THE SITTING ATHLETE - Is your riding being affected by what you do outside your sport?


Chris Kitson I don't just guess, I assess Dip ITS, MBCA
'After spending a few days performing biomechanics screens and sports massage on riders at a horse camp, one thing kept on creeping up which was what riders were doing outside of their sport that may be affecting their riding'
Biomecahincs driving_picMost people tend to work in a seated position for most of the day before becoming highly active in the evenings/weekends when they are horse riding and performing other duties such as mucking out, picking feet, paddock management etc.
Our bodies are incredibly clever in their ability to compensate and adapt constantly, however when we spend so much time seated and hunched over computer desks, or laptops you can bet that you're going to start the compensation process.

We constantly send signals via the nervous system from the brain throughout the body and back again to receive feedback. In order for our body to do this effectively and as quickly as possible it will start to shorten certain parts so that it has a shorter distance to travel to receive this feedback. This pretty much describes 90% of riders that I have worked with to date.
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The problem arises when our body becomes very efficient at sitting down, and we then force it into performing movements that require a lot of stability and strength- such as riding. Lots of the muscles that require our full strength potential become weaker due to a process called inhibition. This is when our brain cleverly 'down-regulates' these muscles because they are not seen as important as when we are seated most of the time.

A very common example of the glutes becoming 'switched off' is when our body compensates when seated for long periods of time. Now of course our muscles don't actually switch off and stop working altogether, but they lose some of the signal from the brain that enables them to work to full capacity. Not something you want when you consider how important the glutes are when riding and performing other big movements that horse riders and owners do every day.
When looking at core activation and pelvic positioning the glutes play a huge part enabling this process to happen. For those of you that have riding coaches and struggle with cues such as 'sit up tall' and 'draw your shoulders back', without optimal glute activation you will more than likely compensate in other areas such as overloading the low back muscles. Those of you that struggle with back soreness after long periods of riding might be able to relate to what I'm talking about.
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So what can we do to help this?
The easiest way to combat the 'sitting athlete' adaptation is to simply get up and move around every 10-15 minutes. Even if this is just getting up to go to the water fountain or as a minimum simply standing up for a couple of minutes. Just these small changes in your day can have a huge effect on both your riding performance and a decrease in pain and chance of potential injury. An easy compromise when you consider the benefits. 
Our bodies are designed to move, and when we force them frequently to stay in one position for long periods of time we cause problems, we owe ourselves the movement that our bodies deserve.
Keep in mind that your horses are so sensitive and will pick up on any stiffness that exists within your body and they will then transfer and compensate for your dysfunctions. Shouldn't we perform simple tasks such as getting up every 10 minutes or so to help them out? 
We want riders to move with their horses, not against them. 
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