I’m sure you’ve experienced the feeling of tight shoulders, lower back pain and stiff hips after sitting for a period of time at your desk. Im also sure you would of experienced how tight and stiff your body becomes after being stuck in a car seat or on an airplane. You see your body adapts to the environment you place it in each and every day, just like a tree molds itself to the wind and terrain it experiences over a life time, so to does your body.
Now its not that you have to throw away your chair and resign from your job, so much of this is about awareness. Dressage is a team sport and if your having trouble with stiffness, suppleness and even balance on both reins with your horse, it could be worth looking at yourself first before you pass the blame onto them.
What exactly is your core?
You’ve no doubt heard that strengthening your core is really important, and if you havn’t take a look at all the articles I have written on the subject. It’s one of those buzz words that is used so often thanks to the growth in popularity of yoga and Pilates. While everyone is throwing about the word “core”, not everyone knows exactly what it is and often it’s liken core strength to a six-pack. However, it’s much more than that and its role it plays in dressage is more than just your six pack abs to!
Your core is comprised of series of muscles that act as a central link connecting the upper and lower body. Your back muscles, abdominal muscles and those located around your pelvis come under the banner of your core and act to stabilise and move your body.
- Rectus abdominis – this is the muscle we all associate with abs and while it might look great when toned, it’s real purpose is to help you flex and curl your trunk.
- Transversus abdominis – this muscle wraps around your centre and is positioned deep within your core.
- Internal and external obliques – the obliques help you rotate and together with the transversus abdominis, they support you during movement.
- Psoas major – you may know of these muscles as your “hip flexes” as they help move your thigh up towards the abdomen.
- Erector spinae – these muscles are key to supporting the spine and straightening your back.
Maintaining the strength of all these muscles is vital for your everyday movement. Have a weak core and you instantly heighten your risk of muscle injuries, lower back pain and obviously poor posture.
Sitting at your desk depletes your muscles of vital energy
When you sit in your office chair maintaining one position for a period of time, you are outsourcing the job of your muscles to the chair to support. So instead of strengthening your neutral spine and training your body with constant sitting fatigue sets in and overrides your natural reflexes that are responsible for coordinating your movement and aligning your posture. Your muscles in your core become depleted in vital energy. The blood circulation is compromised and tissue breaks down, effecting your organ function which as a result alerts you “fight or flight” switch. This in turn, drains your adrenals and immune system.
You know, we talk about the feeling of being stiff after sitting in our office chair, but often many of us neglect to think about what it’s really doing to our health and wellness. The health of our core muscles and their suppleness is going to affect you on many levels not to mention your riding.
Think about it. How are you going to feel physically and mentality if your posture, mobility, flexibility and joint health are all compromised simply because you sit in an office chair for long periods?
Now there are some circumstances where you do need to sit, so ask yourself can you sit better. Then ask yourself can you sit different? So often when we do sit we slouch, so instead of doing this, sit upright, neutral spine and improve your riding position while you are at your computer.
While exercising before or after work is a great way to create movement throughout your body, it’s not going to offset what occurs when you sit at your desk all day. In fact, studies have indicated that even if you work out, sitting for long periods of time still puts you at risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even death.
Stretching your body regularly could offset the damage
Early research suggests by simply breaking up the periods of time you sit on your office chair for just a few minutes every half hour can make a difference in prolonging your spinal health.
My advice, set a timer to get up and stretch and find tasks that you can do standing, such as phone calls or meetings. So often it is our mindset limiting our ability to move more and not necessarily the office structure.
The other thing you can do to help protect your core is to invest in an ergonomic desk chair, or even try out a stability ball and watch this video here where I talk about how it can help your riding. Take note of where your screen is positioned on your desk. Do you hunch over a laptop and small keyboard or are you looking straight ahead? Consider a stand up desk so that you can alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day as your body desires.
Building a strong core is vital for your health and wellbeing and a crucial element when it comes to dressage. It’s going to help you move and exercise as well as provide you with balance, stability and a good posture. But maintaining them is vital and sitting for long periods of time can undermine all your hard work and good intentions.