Bluebird Lane Blog
Bluebird Lane Blog

Master Your Posture for Effective Back Training

by Lori Albrough

Demonstration of Straight Spine and Neutral PelvisLast month we talked about some stretches to loosen the chest muscles to help you improve your posture on the horse. Shoulders that are rounded forward and downward are often being pulled in by tight chest muscles. Once you have loosened up your chest muscles, you can start to strengthen the muscles of your back that support both good posture and good riding.

The goal is to train your body to be able to easily achieve a straight spine and neutral pelvis, as shown in the picture at right.

Three back exercises I like to use are the Bent Over Forward Raise, Bent Over Reverse Fly, and the Bent Over Row. These work the mid-back muscles and the muscles along the spine. Today I will talk about the first exercise, but first, in order to perform them properly we need to master the correct training posture.

To perform these exercises, you will start by standing with feet about shoulder width apart and knees soft (bent a little), then bend forward from the waist. It’s very important to have the feeling of keeping the knee and hip joints soft. In order to be training the correct muscles, your stability needs to be coming from your core, not from locking your joints.

You want your back to be flat, not arched down in the lower back like a sway back. To achieve this, think of bringing your belly button towards your spine.

The upper back should also be flat, not bulged up between the shoulder blades. Use a mirror or someone to help you, so you know if your back is flat. If it bulges up between the shoulder blades, you have to think of flattening your shoulder blades out. If the muscles don’t respond, it might mean you haven’t had to use them in a while, and as a result you have a lack of neural connections from your brain to the muscles in that area. What can help to get them working is to initiate the connections from the other direction. In other words, find a way to stimulate the muscles and have them tell your brain “here we are!” To do this, have your helper poke you with a finger in the area between your shoulder blades, until you can flatten it out. Strange, but true! It does work 🙂

Demonstration of Bad (left) and Good (right) Training Posture

Demonstration of Bad (left) and Good (right) Training Posture

In the photo above, on the left hand side is a demonstration of bad training posture, showing both too much arch in the lower back and a slight bulge in the upper back. On the right is a demonstration of good training posture, with a flat lower back and flat upper back.

A good way to train your brain to recognize the feeling of a flat back is to stand against a wall. I guess it’s not exactly standing, as you need to bend your knees enough to get your whole back flat against the wall, but it is nowhere near sitting either. So we’ll call it standing with somewhat bent knees. Get your back against the wall, and bend your knees enough that you can flatten your whole back. You want the feeling of touching the wall the whole way along your back. You can reach back and feel for gaps, or get someone to look and tell you where you are not flat against the wall, and then figure out what you need to do to get flat. Stand flat against the wall for thirty seconds. Once you can do this, make it more challenging by raising your arms above your head while maintaining your flat back against the wall. I will do this in a doorway where I can grasp and hold the wood trim to help keep my arms reaching up overhead while I concentrate on flattening my back.

Demonstration of Bent Over Forward Raise

Demonstration of Bent Over Forward Raise

To do the Bent Over Forward Raise exercise, once you get into the training posture, hang your arms straight down, then slowly lift the arms (palms facing down) forwards and upwards towards the ceiling. When you get as high as you can go, try to lift your arms a little bit more and think of lengthening your whole back (this is the part of the exercise that probably helps you the most) then slowly lower them back down, and repeat for 10-12 repetitions.

Practice this with bare arms (no weights) until you have mastered the posture and the technique for two to three sets, then later you can add a small weight to each hand. After doing this exercise you should feel it the next day in your mid-back. Let your muscles rest for one day before working the exercise again.

In this Rider Posture Video, narrated by equestrian fitness expert Heather Sansom, I demonstrate the technique for the Bent Over Forward Raise.

Spending the time to master this training posture will teach you a lot about your spine and achieving a neutral pelvis position, and about using engagement of your core to provide stability during load.


2 Responses to “Master Your Posture for Effective Back Training”

  1. Emily Wilander wrote:

    Hi Lori:

    I was just wondering, do you practice “long and low” exercises with your Fjords? I mentioned it to my English instructor and she said with Bjorn’s thick neck, he doesn’t need anymore muscles there…Would that over-develop his neck muscles and not his back?

    Thank you!


  2. Lori Albrough wrote:

    I would say it depends on the individual Fjord horse as to how much you would practice that exercise.

    If the horse naturally wants to carry himself in a long/low way, then don’t do it much. If he naturally wants to be more up, you will want to do a lot of stretching forward/downward.

    Whenever you do stretch him forward and downward make sure it is a real stretch and he is bringing his back up and engaging his hind end so he doesn’t get too much on the forehand.

    Hope this helps!

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