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The core connection....

The word "core" is defined as "the basic or most important part; the crucial element or essence" which rings true for the role of the rider's core in Equestrian Performance!

One of the first fundamental concepts to be understood is that riding is an anteriorly based sport which oftentimes leads to deficits in effective recruitment of the posterior chain (spinal erectors, gluteals and hamstrings). This can lead to weakness in core, glutes, hamstrings and lower back as well as tightness in the hip flexors, adductors, pectorals, ankles etc.

Plate 1: a.) anterior chain and b.) posterioir chain

You may be thinking "yes but what does that even mean...." Well, the major hip flexor is know as Iliopsoas (seen below as the Psoas and Iliacus) and runs from the lumbar spine and iliac fossa to the lesser trochanter of the femur. Tight hip flexors for example can result in a anterior-tilted pelvis, a hollow/ lordotic back, and a flexed and externally rotated hip. This means that you cannot get the thigh to extend down or the knees to turn in, because your hip flexors and rotators are contracted. Then to make matters worse, to avoid tipping forward you’ll try to sit up by hyperextending & bracing the back which will likely result in lower back pain for yourself and discomfort for your horse.

Plate 2- The Iliopsoas (hip flexor)

As riders, we are focused on the transverse abdominus (TVA) and the internal obliques contracting with the deep multifidi (spinal stabilisers) simultaneously to provide a stiffening effect of the lumbar spine. "The reason that the deep multifidi, transverse abdominus and internal obliques are considered segmental stabilisers is because they have attachments at each and every vertebral level. Conversely, the rectus abdominus is the top layer of abdominals which has attachment from the sternum to the pubis. It doesn't attach directly to each vertebral level"

As riders, we need to focus on particular exercises to provide stability and training to stimulate the deep core musculature. Once those are performing well, we can incorporate the more global secondary stabilisers like latissimus dorsi, gluteals and hamstrings.

A key point to remember is that the segmental stabilisers are multi-directional since the multifidi are oriented on 45 degree angles. We should seek multi-angle or multi-planer stability (with a contractile load of 30 percent or greater) such as balancing on top of an exercise ball to create a stiffening effect that recruits muscles to maintain balance. This differs from a 100 percent contraction load of the rectus abdominus found in a full sit-up".

So, in our physical exercise programs, we at Equestrian Performance, train the muscles to sustain contractions, with particular focus on the TVA and other deep core musculature! We focus on specificity, we focus on working the stabilisers, on functional training not just on general exercises often prescribed by PT's. We focus on research based exercise and so should you! #equestrian #researchbasedphysio #strengthscientist #aesthetix

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   Kylie Bonthrone - Equine Physio and Rider Sports Therapist

          BSc (Hons) Equine Science, PGDip VPhys, SMT, NKTP, MIAAT           

    Craig Bonthrone - Strength and Conditioning Coach

       MSc Coaching Science, NSCA accredited,  BSc (Hons) S and C,  FdSc. 

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