Flexor Chain Stretches For Dressage Riders

Here are some stretches for dressage riders to help improve posture by stretching their flexor chain.

As dressage riders our goal is to create that beautiful posture in the saddle, to prevent injury and of course to be able to enjoy our riding more. So paying attention to what gets tight when we ride and also what gets tight from our environment is of particular importance to ensure longevity in our sport.

Office jobs, driving and spending too much time sitting causes our body to activate our flexor chain, by referring to the flexor chain, I am talking about all the muscles that flex the body or bend the body forward. But not just the muscles, also your superficial front line of your fascia and your ligaments too.

Our environment we place our body in every day affects our posture. It can pull us out of ideal alignment and can start to create niggles and pain through our body, plus affect our riding.

For many dressage riders they regularly experience pain in the neck, shoulders or get niggly trigger points around the shoulder blades. Pain in the middle of the back after sitting too long or even standing too long is also common.

The body is a very complex kinetic system with linkages from front to back, left to right and diagonally. So you can’t simply spot treat a niggle and expect long lasting results. You need to look at the body as a whole and treat the whole system and pay particular attention to the environment you are placing your body into each and every day.

Think of your muscles like springs and your spine being the centre of those springs. The spine bends your body forward and pulls your body back. If the muscles through the front of that spine get tight like your chest, abdomen, quads and hip flexors get tight, it will pull your chest down, shoulders forward and head forward. A very common posture position in todays society and in dressage riders.

So doing more exercises in this bent position will only activate already tight muscles. This will only then create more pressure on your posture. As riders it’s important we balance our posture to enhance and benefit our riding.

So the type of stretching you do does matter.

Not only does a tight flexor chain create postural pressure it also affects the natural flow of energy through your body. Creating blockages in vibrational energy. When people get stuck in this posture it also signals an over active sympathetic nervous system, a position that is common in fight or flight scenarios. This can then create high levels of cortisol and overall create general fatigue. Think of a horse with a tight back, everything gets locked, stiff and hard to ride. Energy can’t flow through the horse, it’s like a kink in a hose, the water doesn’t flow. You need to unkink it to allow the flow of energy through it.

Everything is connected and when we take care of our posture, balance and overall wellbeing off the horse we get those same results in the saddle too.

So today I wanted to show you some stretches to help mobilize your flexor chain that are specific to dressage riders. These may help to improve your posture and keep your body flexible and supple. You may even find it helps energize you!

Along with these stretches, take the time to think about your posture throughout your day too. Can you improve your desk position, how you drive your car and think about your neutral spine when you are doing chores and every day tasks.

 

14 Stretches for dressage riders

14 Stretches For Riding Posture

Here are a series of stretches for you to try. You don’t need a balance ball, I give you options without and also show you how to modify each stretch too.

Try doing these as a circuit after a particularly long day at your desk or driving and notice how it helps to open your posture up again.

Feel free to pick and choose just a couple to try first and slowly add to them over coming weeks as your body gets more open.

Enjoy!

 

Laying chest stretch

Laying on the ground reach your hands behind you and clasp them together. If they don’t quite reach, try holding the edge of a tea towel with each hand and reaching behind you.

Then think of looking down to the ground and lengthening the back of your neck as the same time as you lift your chest and squeeze shoulders back.

Squeeze your glutes to protect your lower back while you do this and only lift chest as high as you feel comfortable while still keep glutes engaged.

Hold for 10-20 seconds then release and repeat. Try to do 3-4 repetitions.


Dressage riders

 

Modified Bow pose

Laying on the ground reach behind to your ankle, if you can’t quite reach it, wrap a tea towel around your ankle and hold onto this.

Flex your foot and kick foot back at the same time as you pull if your upper body.

Keep looking towards the ground as you do this and find that stretch through your chest.

Hold for 10-20 seconds then release and repeat each side. Try to do 3-4 repetitions each side.

Dressage riders

 

Full bow pose

Laying on the ground reach behind and take a hold of both ankles. If you can’t quite do this, place a tea towel around both ankles and hold onto this instead.

Then kick your feet back with flexed ankle and lift chest at the same time.

Ensure you keep squeezing and engaging your glutes to support your lower back with you do it.

Hold for 10-20 seconds then release and repeat. Try to do 3-4 repetitions.

Dressage riders

 

Modified Camel pose

Kneeling on the ground, reach back towards your ankle, if you can’t quite reach here, just reach towards your lower back and place your hands in the small of your back.

Then lean back while squeezing your glutes to support your lower back.

With your opposite arm, reach back at the same time and keep eyes looking ahead.

You can do this kneeling on cushions if you find it too much for your knees, or swap for the modified bow pose from above.

Hold for 10-20 seconds then release and repeat. Try to do 3-4 repetitions.

Dressage riders

 

Full camel pose

Kneeling on the ground, reach back towards your ankles.

Squeeze your bottom as much as you can to support your lower back and lower yourself back until you feel that stretch through the front of your entire body.

Let your head be where ever it feels comfortable and try and hold for a few breathes.

