoing the problems of a day spent in various seated postures. So, the sport we do does not have the benefits an upright self-propelling sport such as cross country skiing or hiking would have for correcting some of these imbalances.
On a positive note, getting out to ride can be a wonderful antidote. In the first place, there is walking involved in getting your horse ready. Secondly, wanting to ride better and to do the right thing for our horses (sitting correctly so he can use his body in ergonomic and healthy ways) is a powerful motivator.
Here are 5 top things you can do to reduce the effect of too much sitting on your riding:
- Monitor and change your daily habits so that you spend more time standing.
Even if you have an office job all day that you commute to, you can make simple changes that will help stop or even reverse the sitting problems. You can stand in meetings, stand while on the phone, take intentional walk breaks at lunch or coffee time, and get up from your desk every 30-45 minutes for a brief stretch or walk. In addition to keeping your hips more mobile and tone in your legs, you will get a neurological boost that will help you be more productive in your work.
2. Incorporate simple stretches into your day that undo the tension in the areas that get tight.
Those include: hamstrings, calves/ankles, hip flexors, adductors and chest. I have a quick 3-5 minute routine that I recommend as a pre-ride stretch, but you can use all or part of it at any time. Download the Handy Stretch Guide for free.
3. Do exercises that cause contraction of your gluteals, every day.
Since gluteals and hip flexors are antagonists across your hip joint, contracting your glutes will strengthen them, which helps balance the hip. Balanced hips are necessary for a neutral spine, which is in turn necessary to avoid strain and pain when you do activities. Straightening your back starts with training your glutes. The other thing that happens when you contract the back side of your hip, is that the front (hip flexors) are simultaneously signaled to loosen. So, in addition to stretching hip flexors, you’re also helping them to loosen up by exercising your backside. Literally. You can do a number of things: lie on the floor on your back or stand straight and squeeze your seat; perform a sitting squat where you almost sit in your chair, but don’t; do stair step-ups; do rear-ward leg lifts from either a standing or ‘all fours’ position. You can even squeeze your gluteals just sitting, such as while driving to work.
4. Straighten your spine many times a day.
You can do work seated or standing to restore a straight and neutral spine. It’s a great way to take a mini body break at the office without working up a sweat. I like lining up with a wall at my back, or stretching backwards with arms open to open up the chest area at the same time. You can also incorporate more ‘active sitting’ into the times when you absolutely must be seated: sit on a balance cushion, or just sit with exceptionally good posture rather than slouching into the position of an inert lump.
5. Look for ways to make everything you do 10% more active.
Examples are parking further from the door, going to get your horse in the pasture rather than getting him to come to you; enjoy your grooming time- don’t cut it short. It’s bonding, and you’re standing and burning calories; do some more of your training as ground work or long-lining- it’ll improve your communication with your horse in the saddle and make your riding time more efficient as well; add a walk into your day. An ‘all or nothing’ approach is passé. Add 5,10 or 15 minutes here and there and it adds up; walk around your office to talk to people instead of emailing or messaging them; figure out how you can combine driving errands so that you are more efficient with time in your car…and get more time out of your car; get your coffee with a friend to go, so the two of you can visit while walking instead.
These are just a few ideas. You can probably come up with more. Don’t underestimate the power of tiny changes to add up.
You have more potential than you realise. Happy riding and training!
If you’re interested in more information about the phenomenon of sitting too much (this month’s theme), a book I can recommend is ‘Deskbound” by Kelly Starrett. The book has anatomy illustrations, exercises for fixing common back and other pains, and very readable explanations. Starrett has written several books on functional, ergonomic movement.
(c) Heather Sansom. You may share this article through social media, however reproduction without permission violates copyright law. More information about rider fitness training books, ebooks and online coaching available at www.equifitt.com