Athletic Therapy, Biomechanics, Chronic Pain, Free Workouts, Posture, Wellness

Knee pain: It’s not complicated (usually)

After seeing an older woman in the clinic the other day a few weeks into her post-knee replacement rehabilitation- her daughter approached me stating she knew she was headed in the same direction as here mom (aka, was already having knee and hip pain in her life) and wanted to know if there was anything she could do to prevent the process.. or if it was just inherent that she too would eventually have to replace a joint or two.

If there is one thing I want to get across to people it’s that nothing to do with our health is guaranteed.

What I mean by that is.. just because you have a family history of something does not mean it can’t be prevented or course corrected. ESPECIALLY when it comes to our movement health!

When it comes to the knees.. generally the actual problem is coming from the hips and/or feet. I refer to the knee as a bridge joint. It is designed to improve efficiency of transit, absorb and transfer force. If the lines of force get messed with (aka you lack stability in the joints above and below), then the efficiency of that joint and it’s movement go right out the window. Stress builds up and that leads to warning signs (pain), inflammation, stiffening, and of course eventually degeneration of the structures within the joint. This can present via tendonopathies, osteoarthritis, runner’s knee/jumper’s knee (both tendonopathies), patellofemoral syndrome or patellar chondromalacia, and even increase your risk of ACL/MCL and meniscal injuries.

Barring external trauma (but yes postural dysfunction can even contribute to the risk of this), pain and issues in the knee generally are coming from above or below.

This is why I always recommend those passionate about running or other repetitive movement based activities get their gait screened by a professional. Catching dysfunction early and prescribing appropriate corrective movements is key in preventing problems down the chain.

Here are 4 “simple” exercises I prescribe routinely to clients experiencing knee/hip/back pain or rehabbing a joint replacement.

1. Clamshells.

You’ve probably seen these before. Designed to activate the lateral stabilizers in the hip, you should feel the burn on the top side of your hip as that is where the activation should come from. Laying on your side with knees bent to approx. 90deg, hips and ankles stacked- clamshell the knee open lifting from the hip. Do not let your hips fall backwards, they should remain stacked and level throughout the movement. Hold the clam at the top range of motion (wherever you can raise to without your hip sliding back!) for 10seconds, slowly return back to the start position.

Repeat 3 sets of 10-15 routinely in your day. The more you activate the muscles properly, the more the brain makes it automatic.

2. Gait Activation

Laying on your stomach, tuck your chin to lift your head (nose should remain pointed down to the ground!), and squeeze your butt cheeks together. Holding and maintaining this position, press opposite arm and leg to the ground while lifting the other opposite limbs off the floor. Hold for 4seconds, switch and repeat process.

This activates Deep postural muscles and connects the brain to a proper gait transfer pattern. It also cues butt activation and neck stabilizers.

Repeat 3-5round of 20 a day.

3. Single Leg Bridging

If you struggle with regular bridging, this is a advanced progression- so work towards it with holds before movements. Glute activation is key here!

Finding your bridge, lift one leg off the ground maintaining your glute activation. Lower the pelvis down half way and then push back up to full bridge on the one leg. Your hips should be the pivot point, not your low back! Core should remain strong, and glutes should be the main push to full hip extension. Drive up through the supporting heel to help engage the back half of the body/butt.

Repeat 6-10/leg for 3 – 5 rounds.

4. Side Bridges

Classic hip hinging activation exercise. All these movements also double as releases for the front of the hip (tight hip flexors anyone??).

On your side, supported by your elbow, shoulder, and core activation, pivoting from the knees- use glutes to actively push hips up and forward through a hinge motion. Hold at the top for 5-10seconds, then sit back and down through the hip hinge.

Common mistakes here: slouching into the shoulder (push UP through the ground/elbow and squeeze shoulder blades together), lack of core activation/bracing allowing for the spine to hinge instead of the hips (think of a squat motion at the hips!), lifting up THEN forwards.. try and make this simultaneous, as if your hips are moving up and down a ramp.

Repeat 6-12x for rounds of 3-5. Great used as a warm-up to other activities.

You would also do well to add in some foot exercises! @thefootcollective on instagram is one of my fav resources- but you can also refer to our existing post about old person feet here!

Struggling to figure these out? We offer complimentary movement assessments and consults to new clients. Prevention and rehab programs for all sorts of clients are available. Have questions? Leave a comment or find us directly at katmahtraining@gmail.com. We’re always happy to help you get your movement right!

Have fun kids!

