One of the most common problems I see when doing Posture Assessments on PI is tight hips. Sitting for long periods of time, be it at an office desk, driving a car or just whilst watching TV can cause our hip flexors to shorten up and become tight.
It’s a part of the body we need to keep in shape, but many of us pay little attention to our hips until they start to hurt. Yet tight hip flexors will lead to problems with your riding and your posture, not to mention the fact that they can cause hip, lower back and knee pain. Hip problems also tend to develop as we age, so if we want to continue to ride and get the most out of your horse, you need to start looking after your hip flexors.
Several muscles cross the front of the hip and create hip flexion, but probably the most important of these muscles is the iliopsoas, which comprises of the iliacus and the psoas, which lie deep in the back of the abdomen. Other important hip flexor muscles include the periformis, the tensor fasciae latae (TFL), the rectus femoris (one of the four quad muscles) as well as the gluteus maximus (which is on the back of your hip or buttocks) and the gluteus medius, which is the primary muscle on the side of your hip.
While each muscle functions slightly differently, their overall combination allow them to flex the hip joint, anteriorly rotate the pelvis, and extend the lumbar spine. Due to its’ attachment on the vertebral bodies of the lumbar spine, the psoas also plays an important role in lumbar spine stabilization, an often forgotten function of this muscle.
While the hip joint’s main role is stabilization, it’s essential for riders to maintain a healthy range of motion, too. We need to strike a balance between strength and flexibility that is appropriate for our chosen sport and that allows for safe and efficient patterns of movement.
The Boat Pose is especially good at strengthening the iliopsoas because it demands that the muscle isometrically contract to hold up the weight of the legs and torso.
However as mentioned, most problems with the hip flexors don’t originate in a lack of strength but in a lack of flexibility.
Simple stretching has the potential to increase flexibility , correct the alignment of your back and maybe even relieve pain. Daily stretching will not only improve your day-to-day mobility, but also your exercise performance and ultimately help your riding.
Here are two stretches that are simple to do:
Cross one leg fully over the opposite leg, so your knee is crossed over your thigh.
Use your hand to increase the stretch by pulling the crossed knee toward your opposite shoulder, stretching the piriformis muscle.
Remember to go gently into and out of the stretch, and use a little pressure from your hand to resist against the muscles you want to stretch.
Get on your hands and knees, so that you are four square (tabletop position). Slowly widen your knees out as far as they can go and bring your feet in line with your knees, so that your lower leg forms a right angle or 90° bend at your knee. Your shins should be parallel with one another.
Flex your feet so your toes are also at right angles and your heels are pointing towards each other and ease yourself forward onto your forearms. Hold for a count of 30.
During the stretch try slowly moving your hips forward and backward to bring the stretch to different parts of your hips.
It doesn’t take much to get your hips working. If you don’t like exercises by yourself join a Rider Exercise class, start Swiss Ball or take up Pilates or Yoga. But just a little time put into you could really allow your riding career to last that little bit longer and prevent a hip replacement operation.