My goal, whether standing or riding, is to be able to draw a straight line down through my ear, shoulder, hip, and ankle. The overall picture should be balanced and relaxed, not forced. This will minimize strain on my muscles, joints, and connective tissue. Not only will it look good, but it will minimize injury risk and fatigue both today and over the long haul.
The problem is that my lifestyle bears the hallmarks of modernity. I work at a desk, commute 45 minutes each way, lounge on a sofa, and spend way too much time staring down at a laptop or phone.
Posture Impacts Our Health and Our Horses
Unfortunately for me, the research is clear: Poor posture has a detrimental impact on health.
The unnatural strain that slouching puts on our spines can lead to chronic back pain and even degenerative disc disease. Lopsided musculature throws joint alignment out of whack, as well as leading to inflexibility and lousy balance. Slouching even interferes with digestion and breathing!
If that isn't enough motivation, consider what dressage rider and coach Gina Allen says about how rider posture impacts our horses:
"The hunched or rounded upper back, known as “kyphosis”, is a common postural problem. It can inhibit breathing, interfere with digestion, and cause tremendous stress to the discs between the vertebral segments of the thoracic spine. All this offers little support to your equine partner and often results in pushing him onto the forehand. Stretching through the front (anterior) chest muscles and strengthening the mid-upper back muscles can help correct this problem as long as the kyphosis is not too advanced.
Exercises to Correct Posture for Riding and Life
When I got the wake-up call from Mr. Sweaty's photo, my initial inclination was to hitch back my shoulders and stand up straight...and somehow remember to keep doing that day after day. I quickly realized, however, that there must be a better way. So, I did some reading.
It didn't take much googling on the subject to remind me of the highly-relevant fact that our muscle groups are designed to work in pairs: Quadriceps along the front of the leg balance hamstrings along the back of the leg, biceps work in opposition to triceps, and so on.
Fixing this takes both stretching out the shortened muscles on the strong side and strengthening the muscles on the opposing weak side. Here's the plan I've selected to target my own weaknesses: upper back slouch, forward-thrust neck, and lower back pain:
It's not as much as it sounds like, because several of those moves are already built into my regular workouts and yoga. However, getting all the stretching and strengthening in does take some extra intentionality.
This is a good time to remember not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Even if you just pick one stretch and one strengthening exercise to target your problem area, you'll be miles ahead of where you'd end up if you took no action at all.
Building Habits to Improve Your Posture
Building new habits tends to work best when we hitch the new habits to existing ones.
This can take the form of adding the new habit to something you already do: Every time you brush your teeth, do a stretch and a strength exercise.
Or, take this opportunity to replace a less desirable habit: Every time you get the urge to check social media, do chin tucks instead. (I actually do this. It works.)
I also use a plain old timer system during the work day: Every 55 minutes, my phone alarm goes off. That's my cue to spend five minutes greasing the groove (get your mind out of the gutter, people -- it's pullups, chinups, and pushups) or doing a few stretches and exercises to target my posture.
As your physique gets more balanced, all you have to do is remember to apply it in the saddle. Again, try tying the habit to something you do anyway: Every time you see a ribbon or change diagonals, check in with your posture.
Your health, and your horse, will thank you.
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Thanks for dropping by! I'm an endurance rider in the northwest region of the United States. This blog is about the practicalities of distance riding and the practice of being my best self for my horse. I hope you'll come along for the ride.
The Sweaty Equestrian