Athletic Therapy, Biomechanics, Chronic Pain, Conditioning, Equestrian, Free Workouts, Motor Learning, strength training, Weight Loss, Wellness

At your age…

Here’s a fun tidbit I hear OFTEN second hand from clients after their friends/family/peers find out what their training and therapy plans consist of…

“At your age, should you really be lifting weights?”

“Isn’t weight training dangerous for your joints? Does that really help you feel better?”

“Aren’t you worried about getting injured again?”

“I heard that weight training is bad for you- doesn’t it cause arthritis”

First off.. I’m honestly not sure where people are finding that last bit of information from, at this point in our history. Secondly I’m also endlessly grateful that I’ve stopped frequently hearing that weight training will make women bulky- at last that myth has been put out of it’s misery. Third off- weight training is highly effective for arthritis rehabilitation and management- WHEN IT IS DONE CORRECTLY. The only time it’s going to cause arthritis is if you don’t do it in good form. This is why having the guidance of a trained professional is imperative when starting any new program. At the very least get a movement assessment and see where you need to work!

Would I tell someone of ANY age to just go and start lifting weights (no matter how much)? NOPE.

Do I prescribe and coach programs for ALL ages (yes, all the way up to 90-somethings- seriously) that involve various amounts of loaded movements, functional movements, dynamic movements, and stability training? You bet I do!

Here’s the neat things about the body.. it works on an adaptation based system. Which means- invariably- to IMPROVE our systems we have to STRESS our systems.

Here’s the feedback I get from my dedicated clients:

“I don’t wake up at 3am anymore with back pain”

“I sleep through the night and don’t wake up stiff in the mornings anymore”

“I don’t get tired during the day”

“My joints aren’t bugging me as much since I started training”

“I’m making healthier choices elsewhere in my life since starting this training routine.”

“I FEEL GOOD”

When we apply GOOD, healthy stress to our system- things change for the better. We also develop a higher tolerance for negative stressors, which means we function just overall more kick ass.

It no longer new information that the mind and the body are one coordinating unit.

Exercise, movement- of any kind- is the BEST and most EFFECTIVE medicine. The stats support it. Check these out.

According to the Conference Board of Canada, if we were to decrease the number of inactive Canadians by even 10%, we’d see a 30% reduction in all-cause mortality and major savings in health care. It is in fact estimated that more than $2.4 billion, or 3.7 per cent of all healthcare costs, were attributed to the direct cost of treating illness and disease due to physical inactivity1. The financial impact of poor health amounts to a loss of more than $4.3 billion to the Canadian economy, and the negative repercussions of inactivity cost the healthcare system $89 billion per year in Canada2. According to several studies, properly structured and supported exercise program, designed and delivered by a kinesiologist can, among other benefits:

  • Reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease by 40%;
  • Reduce the incidence of type 2 diabetes by 50% and be twice as effective as standard insulin in treating the condition;
  • Help the function of muscles for people affected by Parkinson’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis;
  • Decrease depression as effectively as pharmacological or behavioural therapy;5
  • Reduce the risk of stroke by 27%;
  • Reduce the risk of colon cancer by 60%;
  • Reduce mortality and risk of recurrent cancer by 50%;

(Based on year 2009. Jansen et al., 2012 2 Based on year 2013. 3 Cardiorespiratory fitness is an independent predictor of hypertension incidence among initially normotensive healthy women.
Barlow CE et al. Am J Epidemiol 2006; 163:142-50. 4 Reduction in the incidence of type 2 diabetes with lifestyle intervention or metformin. DPP Research Group. New England Journal of Medicine 2002; 346:393-403. 5 Exercise treatment for depression: efficacy and dose response.
Dunn A et al. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2005. 6 Physical activity and colon cancer: confounding or interaction? Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise:
June 2002 – Volume 34 – Issue 6 – pp 913-919)

Weight training- when done intelligently for each individual- is just as effective as other types of exercise in improving health. It has it’s own set of extra benefits and of course risk factors. Just like that Tylenol you like to pop for your back pain.

There is no one way to utilize the benefits of movement. Some people to pick things up and put them down.. others like to yoga.. some like to do step classes, and others just like to go for regular walks and stretch. IT’S ALL GOOD.

The biggest emphasis I am trying to make is that adding weight to your routine when you’re doing it correctly for YOUR SYSTEM (this is where the help of a trained professional often comes in), you’re looking at more resilience throughout your body and mind.

Don’t knock it til you try it 😉

(With the correct prescription and educated advice, of course!)

Athletic Therapy, Biomechanics, Chronic Pain, Conditioning, Equestrian, Motor Learning, Posture, Weight Loss, Wellness

If it ain’t broke.. The right way to move

Is there a correct way to move?

