Do you collapse through the ribcage when you ride? Do you have trouble keeping your shoulders level? Does one hand always want to curl inward? Do you feel like one side of your body is stronger? Or maybe you feel like one leg is longer than the other? All of these problems may stem from how you use the muscles in the torso. Here’s a quick tip to help tone your torso, eliminate the collapse and level your shoulders.
Here’s a test you can do off your horse to help determine which side of your ribcage is firmer. Stand on one foot and then go up on your toes of that foot. Can you easily go up on your toes? Then switch to the other foot. Do you wobble, tilt or lean? It will be harder to stand on the toes on the collapsing side because your weight shifts to the unsupported side.
Next time you ride notice what happens in your ribcage. Pay particular attention to the sides of your ribcage. Do you collapse on your right or left side? Does the collapse correspond to the low shoulder? Does the hand on the collapsed side tend to curl inward? Do you use the strength in the arm and leg on the collapsed side in order to stabilize yourself?
In order to level the shoulders and get rid of the collapse you need to learn how to use the muscles on your sides by lengthening instead of shortening. Muscles can only contract. However, they can contract in a way that lengthens them or makes them shorter. When you collapse the muscles are shortening so that the distance between your shoulder and hip decreases. Reach sideways with one hand and notice how you shorten the distance between your ribs in order to side bend. When standing on one foot you need to lengthen the muscles on that side to firm and stabilize the ribcage allowing the weight to remain over the standing leg. Reach up towards the sky with one hand and notice how the distance between the ribs increases on that side.
Here is an easy exercise to help you learn to stabilize both sides of the ribcage. You will need some type of stretchy material. I use a black strength Equiband(r) but there are other kinds of material that will do. It needs to be fairly strong but not over powering at first. As you get stronger you can increase the strength of the band by doubling it or going to a stronger band.
Tie one end to a solid object like a fence. Stand about 2′ away. You want to be able to stand straight without leaning. Keep your shoulders down and your elbows close to your sides while holding the band. Now pull the band across your body. Make sure you don’t lean when you do this. Feel the muscles on the side closest to the band working. If the band is too weak you will not feel any effort in the muscles. With a stronger band (or doubled) you will feel the muscles working. Turn to face the opposite direction and pull the band across your body again. This will work your other side.
Next stand on one foot and pull the band across your body. Slowly release the tension without leaning or tilting. Feel how much more you need to stabilize when standing on one foot in order to pull the band across your body without tilting. You might want to decrease the band strength when you start the exercise on one foot. Repeat on the other side. You will feel that it is easier to do this one way (your stronger side) more than the other.
Use this Murdoch Minute to even the stabilizing muscle strength on both sides of your torso. Do this just before your ride and notice the improvement in your straightness and level shoulders. Remember the feeling of increased tone as your ride when you feel the urge to collapse. And remember to enjoy the ride!
Wendy Murdoch resides in Washington, VA and is an international riding instructor/clinician. She travels worldwide teaching riders of all levels and disciplines how to improve the horse’s performance by improving their body position. Her book, Simplify Your Riding and DVDs Simplify Your Riding – Ride Like A Natural Part 1 -3 are available at www.murdochmethod.com.