Do your shoulders roll forward when you ride? Do you often hear, or have you heard a coach say “shoulders back?”(Yep, me too). But what does it mean to bring your shoulders back? How do you do it without changing your spine or pelvis position? And should we be doing upper body exercises to build stronger arms and shoulders? (So many questions!)
Don’t worry, I got you.
Riders don’t need big biceps, but you do need forearm strength, and you definitely need as much shoulder strength as you can get for working around horses (even if you aren’t the one doing barn chores, you still need it! And, if you are doing barn chores, you need it even more!).
Working the shoulders and supporting muscles really helps build an area that will protect you from injury (and did you know: if you’re around or over the age of 45, most people start to lose the critical shoulder muscle support and are prone to injuries… so let’s try to prevent that by working on those muscles!).
Also, since many riders have weak shoulders, they sometimes compensate when riding by stiffening up their back to try and keep good posture in moments when the horse pulls against them. Since you don’t want a stiff back, building shoulder strength will help you use your body in the saddle with less tension.
To do upper body exercises, you need excellent posture, and your core needs to be engaged the entire time throughout the exercise… So doing upper body exercises also trains you to memorize good posture with your body, and to have the habit of core engagement while doing other movements… perfect for us equestrians!
Body Awareness for Equestrians: Scapular “Push-ups”
In the video below, I’m demonstrating an example of how to do that with an exercise that requires muscle activation and body awareness. You’ll learn scapular protraction and retraction (or in this case, how to do scapular “pushups”).
This exercise is especially useful for riders that have shoulders that roll or collapse forward, shoulder blades that poke out, or a tendency to throw your whole shoulders back while riding. The exercise strengthens the muscles that help your shoulder blades lie flat without effort on your back, which ultimately helps you sit straighter without the temptation to stiffen your upper back or throw your shoulders back, hollowing your lower back.
So, if you want to sit straighter without stiffening your upper back or hollowing your lower back, then this video is for you! *I’m not guaranteeing that you’ll never hear the cue again… but maybe this will help you get an understanding of what to do when you hear it!
What you do is start in a plank position, then drop your ribcage downward while drawing your shoulder blades together. Repeat until you feel a burn in the muscles around and under your shoulder blades. This is a small movement designed to help your body build the muscles that support better posture.
Option 1: Don’t bend the elbows. The exercise can be done in a “pushup start” position, either from your knees or toes, and you don’t have to bend the elbows at all (eliminate the push-up).
Option 2: Incorporate the push-up… making it more challenging. Then, squeeze the shoulder blades together at the top. Overall, this exercise is designed to help you develop body awareness and the muscles through your upper back and shoulders so that you can isolate muscle groups while riding, without compromising your entire position.