Aspire Weekend Blogger Challenge: Comments on Suzie & Echo’s Video Blog. How to improve weak upper body.

Suzie is the second brave rider who entered Aspire’s Virtual Coaching challenge this passed weekend and she has a quite subtle issue which she finds is hindering her ability to work on straightness in her mare, Echo.

Suzie wrote: “[…]So here we are – Echo is back in full work again and much more comfortable after her back injections. She is feeling good, which is making me even more determined to get my own position sorted out. I don’t think my position is horrendous, but I have a real issue with keeping my core straight and therefore I have problems keeping Echo straight too. My right hip is really inflexible and tends to clamp to the side of her, then I find it difficult to get enough weight in my left seatbone. I am working on the right hip flexibility, doing exercises on and off the horse, but I really don’t know how to straighten my upper body and be stronger through my core.

We are only hacking now and I will be doing all of my schooling out hacking. As of next week, we will have more varied terrain to hack on, rather than just roads. Echo has a weak right hind, so we are doing lots of pole work to build this up, but any ideas about how to sort out my position would be much appreciated.[…] Full post by Suzie together with the video where she illustrates her problem can be found on her blog here: http://diaryofayounghorse.blogspot.com/2013/08/aspire-equestrian-monthly-virtual.html

PROBLEM ANALYSIS using still frames from the video

Hello Suzie!

I’m glad to have had such a good timing for you 🙂 I hope you will find these comments useful.

To drill into your issue and come up with a plan that will help you work on something that I know you had battled with for a long time, I had a look at how exactly your body absorbs Echo’s motion. You can follow my “thought process”  by observing the below frames:

Suzie posture in walk

As you can see the variation in posture is not large but there is a visible “waist wiggle” on the video in walk and if the pattern repeats itself in trot then it might have a significant impact on your ability to keep Echo straight as you noticed.

Your feeling of not having enough weight into your left seat bone seems to confirm itself here too: as you can see your left hip joint is almost always higher than the right regardless the positioning of Echo’s hindleg (with some exceptions as visible on the frames). These subtle muscular asymmetries are best worked on individually with a professional physio or chiropractor so I will not be addressing them here. By the sound of it you are already having a good programme working on this imbalance.

There is also some variation within your shoulder positioning which is another sign of side ways wiggling through the waist but again it’s fairly subtle most of the time.

You look to be sitting in a posterior pelvis tilt and this has a collapsing effect on the front of your body. It also rounds your back making the back of your body “longer” [and weaker] than the front of your body [which in its contracted state is hindering you as far as stability goes].

WHAT TO WORK ON

1) Neutral spine – finding and keeping

2) Ability to maintain balance in upper body (back/front)

3) Ability to stabilise sideways waist wiggling

HOW TO WORK ON THOSE

Neutral spine

I would start with watching the video I embeded in previous post (https://aspireequestrian.wordpress.com/2013/08/12/the-aspire-weekend-challenge-comments-on-helen-and-bellas-video-blog-improving-sitting-trot/) and practice the feel of all positions shown. Then I would try to simply practice walking (on foot) and sitting whilst maintaining neutral spine…Focus on this at least 10 minutes a day EVERY DAY for the next 6 to 8 weeks.

Upper body back to front balance

At Home:

EXERCISE 1: Wake up awareness of straightness of the spine:

5min a day EVERYDAY for the next 1 to 2  weeks, then 10min a day in week 3 and 4, then 15min a day week 5 to 8: Find an A4 book that is fairly heavy. Place it on your head and go about your daily [home] business (don’t lose the book of course) 🙂

EXERCISE 2: Visually straighten yourself

Sit side on to a body length mirror. Assume neutral spine position and using the mirror adjust your upper body posture so it look even, straight and feels relaxed.

Then close your eyes and “soak” in that feeling. 2-3 min a day EVERY DAY for 6 weeks.

In the saddle:

When safe to do so, put both legs over the front panels of the saddle ( someone must lead Echo), assume neutral spine position, close your eyes and let the motion of her back rock your hips whilst you focus on keeping your shoulders and waist level. Picture your posture from EXERCISE 2 and try to assume it but at the same time don’t pressure this too much. 5 minutes at a time as often as you can for 6-8 weeks.

legs up

Ability to stabilise sideways waist wiggling

Exercise 1: When walking focus on your hips leading every step – not your shoulders. You can get a feel for it by standing with your back against the wall, as you move off leave the shoulder blades touching the wall for a second longer as your hips start you off. Walk with your hips leading as much as you can (it is tricky to walk hips leading with your head down so this is the biggest bonus of this exercise 🙂 Think model catwalk walking but without sideways exaggerated, rocking hip movements.

Exercise 2: In the saddle. Try to feel not only sideways motion of Echo’s back but forward – back too. As she walks and you feel lower back flexing a little (it will in neutral spine – you probably don’t feel it that well if your sit in posterior tilt as it stiffens your loins) , allow your belly button to move forwards towards her neck. It’s a very slight movement and at times it’s enough just to think about it. You can use a “centred riding” imagery and picture a string attached to your shirt in front of your belly button. As Echo moves and rocks your body, imagine being gently pulled by that string forwards and released, forwards and released. Think 1/4 of an inch…Try it a few times and check if it helps you stop the sideways wiggle. If it does, practice as often as you can.

Good luck, I hope some of this will be helpful and if you do follow this little plan then I would love to get a video update from you in 4-5 weeks!

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6 thoughts on “Aspire Weekend Blogger Challenge: Comments on Suzie & Echo’s Video Blog. How to improve weak upper body.

  1. Wiola, that’s amazing – thank you!! I need to read it several times to absorb it and make some notes. I’ll probably print it out for my instructor too. I am having physio on my hip issues soon. Really interesting to see the diagrams drawn on the stills. Will definitely film again in a month or so to show you how we’re getting on 🙂 But thank you – this is fantastic xx

    • Excellent, glad you like it and yes please do let me know how you getting on and what your instructor thinks – it would be great if you had someone on the ground for visual feedback as such subtle issues or tricky to correct on your own. Good luck 🙂 xx

  2. Hi Wiola
    Loved reading both the video blog posts. Very informative as always. I’ve just had a go at some of the neutral spine exercises. As I suspected I live life with my bum stuck out (which explains the constant lower back pain). I will be making a conscious effort to correct this now. Thank you. And thank you suzie for being a guinea pig!! 🙂

  3. Hi Ceri,
    That’s fantastic to hear you found this useful as that’s exactly the aim of these challenges. I hope you get rid of your lower back pain, not ideal for a rider! Let me know how you are getting on, if there is no relief by simply assuming better posture I can put you in touch with a fabulous chiropractor I work with and who does some work with me on virtual coaching so it is possible to get long-distance advice (based on specific videos of yourself that you would need to provide) 🙂
    Good luck!

  4. Interesting- because recently my trainer told me that to properly absorb the motion from the walk and to allow for the horse to track up in the walk, that it was a ‘side to side’ motion with your hips vs. a “front to back” motion. Now I’m all confused!

    • She’s right 🙂 It depends on where your restriction lies which is why it’s important to tailor any instruction to particular issue. Suzie has side to side motion in abundance but has a fairly rigid loins and no forward back motion. Every movement in the saddle is 3-dimensional: Your hips AND lower back need to absorb it.
      As you can see on Suzie’s video on her blog, she lets the side ways motion wiggle her waist which is why the exercises are focused on limiting side to side motion in that part of her body.

      It might be that your instructor sees you don’t have enough hip joint mobility hence her instructions…?

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