Come out by lifting hands into the small of your lower back first, lifting head and gradually coming back to neutral again.

Hold for 10-20 seconds then release and repeat. Try to do 3-4 repetitions.

Dressage rider stretches

 

Kneeling chest stretch 

This can be done kneeling or standing or laying on the ground as demonstrated above with laying chest stretch.

Simply reach hands behind your back and clasp them together. If they can’t quite reach, use a tea towel to hold onto and think of squeezing shoulder blades together as you open up your chest.

Hold for 10-20 seconds and repeat 3-4 times.

Dressage rider stretches

 

Pec minor stretch on balance ball

Using a balance ball, couch, dining chair or anything else you can find at approx knee height. Place your finger tips on top of it, with your elbow at the highest point.

Then draw your shoulder towards the ground and look in the opposite direction.

Try holding for 10-20secs and releasing, then coming back into the stretch again. Feel free to move your shoulder into different angles to find the stretch that your body needs.

Dressage rider stretches

 

Pec major stretch on balance ball

Lay your forearm onto the balance ball with your hand flat. If you don’t have a ball, you can use a chair or the edge of your couch.

Lower your shoulder towards the ground and look in the opposite direction. Move your shoulder around and lean into the stretch to make it deeper.

Aim for 10-20 seconds initially and build up over time.

Dressage rider stretches

 

Abdominal stretch over balance ball

Lay over your balance ball with your knees bent to 90 degrees and legs at least hip distance apart to help stabilise you.

Ensure your head is resting on the ball and then take your arms over your head and reach hands together.

Let the weight of your arms find the stretch through the front of your body. To lessen the stretch lift your arms and place over your chest. You can begin with just one arm at a time and even just target one side of your body in this stretch if you wish too.

Hold for 20-30 seconds then release and repeat. Try to do 3-4 repetitions.

 

Chest stretch over balance ball

Similar to the stretch above, but this one you will feel more in your chest muscles and into your pec minor and major.

Lay back onto your balance ball and ensure your head is resting on the ball.

Then open your arms up with a 90 degree bend in each arm. Let the weight of your arms find the stretch through your chest.

To intensify, you can play around with making this stretch a little more dynamic and straighten your arms over head and then bend them back to this position again.

Hold for 20-30 seconds.

 

Lat Stretch

You can use a balance ball, dining chair or your couch for this stretch, aim to use something around knee height.

Using one arm reach out and place your hand onto the ball with a straight arm. Then keeping your arm straight think of lowering that shoulder towards the ground. You will feel this stretch down into your lats and under your armpit.

Look away from that arm to intensify the stretch even more.

Hold for 10-20 seconds then release and repeat. Try to do 3-4 repetitions each arm.

 

Couch stretch

Those in our DRT program will know the couch stretch well and here are three different variations of it.

First using a balance ball, couch or dining chair, place your foot up onto it and think of tucking your tail underneath you and squeezing your glutes.

You will feel a stretch through your quads and into your hips. To make it more intense, lift the same arm as your leg that is on the couch up and lean away from it.

If this version is too much, look at the two other options below.

Hold for 10-20 seconds then release and repeat. Try to do 3-4 repetitions.

 

Quad Stretch kneeling (modified couch stretch)

A variation of your couch stretch and not quite as intense as with your leg on the couch or ball.

Set up with your back knee down on the ground and both legs making a 90 degree bend.

Then squeeze your glutes and think of tucking your tailbone under you.

Reach the arm over your head as high as you can and think of pushing hip forward into the stretch.

Feel free to place lots of cushions under your knee here if you find it too much having it on the ground.

Hold for 10-20 seconds then release and repeat. Try to do 3-4 repetitions.

 

Standing lunge

Working into the hips like the couch stretch, but a great option if you have knee problems and the above two options are too much.

Set yourself up like you are about to do some lunges, with one leg in front of the other and in nice stable position. If you feel a little wobbly, stand next to something like a wall for support.

Then think of tucking your tailbone under you and squeezing your bottom.

Lower your back knee towards the ground with your glutes engaged and feel a stretch through the front of your hip.

To make this more intense you can lift the same arm as back leg up and do a little reach over your head to make the stretch a little deeper.

Hold for 10-20 seconds then release and repeat. Try to do 3-4 repetitions.

 

So there you have a great series of stretches to help you as a dressage rider to open up your posture and lengthen your entire flexor chain from the top to the bottom.

Aim to do these at least once a week to get benefit from it, but if you want to make serious changes to your posture, aim to 2-3 times per week and as a good stretching circuit.

Want more stretching you can do to help your posture? Check out these articles.

Glute Strengthening Exercises For Riders

5 Stretches That Every Dressage Rider Should Do

6 Dressage Exercises To Help Improve Your Riding Posture

Stretches For Riders With Tight Shoulders And Upper Back

Yoga For Dressage Riders 

Beginners Yoga For Dressage Riders

Yoga for dressage riders to help hip mobility

Dressage riders reaction time

 

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