Upper Body Exercises For Dressage Riders

Here are a selection of upper body exercises for dressage riders to help improve their riding posture and position in the saddle.

A strong stable rider that has independent hands creates a beautiful picture upon a horse and this is something we should all be striving for. This sort of strength is achieved through a strong core, stabilized shoulder girdle and balanced pelvis.

When your torso is in the right position it allows your arms to move independently and freely, this in turn then allows you to have a soft connection to the horses mouth.

In order to create a strong shoulder girdle it requires proper positioning and stabilization of the shoulder blades, rib cage and entire torso. It then requires strengthening and flexibility work to keep it in the right position and improve its function and stability.

The problem starts with the environment our shoulders get put into most days, from computers, driving, leaning and just all round general poor daily biomechanics day in and day out. This constant pull in the wrong direction requires some working do bring them back to their proper form and function. So today I wanted to share with you some exercises you can do to help improve your posture and strength through your shoulders.


Create Neutral Spine To Begin With

Start by setting your dressage posture in the right balance each, by activating your core muscles and setting up neutral spine. Check out the post I did here in detail on this.

Think of creating length through your collar bone and across your upper back. Ensure your rib cage is balanced above your pelvis and you are sliding your shoulder blades down as in picture one. Try not to over arch the spine (picture 3) or collapse through the back (picture 2). Think balanced, upright and stable with a smile through your collar bones.



Exercises To Try

Then once you have set up your neutral spine here are some upper body exercises for you to do to help improve shoulder strength and stability which are all important for dressage riders.


1. Neutral Spine With Breathe

Think of breathing into this position, allow your shoulders to relax, collar bone to spread and simply holding this position for 2-3 minutes.


2. Weighted Neutral Spine

Now add a layer to your neutral spine bay adding some weights into your hands and externally rotate them out. Think of squeezing shoulder blades together and keeping spine braced. Again focus on your breathe and maintaining that good posture. The heavier the weight the harder it will be. Great for helping to strengthen the muscles that maintain neutral spine while at the same time working on your breathe.


3. Externally Rotating

This time lift the weights up to elbow height and externally rotate them out. Don’t let your back move and maintain that strong neutral spine. This is going to need to be a lighter weight, drink bottles are a great starting point.


4. Push Ups

With your neutral spine can you do a push up. Brace the core and push straight up and down from the ground. Aim for full range and keep elbows in by your rib cage. If its to hard on the ground, begin against the wall.


5. Bent Over Flies

Using your drink bottles or light weight, bend from your hips keeping your back braced, your spine long and your eyes 2 metres in front to lengthen spine (mine are down, need to be a little more out in front…whoops!). Then extend arms wide. Maintain that neutral spine, if you can’t keep your back still just use your arm weight to begin with.


6. Narrow  Bent Over Row

This is great for targeting your upper back muscles and you may be able to go heavier here. Slide elbows in by your side and keep that neutral spine. No movement through your back, just your arms. Straighten arms and then pull up. Keep elbows tight by your sides.


7. Lunge And Row

This is a great functional move that is now becoming more advanced. If you are finding the above exercises ok, add this one to your repertoire. Lunge down with a braced core and neutral spine, then without twisting pull in your resistance tube. Let your elbow sweep past your ribs.


8. Uprite Row 

Great for targeting your shoulders and strengthening your upper back muscles. Think of bringing your elbow to your ears.


To get more exercises to help your upper body strength and improve your posture, check out our dressage rider training program here.


Want more articles now on dressage exercises to help improve your position and posture in the saddle? Check these out.

6 Dressage Exercises To Help Improve Your Riding Posture

7 Exercises To Improve Lower Body Strength And Balance

Dressage Rider Leg Strength – 6 Exercises To Help You Improve


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