Whether you are an avid or casual rider, you become quickly aware of the impact that horseback riding has on your entire body. From the bottom of your feet all the way through the palms of your hands, the body is forced to absorb the movements and impact of the animal underneath you. Without balance, strength, stamina and endurance, the activity would be painful! Preparing your body with Pilates is a great way to ensure that you are ready to ride.
Many top riders incorporate Pilates into their fitness regime, and amateur riders can also make their saddle time more productive by incorporating Pilates like the pros do! As an avid amateur equestrian and Club Pilates Instructor in Calgary Alberta, I can attest to the benefits of Pilates in my own riding. Here are five of my favorites, ranging from beginner to advanced!
- Side splits into saw on the reformer, 1 red spring bar down.
Benefits: This move is great for strengthening and lengthening the abductors/adductors, spinal mobility, hamstring flexibility, and balance.
Directions: Start standing on the Reformer one foot on the platform, the other foot on the carriage, slightly wider than hip distance. Arms extend to the sides at shoulder height. Press the carriage out as far as the pelvis can be kept neutral (no anterior tilt here!), rotate then flex reaching the opposite hand towards the opposite foot while keeping the carriage pressed out and still. Return to vertical and centre, repeat on the other side and return the carriage in. Love the combination of strength, flexibility and balance in this classic!
- Horseback (what else!) on the chair 1 spring on 2.
Benefits: This is a super exercise for the adductors, glutes, and abdominals, with the added benefit of lovely spinal flexion and lengthening of the back extensors. Again, for those with more limited saddle time, this can really build that all important adductor strength!
Directions: Start with your legs straddled on the chair slightly forward, elbows flexed, and palms up. Engage the adductors by squeezing the sides of thechair (use pads for comfort if needed) as the pelvis is lifted off the seat. Reach the arms forwards, circle the arms overhead then reach hands towards the pedal, keeping your pelvis lifted, and depress the pedal flexing the spine. Then, return the pedal, arms and pelvis back to the starting position.
- Breast stroke on the reformer with long box 1 blue spring.
Benefits: Riding requires back strength and flexibility. This movement targets the back extensors, adding spinal extension and mobility in the shoulder girdle.
Directions: Begin prone on a long box towards the bar, hands in long loops, elbows bent, palms down, and legs extended (no noodle legs!). Extend your arms, circle in front of shoulders then back to hips, and lift your upper body into extension. Then, lower your body and return your arms back to the starting position.
- Tendon stretch on the reformer, 1 red spring.
Benefits: Really working the abdominals here, but also strengthening the shoulder girdle, back extensors and working through flexion of the spine.
Directions: Bar at the top setting is more challenging, or lowered one is a great modification. Begin facing the risers with your legs extended, and your arches on the edge of the carriage, hip distance apart, hands outside of the hips. Keeping your arms and legs straight, press the carriage all the way out, lowering hips towards springs. Pull the carriage back into the stopper, lifting your hips so they clear the bar, and back to the starting position. Added bonus: lengthen those hamstrings as the hips lift. Add tricep dips while the carriage is extended for an extra challenge!
- Feet in strap series on the reformer, 2 red springs.
Benefits: Bend and stretch, lower and lift, and circles really strengthen and lengthen the adductors, hamstrings, and core.
Directions: Begin supine on the carriage, feet in long loops. Bend your knees to table top and extend over the bar keeping your pelvis stable, then return knees to table top. Reach straight legs towards the ceiling, engage your core to lower legs over the bar, and return towards the ceiling keeping your sacrum on the carriage. Bring straight legs back, toes to ceiling, and now circle your legs in opposite directions. Now, add the magic circle and repeat bend-and-stretch and lower-and-lift and quickly squeeze and release the circle as the legs are lowered and lifted to really target the adductors. Finish off with a lovely straddle stretch with feet in straps for this feel-good series!!
Pilates is an exercise program that compliments all equestrian disciplines perfectly. Core stability and overall strength and suppleness are requirements of an effective equestrian athlete - Pilates builds all of this and more!
Written by Heather Bush, Instructor, Club Pilates, Calgary Alberta Canada. Follow her on Instagram at @Heather_b_pilates!