This is a question that has plagued therapists, trainers, and clients since the age of time.

Actually.. probably not that long.

The evolution of health and movement is one to be admired- in that, we’ve gone from quadruped beings, to walking, running, bipedal masterpieces, to what we are now.

We’re at an interesting point in movement science. We’ve somewhat regressed in our movement ability. While yes, we are still bipedal, upright beings- we no longer spend much of our time moving around in a variety of ways.

Now we move from point a-b-c-d in condensed timeframes, spending majority of our time between 3 positions (or variations of..): standing, seated, and laying down.

The author of Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari, points out that the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions not only may have ended our movement ability, but also may have birthed the beginnings of the various chronic illnesses and pain that affects us today.

Modern Day practitioners have been preaching alignment for decades already, and certainly our posture and ability to move has a huge impact on our overall wellbeing.. but is there such a thing as the “perfect” posture or alignment? Is there one optimal way to move?

The truth is yes, but also.. no.

There is certainly a most efficient way to move- in that, we will put minimal stressors on our structure and expend the least amount of energy to create that movement. There is a general textbook answer to this optimal alignment.

As an aside- it’s common to hear practitioners saying that one of your legs is longer then the other, or your pelvis is out of alignment.. when often the truth is some asymmetries are NORMAL to a certain degree.

We all have one shoulder that will be slightly depressed based on our hand dominance. We all have slight differences in how our rib cage sits, because of our anatomy (the left side has less lung in it to account for the heart- causing a shift between left and right), and where the rib cage goes the hips follow. Our body works in a chain like system- one link compensates for the next.. and while many compensations cause other problems, not all asymmetries are bad or abnormal. This will also change based on the mental health and perception an individual holds on pain, stress, and their systemic health. The debates on these fuel many research articles and books already. Stay tuned for more discussion on those topics and how movement relates to them.

When it really comes down to it, our movement is as unique as we are- and what is the best way to move for one person may not always mirror the best way to move for another person. We’re designed to be adaptable beings, and our postures should be just as adaptable.

Wait.. haven’t you been preaching posture and biomechanics your whole career?

Yes.. and while there may be differences across our spectrum of movement- majority of us inherit similar postural dysfunctions.. it’s very rare to find someone who moves well, even though there is no set checklist for what exactly moving well means.

Moving poorly in relation to your body can create a vicious cycle of degeneration, causing pain, causing less movement, causing more negative health outcomes. You can get enough movement, but if you don’t move well- you can actually do harm to your body which results in less movement.

For that reason *usually the first step with clients is to assess and correct how they move. From there we build a foundation of efficient movement, and build their movement habits on top of that foundation.

While I can’t say there is one right way to move, I can say that it is very rare to find someone with obviously inefficient movement without some sort of history of pain. The thing about pain is that it may not even present as physical pain.. it may be present in the form of gastrointestinal issues, or undue mental states. Our structure represents our internal framework too- and that can be a chicken or the egg scenario.

Many movement based practitioners will offer within their consult with you a movement screen. If you’re looking for an assist with your health, this is one of the things you should look to your professional to do. Cookie-cutter exercise programs, apps, and group fitness classes are convenient and cost effective- but the grain of salt there is if you get injured or develop pain because you’re movement wasn’t properly screened before starting a program- they cost you more in the long term.

We routinely see clients at their wits end come into our care. They’ve tried everything and nothing works- they are even hesitant to try anything else. They can’t move enough because of pain, or- they’ve never been taught healthy habits around their lifestyle (including movement and nutritional practices). This is what plagues our healthcare system today, and the message I keep putting out there to clients and peers is that none of this is a difficult fix- it just requires a shift from expecting a quick, cheap fix, to some quality time spent investing in our own health and getting educated guidance.

If you have questions about your movement today- send us an email and we’d be happy to help. Consults are always free.

Athletic Therapy, Chronic Pain, Wellness

5 Reasons Why Integrative Movement is Different

1. Accessibility

We pride ourselves in providing a simple, affordable solution to health and lifestyle services. We also offer services out of four satellite locations covering South Winnipeg, the Pembina Valley, Charleswood, and Selkirk region. All our locations are partnerships with other likeminded health facilities. From full functioning gyms to yoga studios – we do the groundwork to develop a health focused community feel wherever we go.

2. Investment

How many of us have bought into a health program, rehab, or gym membership only to under utilize it and later feel like we’ve just wasted the money? Our job is to support you in whatever your health goals require. Whether it’s developing healthy habits in the gym or at home, recovering from an injury, or pushing yourself to a new level of health and fitness, we work hard to provide highly skilled and knowledgable support. As a bonus, new members at our Selkirk and Charleswood locations automatically get 6 weeks of coaching alongside their memberships. No longer will you be stuck not knowing what to do with your gym membership! Your health is an investment, and we believe that navigating those investments is best with accessible, individualized support.

