Let me say this upfront: on average, we spend too much time sitting and not enough time moving around. Our modern lifestyle negatively affects our posture. Because we spend so much time sitting – at work, at school, in the car – our muscles shorten, and the muscles of our core lack strength. An unhealthy posture then quickly becomes habitual. Additionally, we now spend a lot of time staring at our smartphones in a rounded posture. “More and more people now have a rounded back,” says Benjamin Werndl, adding with a smile: “That’s why riding is such a modern sport: it promotes a healthy, upright posture.”
A Rounded Back as a Result of a Bad Posture
However, once a round back and shoulders have manifested, it’s practically impossible to force yourself into proper upright alignment without becoming tense during that one hour spent in the saddle. “Passive sitting, which constitutes a significant portion of people’s day to day lives, limits our mobility and is detrimental to our locomotor system,” explains Fitness Coach Marcel Andrä. It also results in a reorientation of our balance: the torso is no longer being erected via the feet, knees, and hips, and becomes isolated from them. This is contrary to our nature and our functional anatomy which is optimized for our upright gait. Our torso can recover quickly while sitting as it doesn’t need to stabilize anything against gravity. But recovery can quickly turn into disuse atrophy, and the torso will no longer be able to efficiently fulfill its core functions such as the stabilization of the spine as well as movement.” In short: Remaining in the same position for prolonged periods of time, repetitive movement patterns, lack of movement, and stress can lead to muscle and joint problems, including back pain.
The Impact of a Rounded Back While Riding
In the saddle, a rounded back and shoulders keep the rider from sitting in good balance: The seat bones are pointing forward, and the aiding with the seat as well as the weight distribution are impeded. The rider is not stabilizing and “carrying” himself. This makes it harder for the horse to swing over the back, carry behind, and become tall in front.
Additionally, the rounded back decreases the mobility of the pelvis, spine, and shoulder joints of the rider. Therefore the rider can’t stay with the horse’s motion as well, the seat and hands become unsteady, and the aiding isn’t as refined as it could be.
The saying “you only learn to ride by riding” isn’t completely true in this case. Once the human body has gotten used and adjusted to bad posture, it’s difficult to impossible to produce an upright, stable yet supple posture in the saddle. If we try to force our upper body into an upright position on the horse and actively push our shoulders back, we get rigid and lose the necessary relaxation.
Tips to Correct a Rounded Back
Life is movement, and movement is life! “The singular answer is to frequently interrupt the constant sitting in order to utilize the natural function of our musculoskeletal system and to avoid pain and ‘bad posture,’” says Marcel Andrä. “During the workday, we should take active breaks and get up, stretch, and move around a bit. Regularly incorporating specific exercises such as the corrective homework in the DressurFit® program helps develop good posture, which can then also be easily accessed in the saddle to sit in balance.
3 Exercises to Achieve a Better, Upright Posture
Exercise 1: Mobilizing the Thoracic Spine
Mobilizes the thoracic spine and shoulders to improve your upper body mobility and an upright posture in the saddle.
Starts on your knees and hands. The BLACKROLL® is placed in the middle between your arms and legs. Put the back of your right hand on the BLACKROLL® and roll the arm on the BLACKROLL® to the left while lowering the right shoulder toward the floor. Roll back and rotate your arm up until your hand points to the ceiling. Follow with your head and look into the palm of your hand. The left arm remains straight. Then come back into the starting position and repeat the exercise 8-10 times on each side.
Exercise 2: Stabilizing the Torso and Mobilizing the Thoracic Spine & Shoulders
Stabilizes and strengthens your core muscles in optimal length for positive body tension in the saddle. At the same time, this exercise mobilizes your thoracic spine and shoulder joints for an upright position in the saddle and subtle rein aids.
Start in a seated position, bend your knees at approx. 90 degrees and place your heels on the ground. Position the BLACKROLL® just underneath your shoulder blades and lift your arms up to the ceiling. Try to create a bit of tension in the torso and keep your upper body in a straight line. Alternating your left and right arm, start to move your arms back and forth a few centimetres stretching up and behind your head as far as comfortable. Make sure to keep your upper body stable with no hollow back!
Exercise 3: W / T / Y
Strengthens your upper back and posterior shoulder area for optimal upper body posture while riding.
Stand upright and bend your upper body forward. Your legs are slightly bent.
For the “W” exercise, bring your elbows together in front of your torso at a 90 degree angle. From this position, rotate your arms upward 6 times. Your thumbs are pointing towards the ceiling, creating a “W” shape.
For the “T” exercise, start in the same position. Then rotate and stretch your arms to the sides with your thumbs pointing towards the ceiling. Repeat 6 times. Make sure to keep your back straight.
For the “Y” exercise, start with your arms stretched to the floor. Then lift your outstretched arms forward and slightly to the side at approx. 45 degrees to create a “Y” shape. Your thumbs are point to the ceiling your back stays straight. Repeat 6 times.
Do you find these exercises useful? Check out what training you personally will benefit most from by taking our free rider fitness test. Start your journey with DressurFit® to become a better rider for your horse! Click here to start your test.