Fit to Ride: Pi’s super-awesome back workout, part I

Have you ever heard the saying, “Never take advice from a bunny”? Neither have we. Which is why we’re proud to bring you the column “Ask a Rabbit” (as transcribed by Biz Stamm).

Floppy Eventer Girl writes in:

I am just getting back into riding (I’ve been taking a break due to chiropractic/money issues) and have been trying to develop a fitness workout to get me back in shape. I know several riders do the cross-training and regimens, but I can’t seem to find the information anywhere. I take my dogs on a lengthy walk daily and pretty much weight lift at work – I work at a used bookstore. But it doesn’t seem to be enough.”

Pi’s response:

Hey there FEG! I hate to say it, but riding and back pain seem to go hand-in-hand.  If I had a nickel for every time my mom, a dressage rider, complained about her back hurting, I’d be one rich bunny. But it doesn’t have to be that way! If she would just listen to me, her pain could be greatly reduced, if not totally eliminated.

Back pain is generally the result of strained muscles, misalignment of the spine, or a combination of the two.  Low back pain appears to be the most common type of back pain for riders because a) riders use their low back as a giant shock absorber b) riders tend to have tight hamstrings, glutes, and hip flexors, which can pull the pelvis unevenly, thus misaligning the spine, and c) those big half-halts can cause some serious lower back muscle strain. In order to combat back pain and/or prevent it, you have to stretch the muscles that pull your spine out of whack, and strengthen the ones that support it. I’m going to use my mother to demonstrate some stretches and exercises (and maybe she’ll learn a thing or two in the process) that can keep your back fit to ride (Ahhh!  I just said the name of the column).  This workout is a bit on the long side, and I know many of you are reading this at work while the boss isn’t looking, so I’m going to break it down into two sections.  This week will be dedicated to stretches, and next week we’ll go over strengthening exercises.

Start off by gently your knees to your chest. Slowly roll your hips to the right and left so your knees make a semi-circle in the air. This will warm up your back and prepare it for the rest of the stretches.

Release your right leg so that it is laying flat on the floor while continuing to hold your left leg. Hold for 10-20 seconds and repeat with your right leg.

Remain flat on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor.  Lay your left ankle over your right knee and hug your right knee to your chest. Hold for 10-20 seconds and then repeat with the other leg.

Next, place your legs flat on the floor and reach for your toes in a nice forward bend.  Hold for as long as is comfortable, but try for at least 30 seconds.

For the next stretch, you’re going to sit up with your back straight.  Bend your right knee so that your toes are pointing to the left.  Then place your left foot on your right knee.  You should feel a strong stretch in your left hip flexor.  Hold for 10-20 seconds and repeat on the other side.

If you’d like to deepen the stretch, lean forward until the stretch feels adequate. Notice that Mom can’t lean that far forward because she doesn’t do her stretches on a regular basis! Also note the devil cat on the couch.

That last stretch we’re going to do is a yoga pose called the cow face pose.  A lot of people tell me that I look like a cow because of my spots, but that’s kind of like saying that all people look like naked mole rats due to their lack of body hair.  Oh wait… they do. But I digress.  Back to the stretch. Sit up straight with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.  Bend your right leg, bringing your heel to your left hip.  Then bend your left knee, and by cross your foot over your right leg, bring your heel to your right hip.  You should feel an intense stretch in your glutes.  Hold for 10-20 seconds and then repeat with your right leg on top.

That’s it for now.  Next week we’ll talk about some exercises to strengthen your core and support your spine.

Go Bunnies!

Stay tuned for part II next week. Do YOU have a fitness question for Pi? Email it to [email protected].

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