Fit to Ride – Addressing Rider Stiffness

Julie Luther on the chest press.

By Julie Luther

Ever wake up with a stiff neck, tight hips, or low back pain?  Unfortunately, many equestrians believe this is an expected result of riding.  Nothing is farther from the truth.  There are exercises, stretches, and releases we can perform every day that can eliminate the rider stiffness that so many of us have learned to live with.  Below are just a few that target those troublesome spots.

Exercises to relieve stiffness

Exercise: Brueggers Maneuver

This will train your back muscles and stretch your chest and  get your head lined up with your shoulders (for neck and shoulder stiffness).

Procedure: Stand tall with your elbows at your side next to your ribcage bent almost 90 degrees with your palms up, keeping your elbows next to your body open your arms as wide apart as you can then push your head backwards. Hold for 3 seconds and repeat 10 reps. 3 times a day.

Tip: Keep your elbows next to your body and your hands below your waist. When you push your head back bring your chin towards your adam’s apple.

Exercise: Up Dog and Down Dog 

This will keep your low back and hamstrings stretched and strengthen your shoulders, arms and core. (for low back stiffness).

Procedure: Begin with your feet shoulder width apart and your hands on the floor shoulder width apart.  Hands should not be so far away from your feet that you cannot place your heels on the floor. Press your chest towards your thighs and hold for a 5 – 10 count breathing regularly.  Reverse this by moving your hips to the floor, keeping your arms straight and letting the weight of your hips just hang close to or on the floor, hold for a 5 – 10 count breathing regularly.  Repeat about 10 reps twice a day.

Tip: Try not to force it, stay relaxed and allow yourself to feel the stretches.

Exercise: Transverse Lunge 

Works through all planes of movement in the hips (for hip stiffness)

Procedure: Stand with your feet together holding on to TRX Straps or the door knobs of an open door, step across your right foot with your left foot as far as possible and perform a lunge. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.

Tip: Be sure to turn your whole body keeping your crossing over foot flat on the floor, enjoy the stretch for 5 seconds or so before returning to the starting position

Stretches to relieve stiffness

Exercise: Spread Eagle on a foam roller

Procedure: Place a foam roller on the ground, lie down with your spine on the roller, legs out wide with knees straight and arms out to the sides and relaxed stay here 3 – 5 minutes.

Tip: Just lay there, relax, and allow your spine to wrap around the roller, even straighten your hands, allow all of your muscles and facia on the front of your body to open up and stretch.

Exercise: Neck Stretches

Procedure: Sit tall with your head lined up with your spine, gently turn your head right then left, up then down, take your chin to each shoulder, finally gently lift your chin out to the side and up hold each stretch for 10 – 20 seconds.

Tip: Gently use your hands to facilitate more stretch. Do not over stretch as this can have a negative effect.

Exercise: Lion’s Pose Stretch

Procedure: Sit on the floor with your feet under your fanny and your knees as wide as you can get them, your hands are on the floor out in front of you. Push back into the stretch and hold for 10 – 30 seconds, then rock forward onto your hands pressing your hips towards the floor and hold for 10 – 30 seconds.

Tip: Keep your head lined up with your spine and breathe throughout the movement.

Releases to relieve stiffness

Release: Upper and Middle Back, and Neck

Procedure: Place 2 tennis balls on the floor and lie down with them lying at the inner tips of your shoulder blades, you can stay still on them or roll around a bit to find just the right spot, allow your muscles to relax.

Tip: Finding the right spot (or spots) in crucial, you can move up, down, and all around until you find the spot that needs releasing.

Release: Hips

Procedure: Lie down with your right foot on your left knee and place a tennis ball under the right buttock cheek, it will be easy to find the tight spot or spots, repeat on the other side.

Tip: You can simply hold the spots or you can move the leg around to really press hard on the spot and get a bigger release.

Release: Low Back

Procedure: Stand with your feet together holding on to TRX Straps or the door knobs of an open door, walk backwards until your torso is almost parallel to the floor and lean back hold for 10 – 30 seconds.

Tip: You can wiggle your hips around for more release.

So instead of complaining, or suffering in silence, spend some time creating a body that can deal with the every day stress of riding.  The more active we are the more TLC our bodies need.  Your mind, body and soul, as well as your horse, will say thank you!

Julie Luther is an Exercise Physiologist, corrective exercise specialist and dynamic flexibility certified personal trainer, as well as an equestrian.  She owns PurEnergy fitness Center is Greensboro, NC and has been helping folks reach their fitness goals since 1985. You can reach her at and check out her website at


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