Here are some fun, easy and beneficial muscle-balancing and cross-coordination exercises from the Balimo™ (Balance In Motion) system developed by Ekart Meyners. They're simple on-the-ground ways to make a real difference in your riding.
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Exercise 1: Pick Up Your Feet!
Benefit: Here's an exercise to both warm up your entire body and improve your cross-coordination.
How to do it: While walking around the barn, pick your feet up and touch them with the opposite hands (photo 1a). For example, bring your right knee up a little higher and swing your foot up and to the left in front of your left leg. Touch your foot with your left hand. Then swing your left foot up and touch it with your right hand (as shown).
Next, alternate swinging each foot up behind you, reaching back with the opposite hand to touch it (1b). Play with the sequence--right foot to left hand in front, left foot to right hand behind, right foot to left hand behind, and so on. This will not only help your balance and coordination, but it will also begin to open your hips--a key goal toward better riding.
Exercise 2: Self Massage--Head and Neck
Benefit: This is a great way to relieve stress when working at your desk, while also loosening the joints crucial to good alignment and flexibility in the saddle.
How to do it: Place your fingers at the base of your skull, where your neck meets your head (photo 2a). Feel for the indentation between two small lobes on either side, just below the bony lump in the center. This is your occipital joint. Rub your fingertips firmly around this region. If you notice any tenderness, your occipital joint was blocked!
For added relief, massage the acupressure points where your collarbones tie into your shoulders at the base of your neck (2b). Rub your fingertips over these areas lightly at first, then gradually increase the pressure. This will dissolve the tension around your collarbones, allowing the energy to flow through your entire neck area, arms and hands.
Exercise 3: Self Massage--Shoulders and Chest
Benefit: Here's another great stress-reliever to try at your desk--or to do in bed when you wake up.
Step 1: If you're sitting in a chair, place both feet flat on the ground. Put your left hand on your right shoulder and pinch the upper trapezius muscle (the thick muscle running across the top of your shoulder and behind your neck) between your thumb and index and middle fingers. With quick pinching movements, pluck this muscle up and away from your shoulder. Repeat several times.
Step 2: Repeat the plucking motion on the left shoulder with the right hand.
Step 3: Place your left hand in your right armpit, feeling the pectoralis muscle (the thick muscle connecting the front of your shoulder to your chest). Pinch deep into this muscle and pluck the tissue as above (photo 3). Because these muscles tend to be tight, they may feel tender at first. As the tendons relax, the discomfort will subside.
Exercise 4: Self massage--hip flexors, inner thighs (adductors), tendons behind the knee and the Achilles tendon
Benefit: Loosen these essential riding muscles while sitting at your desk.
How to do it: It's easiest to massage these typically tight areas while sitting in a chair.
- Hip flexors:
- Step 1: Sit with your feet flat on the ground and your knees apart. Place a hand on top of each leg, where it joins your body.
- Step 2: One leg at a time, lift your foot off the ground so you can feel your hip flexor muscle contract under your fingers (photo 4a).
- Step 3: Return your feet to the ground and press your fingers deep into the hip flexor muscles, rubbing to the left and right (4b). Massage gently at first, then gently increase the pressure.
- Inner thighs:
- Step 1: Again, with your feet flat on the floor and knees apart, place both hands on the inside of your left thigh.
- Step 2: Squeeze your thigh between your thumbs and fingers to find the muscle cords running along the inside of your leg from your groin to your knee (4c).
- Step 3: Pluck these cords between your thumbs and fingers to loosen them, working from your groin down to your knee.
- Step 4: Repeat the massage on your right thigh.
- Tendons behind the knee:
- Step 1: Sit with your feet on the ground and your knees bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Step 2: With your fingers, feel the back of one knee where the calf muscle originates, identifying the two fibrous bands (tendons) on the right and left sides (4d).
- Step 3: Pluck at these tendons as if you were plucking the strings of a guitar.
- Step 4: Repeat this on both sides of each knee.
- Achilles tendons:
- Step 1: Sit your right foot flat on the ground and your left foot resting on your right knee.
- Step 2: Feel for a fibrous band (tendon) along the back of your left calf, just above your ankle (4e).
- Step 3: Pluck this tendon with your thumb and index finger as if it were a string.
- Step 4: Repeat several times with both legs.
Learn more about the Balimo™ system and find more do-anytime exercises in the August and September 2007 issues of Practical Horseman magazine.
Many more exercises and rider educational opportunities (books, clinics, distance learning courses) are available through the Balimo™ Equestrian Program. For more information, call 406-626-4191 or go to www.equestrianeducation.org.