Alysen Starko-Bowes shows you four Franklin Method Equestrian exercises to help strengthen and kick-start your core and abdominal muscles.

Riding in perfect harmony with your horse is an aspiration for all of us. It will only happen if you can ride with an independent seat and this requires balance, a stable frame and a strong core.

Core focus

As you work through each of the exercises below, think of the following three key focus points to help build a strong core:

  1. Stiffness/engagement
  2. Add movement
  3. Keep breathing

Exercise 1 Work your abs

This first exercise challenges the muscle fibres in your upper body and gets them moving in different directions.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and place either a Franklin Mini Roller, two Franklin Balls or a foam roller at the lower tips of your shoulder blades (on your bra line).
  2. Place your hands behind your head and interlace your fingers. Make sure you’re breathing fully as you follow these exercises.
  3. Firstly, flex and extend the spine over the balls by slowly curling your shoulders up and then back down again. Repetitions: 8 — 10
  4. Now slowly trace a big circle with the crown of your head, first in a clockwise direction and then anticlockwise. Repetitions: 5 in each direction
  5. This time make a figure of eight shape with the crown of your head. Repetitions: 3 in each direction
  6. Now extend and stretch your spine by allowing your head to rest on the floor. Hold this position for a few seconds before bringing your head back up again.
  7. Repeat the whole sequence of movements twice more.
  8. Remove the balls. Lie back down on the floor and notice how your upper back feels.

Exercise 2 Activate your core

This simple exercise helps to activate your core. You can do it with two balls (air or water filled), one ball, or with your hands clasped together. If you use water-filled balls, the exercise becomes more challenging as you’re adding additional weight.

  1. Stand with your feet slightly apart, holding a ball in each hand. Now bring your elbows up and outwards at just below chest height and push the balls together.
  2. As you do this make sure that you’re breathing fully.
  3. Rotate your upper body to the left and right while still pushing the balls together. Repetitions: 10
  4. Lift your arms and do more rotations with your arms at various heights. Keep your elbows up and out. Repetitions: 10-12
  5. Take a 30-second break before repeating the sequence twice more.

Exercise 3 Core balance

This next exercise takes practice and you’ll really feel that you’re using your core throughout. Over time this will have a positive impact on your riding. Standing on two balls creates instability so you have to engage your core to stay balanced. You can also try this standing on a wobble board.

  1. Stand on two of the balls and, with your knees slightly bent, find your balance.
  2. Place a ball under each arm (or use a pair of rolled-up socks) and imagine your shoulders melting over them.
  3. The position of these balls helps to monitor any shoulder tension. The aim is to make sure that your shoulders stay relaxed throughout.
  4. Once you can maintain your balance — and this may take a few sessions — you can then move on to the next steps.
  5. While maintaining your balance, laterally flex your spine, so you drop down to the left and then to the right. Repetitions: 8
  6. Still standing on the balls, now rotate from side to side. Turn to the left, then to the right. Repetitions: 8
  7. Take a short breather, then repeat the sequence in steps five and six twice more.
  8. Step down off the balls and remove the balls from under your arms.
  9. Notice how your feet and shoulders feel afterwards.

Exercise 4 Test your abs

This final sequence builds on exercise three and is another excellent way to work your core muscles and increase your abdominal strength and balance.

  1. Stand on two balls. Holding two more balls in your hands, push them together.
  2. Lift the balls overhead and hold for a few seconds.
  3. With your arms still above your head, laterally flex to the left and then to the right.
  4. Rotate at the waist — round to the left and then the right.
  5. Finally, circle your upper body all the way round. Repeat the sequence twice more.

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