Corrective Exercise is Personal Training which focuses on Identifying and correcting muscle imbalances to improve performance, reduce pain, and improve injury resistance. A corrective exercise assessment is very thorough and allows a very custom, individualized program to be made for you, even considering asymmetry between your right and left sides. Corrective exercise teaches you to identify which of your muscles are over-active, which are under-active, informs you of their relevance in your daily life, exercise or performance, and gives you programming to help restore your muscles to their optimal function. Your work outs and riding will become more effective as a result, your body awareness and co-ordination will improve, your control of which muscles you engage while exercising or riding will improve. This results in improved mobility, stability, functional strength, body awareness, and co-ordination. Corrective exercise is a game changer! It is truly the missing piece for many riders, and in many work out programs.
How Does Corrective Exercise Work?
Working with a Corrective Exercise Specialist involves a very thorough assessment of posture and various movements to determine which muscles are over- active and under-active, and what postural and movement dysfunctions are present. Most movement assessments begin with an overhead squat assessment, and for more advanced athletes various other movement tests will be performed, such as a single leg squat or various pushing and pulling assessments with a load. Joint mobility tests will be performed based on the findings of the initial movement assessments.
A customized program is assigned based on these findings, and progressions to more challenging exercises are given every few weeks until the goal has been reached.
The program has 4 phases in each work out: Inhibition, Lengthening, Activation, and Integration.
In the Inhibition phase, self myofascial rolling (or foam rolling) is used to help reduce neural drive to the over-active muscles, so that the underactive muscles have a better chance of being recruited. The self myofascial rolling in the inhibition phase also helps increase stretch tolerance, so that the muscles are more amenable to stretching. This is the missing piece in many programs, and one of the reasons why just stretching on its own often does not work (NASM, 2011). To learn more about how this works, click on: reciprocal inhibition, and muscle imbalances.
The Lengthening phase allows muscles that are over active and short to be more easily stretched. Many people find that they have tried stretching to little avail, only to discover that stretching following foam rolling results in notable improvements in extensibility as well as in range of motion gains. This may be due to the inhibition reducing the neural cue for contraction, allowing the muscles to cease contracting so that they are finally able to stretch, as well as mechanical influences on the tissues, and increased stretch tolerance (NASM, 2011).
The Activation phase involves engaging and strengthening the underactive muscles in the equation. It is largely about teaching the person where the muscle they want to activate is located, helping them feel the target muscles engaging, learning to feel for overactive synergists that start to engage instead of the prime mover, and techniques for how to perform the activation to help keep inappropriate muscles out of it (so we do not further contribute to their over-activity) (NASM, 2011).
Integration exercises are given once the first 3 steps have been performed sufficiently. In this phase, multiple joint actions are performed simultaneously and the exerciser needs to ensure they are engaging the correct muscles while focusing on multiple areas of their body. The exerciser learns how to notice when their commonly over-active muscles go to step in where they are not needed, and how to combat this. Proprioception challenges of varying degrees of difficulty are included in this phase (NASM, 2011).
Programs start with the lowest degree of difficulty, and are increased as the exerciser masters the level they are working at with correct technique and adaptations. There are tons of more challenging progressions and combinations that can be implemented, as one advances, to keep even an advanced exerciser progressing and feeling challenged.
Many athletes use corrective exercise for an ongoing basis as a warm up before their sport, to help prime the muscles that tend to be underactive, so that they will be more easily able to recruit these under active muscles when needed during the performance. In our platform, we have several pre- ride routines you can use, but doing one set of your own regular corrective exercise custom program is a perfect primer for what your body most specifically needs.
What are muscle imbalances?
All muscles have an optimal resting length, which allows them to function correctly, and to generate maximum force output. A muscle which is overactive/shortened has excessive neural drive to it, causing the muscle to be held in a partial contraction when at rest. This shortens the resting length of that muscle. When that muscle (the agonist) is required to activate and generate force, the amount of total available muscle contraction is reduced. Due to reciprocal inhibition these over active muscles also cause reduced neural input to the muscles on the other side of the joint (the antagonsist) (Marieb & Hoehn, 2007). This inhibits the antagonist muscle from correctly doing its job, keeping it in an underactive or lengthened state. A common example of a muscle imbalance is over active hip flexors (which cause a rider to lean forward and perch in the saddle), inhibit the rider’s abdominal muscles and glutes- which help the rider sit back, open their hips, and stabilize themselves in the saddle. This prevents them from achieving a connected seat, prevents the rider from following the horse’s movements, but no amount of yelling “lean back” from the instructor will get the rider to be able to switch off those over active hip flexors so that they can sit back and access the correct muscles. Also, if that rider tries to work out off the horse to strengthen their underactive abdominal muscles and glutes, those muscles will not be fully accessible to them until the over active hip flexor muscles are inhibited and lengthened, quieting their neural signal that is inhibiting the abdominals and glutes from fully contracting (NASM. 2008.).
