One of the most common problems I see with riders when I am doing Posture Assessments and Awareness Clinics on PI are tight hips. This can manifest itself as an inability for the rider to turn their upper leg at the hip, toes turned out, problems with adjusting their pelvis to implement weight aids or just down right pain or discomfort in their hips or lower back.
Weak and tight hips are not limited to riders either. Modern lifestyle, such as sitting for long periods of time at an office desk, driving a car or just sitting down to watch TV can cause our gluteus muscles to weaken and our hip flexors to shorten and become tight.
As riders, our hips are a part of the body that we really need to keep in shape. However many of us pay them little attention until they start to hurt. Tight hip flexors not only lead to problems with our riding but potentially can cause problems to our posture as a whole, such as an anterior pelvic tilt which can lead to 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 our horse, we need to start looking after our hip flexors.
Several muscles cross the front of the hip and create hip flexion, but one of the most important of these muscles is the iliopsoas, comprising 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.
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 movement.
If you need to strengthen your psoas muscles, the Boat Pose is especially good as the muscle isometrically contracts to hold up the weight of the legs and torso.
However most problems with the hip flexors are 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:
Lie on the floor with both legs straight. Bend one leg and place the foot just above the opposite knee.
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.