3. Individuality

It’s all about YOU- At IM we are different then your average rehabilitation facility or personal training sales pitch. We take the time to figure out what makes you tick. From consult to regular sessions, you can expect to spend 45min-1hr with us in either dedicated one on one therapy, consult, or training sessions or in a small group of likeminded individuals working at a common goal. Keeping things personal allows us to make sure you’re getting all the resources YOU need to reach your full health potential.

4. Diverse Experience

We are a team of Kinesiologists and Athletic Therapists with years of education and a growing experience base. Each of us enters our practice with our own personalities, history, and interests. For that reason, we pride ourselves in working as a team to meet our clients where they are at- and when appropriate work as a team with other professionals you deem valuable to your healthcare team.

5. We get it.

Life happens. Injuries are tough. Pain messes with our heads. Taking the steps towards lifestyle change seems impossible some days. We have been there, and we understand. Even on the days where you think it’s never going to change, the pain will never leave, or you’ll never get your old energy back.. we’ve got you. We won’t give up even when you don’t know where you stand. As the therapists and coaches we are, we hold out hope even when all hope seems lost. We’re all in the same boat, us humans, and we approach your care on your side every single day.

Want to learn more about how we can fit seamlessly into your journey towards optimal movement and health? Book your FREE consult here or drop by any of our locations to learn more. Looking forward to meeting you!

Athletic Therapy, Chronic Pain, Wellness

5 Reasons Why Integrative Movement is Different

1. Accessibility

We pride ourselves in providing a simple, affordable solution to health and lifestyle services. We also offer services out of four satellite locations covering South Winnipeg, the Pembina Valley, Charleswood, and Selkirk region. All our locations are partnerships with other likeminded health facilities. From full functioning gyms to yoga studios – we do the groundwork to develop a health focused community feel wherever we go. We also offer online services and training for those at a distance or on a budget! 

2. Investment

How many of us have bought into a health program, rehab, or gym membership only to under utilize it and later feel like we’ve just wasted the money? Our job is to support you in whatever your health goals require. Whether it’s developing healthy habits in the gym or at home, recovering from an injury, or pushing yourself to a new level of health and fitness, we work hard to provide highly skilled and knowledgable support. As a bonus, new members at our Selkirk and Charleswood locations automatically get 6 weeks of coaching alongside their memberships. No longer will you be stuck not knowing what to do with your gym membership! Your health is an investment, and we believe that navigating those investments is best with accessible, individualized support.

3. Individuality

It’s all about YOU- At IM we are different then your average rehabilitation facility or personal training sales pitch. We take the time to figure out what makes you tick. From consult to regular sessions, you can expect to spend 45min-1hr with us in either dedicated one on one therapy, consult, or training sessions or in a small group of likeminded individuals working at a common goal. Keeping things personal allows us to make sure you’re getting all the resources YOU need to reach your full health potential.

4. Diverse Experience

We are a team of Kinesiologists and Athletic Therapists with years of education and a growing experience base. Each of us enters our practice with our own personalities, history, and interests. For that reason, we pride ourselves in working as a team to meet our clients where they are at- and when appropriate work as a team with other professionals you deem valuable to your healthcare team.

5. We get it.

Life happens. Injuries are tough. Pain messes with our heads. Taking the steps towards lifestyle change seems impossible some days. We have been there, and we understand. Even on the days where you think it’s never going to change, the pain will never leave, or you’ll never get your old energy back.. we’ve got you. We won’t give up even when you don’t know where you stand. As the therapists and coaches we are, we hold out hope even when all hope seems lost. We’re all in the same boat, us humans, and we approach your care on your side every single day.

Want to learn more about how we can fit seamlessly into your journey towards optimal movement and health? Book your FREE consult here or drop by any of our locations to learn more. Looking forward to meeting you!

Athletic Therapy, Biomechanics, Chronic Pain, Equestrian, Motor Learning, Posture, Uncategorized

Fix It Friday’s: How Stable Are You? 

No, I’m not talking about how much time you spend in the barn, or how you handle stress…. I’m strictly asking about your physical stability. 

There’s a few tests I do for this when assessing a new client, one of which I’m going to share with you today. I truly believe that education is the key to getting every client and athlete to their next level, whatever their goals may be. So sit tight, and get ready to test your core ability in a few simple steps! 

