Core Exercises to help your riding

Looking to improve your core strength, stability & balance in the saddle? This blog post offers you a full core workout designed for riders, written by qualified personal trainers with a riding background.

What is your core?

Your core is made up of many muscles around the centre of your body. They support the spine, hips and back. Core stability is essential in riders for many reasons. Your core is your centre of gravity, and keeping it strong will help you stay stable on the horse. Secondly, improving strength in those muscles can minimise back pain by absorbing the movement of your horse. 

Below are 5 core targeting exercises to enhance strength and increase balance for horse riders. Each exercise given has its own progressive exercise so you can adapt a workout to suit you. Some of the exercises are done with a 5kg medicine ball, however this is not a necessity and you can use a ball, light object or without. 

  • Russian Twists 
  • Sitting on a mat with your feet flat & knees bent. Before starting the exercise make sure you are finding engagement in your core. Imagining a belt around your waist, or the feeling of ‘zipping up’ to your belly button, helping to engage the lower abdominal muscles and support the lower back. Arms in front of you, holding the ball or clasping the hands together. 

    Inhale before moving, exhale to twist the upper body to the right, turning your shoulders and lowering the ball or your hands to touch the ground by your side. Make sure your knees don’t move, keeping them still and facing forward. Inhale to come back to centre, exhale to rotate to the left side. 

    This exercise targets the internal and external oblique muscles, and lower abdominal muscles. 

    Make the exercise harder? You can cross one foot over the other, only having one heel on the mat, or raising both feet off the ground, holding a boat pose, while rotating. 

  • Elbow Plank/High Plank 
  • This next exercise is focused on balance with less movement. For elbow plank you will be creating a long line from your shoulders to your toes. Start off by kneeling on your mat and placing your elbows underneath your shoulders, relaxing your forearms forward on the mat. Clasp your hands together and slowly one by one extend each leg out behind you. Curl the toes and lift your legs off the mat. Here you are in elbow plank pose. Take control of your breathing! Long inhalation and slow exhalation. Find the engagement in your core, find your pulling your belly button close to your spine. This exercise can be timed, firstly holding for 10 seconds and rest, and increasing every 10 till you hold for 1 minute or longer. 

    Make the exercise harder? 

    Unclasp your hands and change the positioning of your arms, from a forearm hold to being on your hands. Now your wrists are underneath your shoulders. Make sure you also find connection with your palms, fingers and thumbs into the ground. Make the challenge harder by holding the plank pose for longer. 

  • Plank Twists 
  • This exercise is an add on to the previous elbow plank exercise. Starting in the same position, take a deep breath in first, as you exhale drop your hips to the right side of your mat. Inhale to lift your hips and bring them back to the centre where you resume engagement. Continue on the left side. 

    While doing this exercise you mustn't drop your hips, creating a dip in the lower back. This then means you are not lifting your hips high enough & not engaging your lower abdominal muscles. 

  • Toe Touches 
  • This exercise doesn’t just improve stability and strength in the core, but also increases flexibility through the backs of your legs in the hamstrings and calves. 

    Starting in the same position as high plank. Gently bringing the feet one step closer to the hands, hinging the hips up to the sky, and transferring more weight into the legs than hands. You want to feel as though your pushing your arms into the mat away from your shoulders. (Do look up ‘downward facing dog’ for reference on this pose) 

    Breathe in to hold, as you breathe out to lift your right hand off the mat, take it underneath your left arm, twisting the body and tapping your left, shin, ankle, or toes. Inhale to lift off, exhale to place your hand back on the mat. Repeat the same exercise on the left side, tapping the right leg. This exercise targets the internal and external oblique muscles which run down the sides of your body, by the side of your abdominal muscles. This exercise also works the lower 2 abdominal muscles. 

    Make the exercise easier? If you find this exercise to be too challenging for the arms or legs. You can simplify it by coming onto all fours, wrists underneath shoulders, knees underneath hips. Inhale to extend you right leg back, and at the same time extending your left arm in front of you past your ear. As you exhale you bend your R knee, bend your L elbow bringing them into the centre of your body. Still keep them hovered off the mat, curve your spin up, engage your abdominal muscles, squeeze your stomach with the same feeling of drawing the belly button to the spine. Complete the full exhale. Inhale to extend your leg and arm back out. Try not to let the hips wiggle from side to side. 

    With this exercise it is best to do 4-8 repetitions on one side, then to change leg and arm to the other side with the same reps. Completing 2-4 sets. 

  • Core Crunches 
  • Lying on your back, knees bent with your feet flat on the ground. Bring the heels close to the hips and toes facing forward. Before starting this exercise make sure you are connecting your lower back into the mat, drawing your belly button down & this will help find the correct engagement for the abdominal muscles. 

    Have your hands resting on your thighs. Inhale first, as you exhale slide your hands close to the knees, lifting your head and shoulders off the mat. 

    Inhale to curl your vertebrae back to the mat. Relax your shoulders and head. This exercise can be done with 4-10 repetitions, 2-3 sets. 

    Make this exercise harder? 

    Once you feel comfortable with core crunches you can work towards twisting crunches. Starting in the same position as core crunches, however this time having your fingertips resting on your temples at the sides of your head. Make sure you keep the chest open. Again, inhale before moving, as you exhale your right elbow crosses over the body and you lift your left foot off the mat, bringing your knee to your right elbow. This exercise doesn’t only work the upper abdominal muscles, but also your oblique muscles as you are twisting the body. 

    There is a second progression too where you lie completely on the mat, inhale, exhale to lift the opposite leg and arm off the mat. Bringing yourself into a V shape lifting your back off the mat too. 


    So there we have it, 5 fantastic exercises to help you as a rider improve your core strength and stability in the saddle. Each exercise targets different areas of the core, working the muscles independently and together. 

    Want to watch the video of each exercise too? Follow the link to our Youtube channel where Lucy from SassyFit PT demonstrates the exercises. 

    Keep an eye out for more fitness related blog posts coming to DVR. 

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