Muscle imbalances interfere with muscle and joint function, and can lead to pain and dysfunction. They can limit your range of motion and interfere with your ability to perform certain activities. Common causes of muscle imbalances are: chronic poor posture, improperly rehabbed injuries, sitting all day at work, repetitive movements, exercising one muscle group to the exclusion of that group’s antagonist muscle group, or using the incorrect muscles to perform certain tasks- without being aware of it (NASM, 2008). Over time the increased neural drive to these over active muscles can cause muscle adhesions and trigger points, which continue to keep these muscles in a shortened state. This is followed by a cascade of effects that negatively impact the joints effected by these muscles, and neighboring body segments, due to the interconnected nature of the kinetic chain (NASM, 2011).
Click to read some more examples of how muscle imbalances negatively impact riders.
Why is Corrective Exercise ideal for riders?
1) Emphasis on Symmetry – Anyone who has ridden seriously has noticed that a huge part of our training of the horse is based on evening out lateral imbalances. “My horse has trouble picking up the left lead, my horse bends better right, my haunches in left always scores better, my flying changes right are inconsistent, etc.” Humans have right to left imbalances too, and if we don’t work on getting our right and left sides more equal, we have little hope of getting our horses more equal on both sides. A corrective exercise program will assess your right and left sides independently, and if significant differences are found on your right side compared to your left side, different exercises will be given for each side of your body.
2) A Customized Program for you as an Individual, and as an Equestrian- a CE program is customized for you based on a thorough assessment, and based on your unique body, as well as your sport specific needs. As riders, we have different physical demands compared to other sports. If you are having trouble sitting the trot, following the canter, getting your leg back far enough for lead changes, staying stable in the center of your horse on circles or in lateral movement- your custom program gives your specific exercises to meet these needs.
3) Big Focus on Body Awareness- you will learn how to feel what various parts of your body are doing, right down to which muscles are contracting and which are relaxing. This will help you get more out of your work outs, and pay off in a huge way in your self- awareness while riding.
4) Co-ordination Practice off the Horse that Directly Translates to Your Riding- along with this increased body awareness, your program will include skills training that help you co-ordinate different riding- relevant postures and actions, both off the horse, as well as on the horse. Many people need more off the horse practice time to train their body what to do so that they can focus on other things when riding, such as responding to what the horse is doing, arena traffic, and patterns/tests/courses. Many riders are so pre-occupied with feeling and controlling their bodies when riding that they are unable to think of anything else, and this off the horse practice that trains the riding skills and co-ordination helps the rider’s body do what it needs to do more easily so the rider has mental space to focus on other things.
5) Pre- Ride Routines- CE can be used to prime the muscles you want to activate during riding, and quiet down the over active muscles that you don’t want getting in the way. Short pre- ride routines are given before the actual ride- and they don’t make you too sore to ride, like other work outs can.
6) Moving Past Roadblocks in your riding- have you ever heard your coach tell you to “sit back, sit deeper, quit gripping with your thighs, get your heels down, bring your leg back, get your shoulders back, quiet your hands, etc.” – and felt that you just could not do it not matter how hard you try? Or if you feel like you have trouble sitting the trot or canter, staying in the middle of the horse, have trouble bending one way, or executing lateral movements, feel nervous, tense, tight, stiff or sore, or generally feel that you are fighting your body- muscle imbalances are likely the culprit. If your hip flexors are chronically over-active, and the muscles that need to oppose them in order to sit back (glutes and abs) are neurologically inhibited, your literally CAN NOT sit back, no matter how much you try! Corrective exercise can help you get your muscles back under your conscious control so that you are able to use the muscles you want to use to perform the actions you want to perform. Corrective exercises can help you gain mastery of your body off the horse first, so that you can have mastery on the horse. With so many challenging things to focus on when riding, fighting to against your body should not be one of them.
What sets the Diversity Horsemanship Corrective Exercise Program Apart?
1) On Horse Riding Assessment- in addition to your off-the- horse posture, movement, and mobility assessment, you have access to assessments of your functional posture on the horse. We offer both in person and video assessment options. Re-assessment every few weeks into your program, both on the horse and off- is provided and an important part of the process.