I write lots about the core. The core is basically the area between the base of your skull/and chin to your hips. Common misconception is that it’s your abdominals, but it is so much more! 

The core is important for everything we do. In various athletic endeavours it does one of two main jobs- either stabilizes our trunk so our limbs can move in the most efficient manner and we can balance appropriately (riders, this is you), or it can be used to create power through torque and momentum (think a kicker, pitcher, sprinter, etc). I won’t get too much into the physics of this, but the basics is it helps centre us, allows for the best possible movement, and/or transmits force through the body for power. It literally plays a part in everything we do, and if it’s not used correctly you start to see breakdowns elsewhere or within the core area itself (back pain, hip dysfunction (leading to knee pain), shoulder pain and neck pain). 

I haven’t done the math, but if I could take a guess I would say about 80%-90% of the people I see have some level core dysfunction. That aligns pretty well with the infamous stay that 88% of equestrians have low back pain. It’s all starting to make sense, isn’t it? 

So… How do you know if you need to get better at your core? Well I’ll show you. All you need is a mirror, or an observer. 

We’re going to use one of my favourite exercises as a movement screen (which it actually is..surprise!). 


The Bird-Dog is an excellent way to assess your core body when it comes to stabilization. 

Starting on all fours, with a mirror at your side or your trusted observer watching you, lift and extend OPPOSITE limbs as shown above. Make sure your back is straight and knees are directly under hips with hands under shoulders. Try to form 90deg angles with the ground! 

Here’s what you’re looking for: 

– any unevenness or lift in the hips. 

– any shift in weight bearing forwards or backwards or sideways- or if you try to move your back stance knee inwards (that’s cheating!). 

– any sag in the low back or arch in the upper back. 

– any unbalance, increased shakiness, or falling over (yes it happens!). 

As a clinician I score this movement out of 3. To get a 3/3 technically you should be able to lift and extend SAME SIDE arm and leg, with no deviations in posture. I have yet to find a perfect score. The opposite version shown above is technically an alternate test. So a perfect score here means you have no deviations in stability or form, with no pain. Any PAIN in this test auto drops you to a 0-1/3. Anything less then a perfect score means you have work to do. And believe me, even the fittest and brightest athletes often get surprised with this. Fitness level does not necessarily mean you move well! 

What did you see? Let me know in the comments or email me at katmahtraining@gmail.com 

Interested in building that core ability? Check out these posts on my favourite core exercises: 

Core Concepts

Proper Activation You’re Doing It Wrong

Stay tuned for more Fix It Fridays! 

Biomechanics, Chronic Pain, Equestrian, Free Workouts, Motor Learning, Posture

The One- Say Happy Valentine’s Day to Your Body.

Who says V-Day has to be about your significant other? Make it about you! You only get one body. What are you doing to appreciate it?

Before you hunker down for your chocolate binge and netflix (it’s allowed, I’ll be doing it too), make sure you do a little something for your one and only body. It doesn’t have to be a huge thing, our body appreciates the simple things. Movement. Total body movement. We don’t move much anymore. A great quote from Katy Bowman’s book Alignment Matters sums this fact up:

“Our culture’s use of chairs and toilets, our beliefs in what our posture means to others, and even our clothing (rigid shoes, narrow skirts for women, etc) have all resulted in self-induced joint rigidity. All the movements you have never done are movements that would have toned muscle, kept connective tissues moist and supple, and kept blood oxygen flowing evenly to all areas of the body. Instead, we have huge chunks of unused muscles, bones scraping together at the joints and increasing friction (causing osteoarthritis), and we are constantly medicating to make living possible in our physical agony.”

Scary, right? But there’s a silver lining- all of that is COMPLETELY CHANGEABLE. All you have to do is wrap your head around moving more. Change that little voice that says “we’re tired today, it’s okay to just sit here and relax” and reframe it into “I’m going to go for a nice relaxing walk after each meal, to clear my head and move my body”. I guarantee you’ll feel much better!

How many people do you know who use restrictions in their body as an excuse? I’ve even had people tell me their trainers avoid their areas of pain in their programs, simply because that area causes them restrictions. That’s a sure way to cause long term issues, in my mind. For example. You don’t do squats, lunges, or high impact cardio because your knees hurt. So, instead of figuring out WHY your knees hurt (probably and issue in your hips and core, and/or your posture, gait, and lifestyle habits).. you just avoid them completely. Long term effect? Decreased bone density, higher risk of osteoarthritis, muscle imbalances, decreased movement ability- chronic pain.. So while it’s great you’re working with a trainer, it might not do you much in the long term. If you have a restriction- or a bad attitude- there is a way to correct them and move on. Don’t get stuck with what you have!

