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Climbing The Rider Fitness Pyramid - Part. 2 Flexibility

It's been about a month now since I started working out with Amanda McDonell. I've haven't kept up with the workouts as regularly as I should have (I've hit the gym 2-3X a week as opposed to 4-5X) but I've seen the results regardless. Even my trainer has noticed that my body has transformed at the sitting trot from the consistency of Jello (my words, not hers) to a more shock absorbing spring that energizes my horse while remaining toned, rather than shutting him down.

That being said, in my past workouts I've always focused on cardio and muscle building. Flexibility has unfortunately fallen to the bottom of my priority list. I workout for utility, and if it didn't make me fit into my clothes better, then I really couldn't be bothered. However, Amanda has helped me see the benefits of a supple body in the saddle. So while stretching might not help you fit in your breeches, it can better help you "fit" on your horse with a longer, more effective leg position. Now that's logic I can get behind.

Just one level above balance, Amanda sites flexibility, or in equestrian terms "suppleness", as the second step on the Rider Fitness Pyramid. As it turns out, toned arms and a whittled waist are nothing if you can't lengthen your leg around your horse's barrel and create an open hip angle that is conducive to positive energy.

Amanda explains, “I really feel that if we are going to ask our horses to be supple and flexible, it's only fair that we too are supple and flexible. Suppleness in the riders hips, lower back and thighs are especially important as these parts of our bodies act as the “shock absorbers” and if we are stiff in these areas not only do our horses feel it and inhibits their way of going, but it can affect our ability to properly give an aid. Being supple can also help with fatigue in the saddle and injury prevention.”

I don't like to admit when I'm wrong, but in terms of the value of flexibility I was certainly misguided. As of late I've been hitting the yoga mat post-workout to ensure that all of my efforts strengthening my core and lower half don't go to waste because my muscles are bound like a rubber band. Flexibility is the foundation of rider fitness, and as we know with horse training, skipping steps is costly in the long run.

Ergo, below is a gymnastic guide to stretching for the supple equestrian. Let's get to it!

Forward Lunge

Strengthens the upper back, shoulders and core muscles while stretching the hip flexors, thigh muscles and abdomen.

  1. Begin in a plank position.

  2. Step your right foot between your hands and ensure your knee is directly above the ankle.

  3. Lower your left knee to the floor.

  4. Raise your torso upright and reach both arms overhead, or put hands on hips.

  5. Lengthen your tailbone towards the floor, relax your shoulders and look forward.

  6. Allow your hips to sink towards the floor, deepening the stretch through the hips and thigh.

  7. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, repeat on the opposite side.

Modified Forward Lunge

This is more advanced version of the forward lunge, deeply stretching the hips, hamstrings and thighs.

  1. Begin in a plank position

  2. Step your left foot forward and make sure your knee is directly above the ankle.

  3. Lower your right knee to the floor.

  4. Move your left foot several inches out to the left.

  5. Bring both hands to the inside of the left knee and tilt the pelvis slightly under, dropping on to the elbows if comfortable.

  6. Let your hips sink low, then let your foot roll on to its side and open the hip to deepen the stretch.

  7. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, repeat on the opposite side.

Pigeon With Forward Fold Stretch

Deeply stretches and improves flexibility in the hips. Stretches the thighs, groin muscles and lower back.

  1. Start on hands and knees in a table top position

  2. Bring your left knee forward and place it next to the inside of your left hand.

  3. Extend your right leg back and lower your hips to the floor. Make sure the heel of the bent leg is in line with your hip and keep your foot flexed to protect your knee.

  4. Press your hands into the floor, roll your shoulders back to expand your chest.

  5. Slowly walk your hands forward to bring your upper body down over your leg. Feel the deep stretch throughout the hip, thigh and groin muscle and buttocks as your breathe deeply and relax into this stretch.

  6. For a deeper stretch in the hip, move your left foot forward to bring your shin parallel.

  7. Remain in this pose as long as comfortable, repeat on opposite side

Reclined Pigeon Stretch

Deeply stretches the hips, thighs and groin muscle.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and heels in close to the buttocks.

  2. Place your right foot on top of your left thigh

  3. Lift your left foot off the mat, thread your right arm between your legs and interlace your fingers around your left shin.

  4. Use your arms to hug your knee in towards your chest and relax anywhere that you feel tension.

  5. Remain in this position for 30 seconds to one minute, repeat on opposite sides

Gate Stretch

Stretches the hips, groin muscles, hamstrings, shoulders and side core muscles.

  1. Start by sitting on your heels in a kneeling position.

  2. Bring your knees hip width apart and come up onto both knees.

  3. Step your left foot out to the side with your toes pointing to the left.

  4. Breathe in and extend both arms up.

  5. Exhale and place the left hand on the left thigh.

  6. Slide the left hand down your leg, lean your upper body to the left and reach your right arm overhead and along side your ear.

  7. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, repeat on opposite side.

Butterfly Stretch

Works to stretch the inner thigh, hips and groin.

  1. Sit on the floor with both legs straight out in front of you. Keep your legs in front and sit up to elevate your spine.

  2. Bring the soles of your feet together, pointing the knees outward.

  3. Bring your heels as close to your body as you can. Hold on to your ankles and pull your feet towards your pelvis.

  4. Lean forward, making sure your back stays straight. You can use your elbows to gently push on your thighs for a deeper stretch.

  5. Hold as long as feels comfortable.

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