JULY 2019 THE RIDER /47 Rider Fitness: Your Long and Strong Backline By Heather Sansom

Hi Everyone! This spring we’ve been

progressively working through basic right conditioning needs to support your position: we cov- ered cardio-vascular stamina to help you maintain control through your entire ride, then we worked on lateral core flexibility to unlock your hips and shoul- ders, followed by lateral leg strength to improve seat and leg position and balance. This month we’re focusing on a long and strong back-line. In your horse, this concept brings to mind his back muscles and perhaps the neck or abdominal core area (which supports the back from underneath). In you, a long and strong backline is mainly com- prised of everything from your neck to the bottom of your foot, from a back view. Just as for your horse,

your backline is comprised of both muscles and fascia. The main muscles I am concerned about for rider fitness are the long back muscles (erector spinae), gluteals (supporting the back above and the legs below), ham- strings, calf muscles (soleus and gastrocnemius). The main ten- don areas I focus on are origin and insertion points of the ham- strings and calf muscles, Achilles tendon, and tendons in the bottom of the foot. From the upper body per-

spective, the back muscles keep

your torso from collapsing in both seated and forward seat riding styles. Your backside supports an upright spine, and also provides a secure anchor for your hamstrings. The leg mus- cles need to be strong to pro- vide stability, but they also need to be long and flexible to allow correct opening of the knee


and bend in the ankle. The most common combina- tion of problems in riders is a weak back and gluteals, combined with tight and short hamstrings, calves and ankles. These problems can lead to collapsed torso, legs that ride up, or feet and ankles that block motion at the stirrup


These are just some of the prob- lems.


strengthening and stretching are so im- portant together, I almost always have riders focus on their flexibility routine and core strength first. Your backline is more than

Illustration by animal and portrait artist Marg Henderson, published by Trafalgar Square in my book Fit to Ride in Nine Weeks

your backline in a mounted posi- tion.

Three extremely simple

muscles and tendons. A quick in- ternet search on ‘superficial back- line fascia’ will provide you with good images and video about your fascial system connecting the top of your head to the soles of your feet. In riders, you need to have strong muscles along this line (where applicable), com- bined with toned but flexible fas- cia,

and flexible, strong

ligaments. Generally, a well-bal- anced program of stretching and strengthening will also improve fascial plasticity and support. A combination of exercises to strengthen and stretch your back-

exercises you can incorporate into your routine to focus on your backline involved stretching your Achilles (ankles), and strengthen- ing those three main muscle areas (back, gluteals, hamstring). Most riders I’ve worked with could im- prove ankle flexibility. It is won- derful if you can find a block to stand on to hang a heel down to stretch it, but if you can’t, a sim- ple forward lunge, or even down- ward dog (yoga) or any movement producing that stretch in the calf will do. The image below shows a calf and Achilles tendon being stretched in a com-


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line will help lengthen your leg, improve your upper body pos- ture, increase your leg stamina, and strengthen your aids. That is a lot of impact! The following image shows the lower part of

Rider Backline Calf Stretch Deadlift

Illustration by animal and portrait artist Marg

Henderson, published by Trafalgar Square in my book Fit to Ride in Nine Week

mon lunging stretch. To strengthen the muscles

involved in your backline, two of my favourite exercises are the deadlift and back extension. The back extension can be performed flat on the ground, or over a hay- bale, while the deadlift is easier to do when you have no helper. In both cases, maintain a very straight back posture. A correct deadlift should hinge at the hip, not your spine (don’t fold over: stick your backside behind you, flatted your back, and lower your upper back down and up with as straight a back as possible, feel- ing weight into your heels). Each exercise should be per- formed 15-20 times fairly easily before you can add or increase weight

(such as using

freeweights). Deadlines can be done creatively in the barn hold- ing water pails! The exercise shown here does not include weights, in order to focus on pos- ture.

Finally, while stretching

before you ride is a great idea, it is not recommended to do a strength workout because it will tire the muscles you need when riding. For many people, work-

Illustration by animal and portrait artist Marg Henderson, published by Trafalgar Square in my book Fit to Ride in Nine Weeks

ing out after you ride is a better fit since you are in flexible cloth- ing, and already sweaty and warmed up. As with most strength training and stretching, aim to stretch daily. Strength training should ideally be done every day until one set is easy

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Back Extension

Illustration by animal and portrait artist Marg Henderson, pub- lished by Trafalgar Square in my book Fit to Ride in Nine Weeks

(that is effectively a physiother- apy use of strength training). As you increase the amount of work you are doing, go back to 2-3 times a week for the same muscle group with days off in between for muscle cell repair.

Happy Riding and Training! © Heather R. Sansom, PhD.

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