Sitting for long periods is bad. So is over exercising or staying in any one position for a long period. It’s all about constant change. We’ll all have to sit for long periods here and there.. it’s the nature of the world we live in.. but we can adjust how we’re sitting so we’re not always stuck in one spot. Take stretch breaks, get up every 20-30min and go for a walk around wherever, don’t sit cross-legged all the time. Change it up.. constantly!

So, in the light of that lecture.. here’s one of my favourite strength exercises for the WHOLE BODY. And guess what, it doesn’t require any equipment except for you and the floor/ground. It also requires little time, and little space. Feel your excuses narrowing? Good.

All you need is a floor, with enough clear space that you could lie on your back and not hit anything, and a can-do attitude. If you have a can’t-do attitude, I’m not sure why you’re reading this post- go be unhealthy somewhere else and come back when you’re ready to adjust your lifestyle.

This exercise involves moving your own body-weight and doing the most functional of tasks: lowering yourself to the ground, and then lifting yourself back up. This is a task that everyone, no matter your size or age, should be able to do. It’s imperative to our health. I know 90yr olds that can still do this. You have no excuses to let this ability falter!

So. Get to the point. I know.

I commonly call this the “inchworm” exercise, but I’ll let you create your own name for it if you want.

It’s pretty simple, really. Start by standing up (in a good posture, I hope), then bend over from the hips, and knees, touching your hands to the ground. From here, walk your hands out until you’re in a plank position (you can drop to your knees here if needed), and then lower yourself to the ground (preferably in a push-up style and not a face plant style). Here, take a second and do a back extension or a cobra pose, just cause it feels nice. Then lower yourself back to the ground, push-up back into your plank and reverse the whole process… walking yourself back up to standing. Here’s a super accurate stick-figure drawing:

I know. I’m the next Van Gogh.
Repeat this anywhere from 5-10 times and you’ve got yourself a total body workout with no huge time commitment and no equipment necessary. When you’re ready for an extra challenge.. start on one leg and keep one leg elevated through the entire movement! Or start adding more push-ups.

You can do this anywhere! The office, the kitchen, the living room, your mom’s house, in front of the couch, in the gym, outside, at the barn… ANYWHERE! So.. do it. If you have a good reason not to, please share in the comments below 😉

Athletic Therapy, Chronic Pain

Breaking Down Unhealthy Movements

Many riders out there already are quite adept athletes, and train themselves on and off the horse appropriately. In this case- why is it still common to see fit, athletic, riders with positional issues, pain in the saddle, and chronic pain in their daily lives?

I’ve talked about movement patterns many times before, and this is exactly what it comes down to when diagnosing what’s up with a riders problems- whether those problems are pain, sloppy transitions, getting one lead, keeping the horse balanced around turns, etc. Unhealthy movement is not necessarily a cause of low fitness levels or health- it’s bred by patterns and habits we’ve formed over time.

Subconsciously you might have formed different movement patterns that stick around long after the initial injury did. A gait change because of a lower body injury and resulting compensation can continue long enough that it becomes a unconscious habit. The neuromuscular connections (how our brain and nervous system control our muscles) may have formed in alternative ways and become established in incorrect or inefficient patterns not noticeable to the untrained eye.

Think about it this way… you know when someone tells you to sit up straight and you all of a sudden notice how slouched you were actually sitting? Then a few minutes later you suddenly realize you’re back into the same slouched posture without even having noticed your shift in position? That’s a unconscious movement habit. Without a conscious thought, your body slipped into an inefficient posture because it the good movement habits and appropriate muscles haven’t been retrained to do their jobs.

Now, if you work hard to keep yourself fit and agile in and out of the tack, but still find yourself always being corrected on little postural habits you have in the saddle.. as hard as you train your fitness, it may not be doing you any good. This is why when someone puts you in the correct position it feels like a lot of work to sustain it. Likely you have those little movement deficiencies throughout your day, especially when you’re training, which means they are being trained to continue through all your movements. Which means anything outside of those well-used patterns is going to be harder to maintain both physically and mentally. Riders I work with often complain that their brains get tired just from focusing to keep new, correct positions. Further to that, a rider’s emotional state shows through their movements. Fear, anger, confidence, happiness are shown in our posture. Body language is a big part in our sport, as it’s what our horse’s can translate best as soon as we hop on.

You’ve probably noticed that many of the exercises I demonstrate in these posts are very simplistic movements… for the exact reason of breaking down someone’s movements and building them back up again correctly. It usually takes bringing someone, as athletic as they may be, back down to the most basic level of movement to see where their issues are coming from and rebuild them from there. Much of my job consulting client’s movements comes down to doing just that. How they move presently is often a result of things that have been perpetuated in their past. Many of them come to me with problems their horse has (“he won’t pick up his right lead”, “he always falls in”, etc) which usually disappear once we source out what or what they aren’t doing within their own bodies.

