Core Concepts Part 2: Proper Activation

When someone tells you to activate your core… your first instinct is likely to suck everything in and “squeeze” those abdominals.

That’s they way most everyone has been taught over the years…. But unfortunately, that’s not really how to get the most out of the core.

While that does tighten the abdominal muscles, it does little in the way of stabilising the spine and trunk appropriately. As riders we need a stable trunk (everything from the shoulders to the pelvis) in order for our hips and elbows to be fluid, and our lower leg to be effective. The active core allows for dynamic stability, which is efficient stability through movement… not stiffening and bouncing around in the tack, but going with the flow of your horse.

So… how do you activate the core?

Try this. Hands on your hips so you fingers are slightly pushing into the sides of your stomach. Push the muscles under your fingers out so you can feel them working. Feel how those strong core muscles activate into your hands with the “push out” feeling? Yes, it’s going to feel a little odd. Maybe like you’re holding your breath or holding in having to go to the bathroom. You’re not holding your breath (though it will take practice to breath properly while doing this activation.. old habits die hard), what you are doing is creating a strong, hoop basket like system around your entire truck. This locks in the spine, keeps the torso strong, and is what every rider needs to begin rebuilding their position. 99% of the riders I’ve worked with are new to this activation technique, and the same number almost immediately feel a HUGE difference in their efficiency in the tack. If you have low back pain, this is a must for your tool box.

The big players here are your obliques (external and internal), rectus abdominus, and transverse abdominus.


How do you build this activation while in the tack? This is a habit like any other… it’s going to take awareness and practice practice practice! In the saddle, do self checks by riding with one hand on your hip feeling for those core muscles activating. Off the horse, start adding these couple key exercises into your routine:

1. The McGill Curl-Up:

– contrary to what the guy does in the video… I would prefer for riders to hold at the top of the curl-up for 10-30seconds and slowly lower down. Have one hand at those abdominals to ensure they are activated the whole time. Practice taking deep breaths and a regular breathing pattern throughout the activation. This exercise is excellent for building endurance and the activation motor pattern!

2. Side Plank/Bridge:

– Start from your knees moving from the hips, as shown in the video. Once you feel strong holding from the knees.. you can progress to a full side plank position.. having the feet wide is often more comfortable then stacking the feet. Try both out and see which is best for you!

These exercises should not cause pain anywhere, and you should be checking for proper alignment and core activation the entire time! There is many progressions to both those exercises, but master the basics first and then move up. Remember, perfect practice makes perfect!

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