2) Program Design by a well- rounded Expert- your program is being designed by not only a CPT (Certified Personal Trainer) and CES (Corrective Exercise Specialist), but one who has been a CHA Certified Riding Instructor-actively coaching large programs for 20+ years- who trains horses and who is actively competing, and continually continuing her education. She has worked with thousands of riders and hundreds of horses, and is well- versed in meeting your diverse needs.
3) Knowledge that Empowers you- The Diversity Horsemanship Corrective Exercise Program offers you a wealth of information that you need to be able to keep your muscles functioning at their best. Giving you the theory, detailed information about how this works, and instructions on what to do, so that you will become more and more independent and skilled at keeping yourself “sound” and functioning at your best. You will be given the knowledge and tools you need to become your own corrective exercise specialist for your body and your changing needs.
4) Body Awareness and Co-Ordination Specific to Riders- During your work outs, body awareness will be included, as well as co-ordination exercises that are relevant to riders. Many riders do not have enough awareness of what their foot is doing, or a specific section of their calf for instance- let alone having awareness, control, and co-ordination of several body parts at once. And those who do are always striving for more refinement of these skills! Our programs include many exercises which include rider specific body awareness and co-ordination, with increasing levels of difficulty to meet the needs of all levels of riders.
5) A Variety of Options- For those who wish to learn to do a self- assessment and want to be completely immersed in learning corrective exercise; or those who want to have virtual assessments from anywhere in the world; or if you want to have the most thorough, in-person professionally guided assessments and training coming to us- we have an option for you! Riders can also choose to have ongoing riding lessons and personal training in person to help them on an ongoing basis, at our Diversity Horsemanship equestrian facility in MB, Canada.
As riders, we strive to influence every single part of the horse. Certain disciplines- such a reining or dressage, require us to have complete control over every single part of the horse. In order to do this, we must have complete control over every single part of ourselves. In order to have this mastery, we need an extremely high level of body awareness, and control over our muscle recruitment and co-ordination of finely tuned movements with very precise timing. Riding is hard enough as it is- there are dozens of things to think about at once. Struggling to feel and control what your body is doing should not have to be your biggest roadblock- after all, you have your body with you 24/7 – even when your horse is not! You can be mastering your body awareness and control, all the time, so that when you get on your horse, your body is totally under your awareness and control- instead of being the biggest challenge you face. Yet as a riding instructor, I often find that the biggest obstacle riders face is actually their own body- specifically having the proper control, co-ordination, and awareness of all parts of their body that they require to ride well. And due to chronic muscle imbalances and reciprocal inhibition, some areas of people’s bodies are not accessible to them. They are not receiving enough neural input, so are literally in a “black hole” of awareness, and are also inhibited from being able to fully contract/ access certain muscles, even if you have the rider touch that part of their body to gain awareness of it. The rider is literally fighting their body, and until the overactive muscles are toned down and the under active muscles are properly activated, the individual will continue to have these struggles. Even if they are spending thousands of dollars on the best coaching possible! Corrective exercise can solve this problem, and allow the rider to attend to other things- such as memorizing their dressage test or steering their horse around arena traffic- instead of being fully pre-occupied by struggling to get their body under control. This is why I love corrective exercise so much! It has improved my life and riding so greatly, it truly was the missing piece I needed all along. It has had such a huge, positive impact on my students as well, and I am excited to help many more people like you find out the amazing changes programs can provide for you!
One major caveat- the programs are not “quick” and “easy”, like anything in life that is worthwhile, this pursuit requires commitment and effort. Time put in to learn and understand the principles and basic anatomy, and time commitment each day to do the exercises. The exercises themselves can be quite easy at the beginning levels, and often bring a lot of comfort (especially the inhibition phase which releases muscle tension), but in order for the program to work most effectively, in must be done thoroughly, which is time consuming. However your work will pay off in a huge way if you stick to it!
I know you are riders, so you are not strangers to hard work, and if you are serious about making positive changes in your riding, and have been struggling for some time, I am sure you are not scared of some work and time commitments! So let’s dig in!
Stay tuned! Diversity Horsemanship’s Online Corrective Exercise Platform is coming in 2022!
April 15th, 2022
Brookbush, B. (No date). “Upper Body Dysfunction”. Brookbush Institute. Retrieved at https://brookbushinstitute.com/course/upper-body-dysfunction-ubd
Marieb & Hoehn. (2007). Human Anatomy and Physiology: Seventh edition. Pearson Benjamin Cummings.
NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine). (2008). NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training. (pp. 65-66, & 142-144). Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
NASM. (2011). NASM Essentials of Corrective Exercise Training. (pp. 197-246). Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.