Never underestimate how much you influence your horse, or how simple it can be to fix with the right assistance!

The first step in improving this in riders is bringing their awareness back to the problem. Having someone tell you over and over what you need to fix only goes so far if you’re not aware of what you actually are doing incorrectly. My first suggestion when coaching a rider’s position is first to show them in a mirror or by resetting their position so they can feel and see the differences. Then, while I’m verbally reminding them what they are changing through their movements, I ask them to think about it themselves every 4 or 5 strides during their rides, and periodically throughout their day.

Teaching Shot 1

Try using these self-reminders throughout your day and ride:

  • Everytime you check my phone you’re checking your posture
  • Before every upwards or downwards transition set and activate the core and sit up tall.
  • Every second repetition of an exercise in the gym checking your form.
  • At every corner doing a self-position check.

Doing those simple tricks throughout your day will encourage your brain to rebuild it’s habits in your movements. Soon, you’ll become more aware of your faulty postures… and once you’re aware you can begin to correct them. Before too long you’ll find you’re sitting up straighter, moving better, and finding chronic pain dissipating without having to constantly remind yourself!

Athletic Therapy, Biomechanics, Chronic Pain, Equestrian, Motor Learning, Posture

Hinging and Locking: Finding true stability in the upper body

The human body is a fascinating thing. When one thing doesn’t work the way it should, something else will adapt to make movement as efficient as possible. The body will also always do it’s best to balance itself, in whatever way it can, which is also accomplished quite often by something doing what another thing should be.

Let’s talk today about the elbows and the mid-upper back.

One of those things should hinge and flow, while the other should stay stable through movement in the tack. One is compared to an elastic band, while the other could be related to the mast and supports on a ship (I don’t know the technical terminology…). One is a hinge point for two dynamic resistors (hand and core), and the other is the stable base point from which all control stems from.

spine_mast

Our elbows are pretty much a direct contact to our horse’s mouth (via the hands). Intuitively this means they should avoid being stiff and instead be fluid (even through resistance) and allow the hands to do their work on the reins. This is another reason why we are coached for thumbs up,or in an “A” position, and coached out of flat hands. Not only is the forearm better positioned with thumbs on top, it is a much more biomechanically efficient position for the muscles that control the wrist and fingers to work from. The ideal position is just a touch past the centre line with the thumb coming into very slight pronation. This also creates an optimal grip position for the ring finger on the reins. Why is this important? The hands and CORE should create active resistance through a ride, NOT the elbows. A firm grip and a steady, strong position is a better solution then a locked arm and a compensated torso position.

Pronation-and-Supination-500x284-300x170

Hand position is an important first step to establishing elbow fluidity. There are two reasons I find that the elbow locks up on riders and you see them riding with stiff arms.. sometimes even to the point of the arm being almost straight.

  1. Postural dysfunction/poor motor control in the upper body. This what we’re going to focus on in this article. What do I always come back to? Body awareness and core activity are a athlete’s best friend- especially for riding athletes. Let’s say the shoulder girdle is unstable. The muscles in the upper back aren’t doing their job and the shoulders are rolling forward. Combined with this, the athlete in question doesn’t have a clue how to stabilize their core through movement and doesn’t have great posture. This is demonstrated by a collapsed forward position, a slouch in the upper back, and in movement, a hinging in the mid-back. Something has to be stiff and stable.. so the elbows (and sometimes the hips) take over.
  1. Fear or nervousness. It’s human nature to stiffen up when we are nervous or afraid. Whether a rider is a novice, or is returning from injury or a bad fall.. underlying fear is completely understandable and I’m sure any rider can admit to being there at least once in their career. Unfortunately, the stiffness developed in the early stages can stick around long-term if it becomes a habit. So coaches, if you notice a returning rider with stiff elbows.. do them a favour and start assisting them in breaking the habit before it forms. The great thing about the musculoskeletal system is that it is under our control, so even if we have fear or an underlying emotional issue causing symptoms such as stiffness… we can learn to control them separately. We’ll discuss this in another post.

These two facts apply to all riders, right across the board. Dressage, hunter/jumper, western dressage, rodeo, western disciplines, and even recreational riders. If you’re stiff in your elbows, likely another piece of your posture puzzle is out of place.

