The Athletic Rider: Hillwork — It’s Not Just For Horses

Want to improve your riding? Personal trainer Leah Hinnefeld suggests “hitting the slopes.”

From Leah:

How would you like an effective and inexpensive way to get your core workout in, develop gorgeous gams, improve your riding AND gets some fresh air all at the same time? If you live in Indiana, what I am going to suggest may not be an option for you; however if you if leave near the foothills of the Georgia mountains as I do, you are going to love what this workout will do for your rider fitness.

Get up, step away from your computer and go run.

It is THAT simple. Almost.

You will need a few tools in order to get the results that you want. You will need the correct kind of shoes. The best shoe to set up the correct biomechanics for developing your core is a shoe that allows a mid-foot landing. Ideally a shoe with a minimal heel (or a small heel to toe “drop) will allow your foot to naturally land just behind the ball. You can read more about my favorite footwear in my recent article entitled, “Barefoot to a Better Base.”

Now that you have been given permission to shop, you will also need the correct running form. ChiRunning teaches how to run with a form that not only protects your from injury, but with a form that will give you a pretty decent core workout. ChiRunning requires you to run with a level pelvis. The only way to correctly level your pelvis is to….you guess it! Engage your core!

Now here is where things get really interesting if you are wanting to develop your core so you can get fit to rider better. When you level your pelvis and engage your core during running, you are also putting your body in the same posture and position you would to protect your back, promote balance and develop an independent seat when in the saddle. How cool is that? You can improve your riding by running!

I have always loved running. When I realized that “running with chi” could help me “ride with chi,” I started putting a little more energy into my morning runs.

So how do you know if you have a level pelvis? The easiest way to get the feeling of a level pelvis in put you back against the wall and “tuck your tail feathers” so you can actually feel the wall against your lower back. When you feel that wall, you have tilted your pelvis (making it level) and correctly engaged your core. If you would like another visual of how it would look when you are riding, check out most recent Stable Fitness Tip by the Athletic Rider. The tip includes a video demonstration.

Another method to get the feeling of a level pelvis is to lay on the floor with you knees bent. When you are in this position you will do the same thing that you did on the wall. Tuck your tail feathers until the small of your back contacts the floor. In this position you will have leveled your pelvis and engaged your core.

Practice leveling your pelvis on the floor or on the wall by arching your back to create space between your back and then wall, then tucking your feathers to create contact between your back and the wall (or floor). Repeat this exercise several times so you can easily feel the difference in your posture.

Once you have mastered correct running form on flat ground, it is time to take your chi to the hills. It is very important that you maintain a level pelvis when running hills. The posture taught in ChiRunning will protect your back, knees and feet when running hills. Incorporating the stabilizing posture of ChiRunning when running over hills takes core stabilization to a whole new level!

One of the biggest reason that runners (and riders) suffer from low back pain in or injury  is lack of correct running form (or riding form)-the incorrect form starts with lack of core engagement. Arching your back when riding or running is just a formula for trouble!

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.



Leave a Comment


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *