The Athletic Rider Strength Series: Core Strength

Equestrian personal trainer Leah Hinnefeld’s popular series on strength training for riders concludes with this week’s grand finale. The topic: core strength.

If you missed them the first time around, be sure to check out Part 1 (Muscular Stabilization), Part 2 (Upper Body Strength) and Part 3 (Lower Body Strength) of the Rider Fitness Strength Series.


I am guessing THIS is the article in the series that y’all have been waiting for? If you ask any rider what matters the most in riding, the answer you will most likely get is that riding is all about the core, right? So let’s get to it.

Why is the core so important to rider, all athletes and the population in general? When the muscles of the core are strong, they provide stabilization, alignment and allow for correct functional movement. As result, a strong core is the key player in achieving any level of sports performance while protecting the body (particularly the low back) from injury.

To better understand how to develop and strengthen the core, we first need to understand what body parts make up the core. Yes, the coveted six-pack is a part of the core — but it is only a PART of the core. A rider’s core is actually a combination of structures that make up the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex. Think of your core as everything from the tops of your legs to the midsection of your chest. Not only the front for you body, but also the sides and back. Your core is simply your trunk.

A person’s center of gravity is located in the core. As a result, all movement originates (or should originate) from the core. When movement does not begin with the core (and starts with the limbs), muscle imbalances occur and the entire movement system of the body is “off.” When it is a little off, the result is poor performance. When the movement system is “a lot off,” the result is injury.

While properly functioning movement system is important enough for an athlete “operating on her own,” it becomes indispensable when considering each rider has a second life being involved in the activity — and that second life being also has a core that needs to be stable, strong and powerful to allow him to function properly. Both horse and rider need to implement a well-designed training program that focuses on core stabilization followed by developing core strength and finishes with implementing core power. If you remember from the first three parts of the series, the power phase is what trains the muscles to operate under the “speed and pressure” you find in real life-and that means real riding.

The core has thre basic systems: two stabilization systems and one movement system. The muscles responsible for core stabilization are those that directly attach to the spine (local stabilizers) and the muscles that connect the spine to the pelvis (global stabilizers). The local stabilizers support the connection from vertebrae to vertebrae, aid in proprioception and contribute to postural control. The global stabilizers transfer the load between the upper and lower body, playing a big part in functional movement.  At this point, are you having shouts outs of A-HA’s and epiphanies surrounding riding concepts like having an independent seat and communicating with quiet aids? When it comes to being “at one” with your horse, it is all about the core — and more specifically it’s ALL about the core stabilizers.

The movement system is made of of the muscles that attach the spine and/or pelvis to the extremities (the way your body attaches to your arms and legs).  Just because the movement system is not what most of us think of as the core does not mean it can be discounted when it comes to riding — it can’t! You still need to have a stable leg and quiet arms for the partnership with your horse to thrive.

So what do the exercises look like for each phase of core training? Check out the examples below. If you need more direction, please CONTACT ME! I would love help you develop the perfect rider fitness program for you.


The Athletic Rider offers a proven 60-Day Rider Fitness Boot Camp that includes a fitness program, nutrition plan combined with daily support and accountability. Do you want to LEARN MORE?

While you are waiting to hear from me, you know you want to check our our FREE CORE WORKOUT, right?

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 Rider Fitness Boot Camps offered by The Athletic Rider.



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