We’ve talked about the upper back and shoulders before, so for anatomy and correctional exercises here I’ll refer you back to this post. Also, if you need a reminder on how to properly activate the core and a few exercises for that.. check out this previous post.

What I haven’t discussed is the hinging effect in the mid back. The exact location is different for everyone, but it is commonly where the thoracic spine and the lumbar spine meet (T-L junction)… right around here:

It’s easiest to see this in the sitting trot. Look for any movement through the mid-back that seems excessive. Many riders, due to not understanding how to use their core appropriately resort to what I like to call “jello-spine”, clench their glutes (locking the hips), round their shoulders and lock their elbows. This creates a false sense of stability, but really it is a very unstable position. I also see this in jumping athletes, both in flat work and in over fences during a release. Arching and hinging in the back makes them feel like their sitting up tall and strong, and while they are sitting up tall, they are taking away efficient stability in the core because of the hinge and opening themselves up to wear and tear injuries in the upper body. This hinging habit is commonly formed early in a rider’s career. “Shoulders back” is a commonly used cue for riders, but coaches need to be aware that athletes like to cheat (whether they know it or not) by hinging the back instead of moving just the scapula (shoulder blades). Missing the correction of this early on enables the habit to be formed. That’s when you meet someone like me down the line when you have chronic pain in your back and shoulders!

Why do we care? Hinging in the spine causes undue stress on the vertebrae/discs/tissues which will cause pain over-time. Postural dysfunctions as a result of that hinging (poor shoulder posture/motor control, head poked forwards, locked elbows during movement) can cause pain, muscular tension, headaches, and stiffness that will translate into our horse’s health and movement. Check out this study done a few years ago that relates a rider’s posture back to the horse’s health.

So, now we know whether we’re locking our elbows or not, and why that’s not a good thing.. How do we fix it?

The first approach I use with my clients is building their awareness of the stiffness. Working at a gait their comfortable in, or even off the horse completely, we first improve their position overall. Then, I like to relate the elbows to the hip. They should be equally fluid. The posting trot is the easiest to demonstrate this in. If the hips are moving appropriate, pushing up and forwards and then down and backwards, the elbows should coordinate to open as the hips open and close as you sit back down. Same pace, same elasticity. Some clients have been so reluctant to let those elbows go that I put them on a lunge line and practice “jello-arms” while holding an activated core. Here the rider is instructed to let the arms hang loose while maintaining the rest of the position correctly. This encourages them to relax, let the arms specifically loosen, and build awareness of how tense they get otherwise.

In the video below, we see the rider in the top frame (before instruction) bouncing and very stiff in the tack. This rider does have a history of fear in the tack and has developed an overall stiffness to compensate. You’ll also notice that her horse is on edge with his head high and back hollowed. The bottom frame is after instruction (keep in mind this was all within a 45min session, so changes are small). You’ll likely notice less bounce in her seat. This was after teaching core activation and encouraging hip movement. Her hands and elbows are better, but not great yet.. but you can already notice her horse beginning to relax with the small changes to her seat.


Awareness is always the first step. Then rebuilding posture, then improving fluidity. I’ll will discuss the relationship between emotions and false stability (stiffness) in the body in another post, as it is also an important piece in the posture puzzle. Having somebody there to help you build your awareness of hinging and stiffness in the upper body is a great first step. Then trying the Wall Slides and Retraction exercises, along with the core exercises is this post and this post are the first steps in postural correction and improving fluidity in the tack!

Contact me at katmahtraining@gmail.com if you have questions about your position and how to take the next steps in bettering your performance for you and your horse!

Biomechanics, Equestrian, Motor Learning, Posture

A little goes a long way…

A little clip from SageHill with a couple of my performance clients. The top video is before any corrections were made to Gwen’s position. Note the movement in her mid-lower back, the slightly forward angle of her body, and the bounciness in her seat. 
The bottom video is after some corrections were made. Note here how she is sitting more upright, her back is much more stable, and it looks like a much smoother ride? 

Gwen had originally complained of ankle pain during and after rides, one big modification for her was teaching her how to relax her ankle joint. My cue was “jello” ankles, which worked quite well. Note in the second video how her ankles look a little more fluid and her seat overall is smoother? The jello ankles in coordination with some cueing to properly activate her core and adjusting her positiong in the tack all work in coordination to form that nice smooth ride we are building with Gwen. 

This was the first session working with her on the horse, small changes made to encourage a more efficient posture for her in the tack.. all of this partnered with a exercise program specific to her needs of course. These small improvements are steps in the right direction to making Gwen’s ride it’s best for her and her horse. 

Want some tips on your ride? I offer video analysis and online consults! Shoot me an email at katmahtraining@gmail.com!