PT on the Net Research

Horse Riding and Muscle Imbalances


Question:

I have a 20-year-old client who has been an equestrian rider for 12 years. She has created an imbalance with her adductors. Can you suggest any exercises? How about plyometrics?

Answer:

Thanks for the great question. Over time, an equestrian rider would quite easily build an imbalance with her adductors. Oddly enough, many teen athletes already have imbalances with their adductors as part of their incomplete training program. When viewing this problem, we must first look at our functional anatomy. Most of the adductors are responsible for eccentrically decelerating femoral abduction, extension and external rotation. Most of the abductors are responsible for eccentrically decelerating femoral adduction, flexion and internal rotation. When viewing an individual riding a horse, the femur is adducted and the hip is flexed and internally rotated. That position would put the abductors on a constant eccentric "stretch" or lengthening cycle and would eventually lessen their ability to function efficiently. My suggestion to you would be to manually release or at least stretch the adductors and to work the abductors and external rotators of the hip. The muscles that are most involved in this process are all three glutes and the piriformis.

One of my favorite exercises for this situation is the Squat Touchdown - 1 Leg (find other great exercises by searching the Exercise & Flexibility Library under Muscle Group "Legs"). This is an excellent exercise on all levels. Form is of the essence for this exercise to be effective. The knee must track over the second and third toe. The arch of the foot needs to stay elevated, and you must use the hand on the opposite side of the body to touch down on the outside of the single leg. By squatting this way, you will strengthen the external rotators, the abductors and the extensors while functionally stretching the adductors. It is truly the most effective exercise for the aforementioned issues.

As for “traditional” plyometrics, I think you are barking up the wrong tree. In fact, about 75% of the time I feel as though plyometrics are incorrectly used. Just because an individual is an athlete, doesn’t mean she should be doing traditional plyometrics. I have seen far too many injuries occur because some coaches feel that plyometrics are the end all routine for power and explosiveness. The problem occurs when the individual is not ready for that type of training. The athlete intending to do plyometrics must be correctly assessed and must be efficient in her fundamental movement patterns before attempting a traditional plyometric program. The reason I keep using the term traditional plyometrics is that the term plyometrics itself is also often incorrectly used. Most people think plyometrics can only be done by jumping off boxes and bounding back up to another platform. This simply is not the case.

What may be helpful to your client is s simple multi-planar step and hold or hop and hold - low-level plyometric exercises that can be safely implemented with almost everyone. Because your equestrian rider has an imbalance in the musculature of her hip, she may not be able to control the femoral internal rotation at heel strike during normal walking. She is the perfect example of someone who should not be doing traditional plyometrics because she wouldn’t pass the screening process. Try to start with some of the exercises mentioned above and a low-level, multi-planar hop routine with a special focus on the frontal plane. This should dramatically help to overcome the imbalances. Good luck!