The Athletic Rider: Stabilize THEN Strengthen the Core

From sitting the trot to staying centered during a spook, a strong core is a must for riders. Personal trainer Leah Hinnefeld reminds us of an often overlooked prerequisite.

From Leah:

Core training has become a very popular “buzz phrase” in fitness environments — and rightfully so! Core training can help with lower back pain, improve sports performance and give you that coveted six-pack abs. If your sport’s focus includes rider fitness, you won’t have to leave the barn aisle in order to hear both trainers and riders speak about the benefits of having a strong core.

When most people think of core training, they are normally referring to the kind of training used during the core strengthening phase of a properly designed fitness program. Exercises performed during the core strengthening phase include the most familiar core exercises such as crunches, reverse crunches or even back extensions. What many riders don’t realize is there is a core training phase that, when incorporated into a complete fitness program, will lay the foundation for even better core strength, reduce risk of injury and ultimately improve athletic performance.

Before focusing on improving core strength, riders may need to invest up to four weeks in a phase of training that develops core stabilization. Core stabilization exercises are designed to improve neuromuscular efficiency and intervertebral stability. When core stabilization training is ignored, the body senses imbalances and then compensates in ways that reduce efficiency during movement. These compensations in movement result in the very opposite of neuromuscular efficiency. Additionally, the muscles that attach vertebrae to vertebrae will not be properly developed, leading to the overall instability of the spinal column.

The core is not only the spine, but also the structures that make up the lumbo-pelvic-hip-complex (LPHC). The LPHC is just a fancy way of talking about the lower back, pelvic and hips. When you consider that most of a rider’s time spent in the saddle is sitting and that the ultimate sports performance goal of riding (regardless of discipline) is an independent seat that effectively communicates with the horse, then the value of a stabilized core becomes clear.

The exercises included in the core stabilization phase, unlike the traditional exercises of the strengthening phase, actually involve little to no movement of the spine and pelvis. Perhaps the most well-known (and often dreaded) core stabilization exercises is the Iso-prone Plank (commonly called a Low Plank). Others include a Two Leg Floor Bridge (also called Hip-Ups) and Floor Prone Cobra (similar to Rocketman in Focus T25).

If you are anything like I am, you dream of that ride when you and your horse feel like one body and one mind, completely intertwined and inseparable. One brick in the foundation to make that dream a reality is ensuring that you (and your horse!) have a stabilized core that can then be properly strengthened. If you are unsure how to design the correct fitness program for your current level so you can keep building your rider fitness foundation, contact me and let’s start laying those bricks together.

In the meantime, take advantage of this FREE CORE WORKOUT from The Athletic Rider!

Your body-and your horse-will thank you for your commitment to your own fitness.  Let’s face it, the more you invest in your own fitness, the better your horse will perform.

Leah Hinnefeld is a lifelong equestrian who spent over a decade studying hoof health and metabolism in horses before turning her attention to rider fitness. Leah is a personal trainer certified by the National Academy of Sports Fitness and offers Virtual Fitness Training for riders and horse lovers. You can learn more about how to get fit to ride at Please contact Leah if you are interested in learning more about the virtual posture assessment offered by The Athletic Rider.



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