The Importance of developing your extensions for a more independent and flexible seat
Ok so my last blog was about posture and it's importance in and out of the saddle. So this week I would like to focus on the importance of have a good extension/back-bending practice as part of your daily routine. It is an essential part of a strong core and and independent seat. Not to mention it has numerous benefits for the body.
It counteracts rounded shoulders (specifically good for kyphosis)
Increases mobility of the spine
Improves your posture
Boosts your mood and relieves stress
It wakes you up
Opens the heart and the mind
It helps recharge your adrenal glands
Those are all great benefits right? So how does it benefit the seat and the rider? Just as they help open the heart and mind they help open the hip flexors. With longer hip flexors you are more able to drop you leg and wrap, this helps to develop a pelvis that is a more effective shock absorber. Also when you learn to lengthen through your hip flexors a lot of lower back issues start to dissipate. On top of that good extension work really teaches you how to unite your abdominal wall with your back muscles. Creating a torso that truly works as a unit. What does this do you for your seat? It helps you develop a stronger, deeper, more independent seat. It allows your body to truly channel the horses energy through you and back to the horse. For you it allows you to rely more on your whole core to balance and receive the energy, while letting you free up your arms so you're not riding or balancing yourself off your hand.
So what's limiting your extension practice? Well for most people it's usually a couple of factors. The major one I hear as soon as I mention extension work is, "I have a bad back, or I injured my back." So people are already mentally turned off to the practice and maybe they've developed some fear as well. It's natural when you have an injury or perceive the possibility of injuring or aggravating and an injury of the back. Well the good news is in Pilates we develop extension work slowly and appropriately for each body. Not everyone is going to be able to do a full wheel, but most people can retract their scapula and stretch their chest muscles. The other little talked about part of extension work is the pelvis and hip flexors. This is an important area to understand and focus on as you start any extension exercise. A lot of the work I do introducing extensions to the body starts in a prone position. Learning to hold your connection the same way you do supine and learning how to lengthen before you engage your back muscles is all part of how to safely start extension work. Often I find these simple exercises on the mat make a huge difference in my clients lives.
So here's how I start extensions for most people.
Prone Baby Cobra: Lying on your stomach, place one hand on top and the other and the rest your forehead on your hands. From there stretch your legs as long as you can, feeling your hips connect to the mat under you (feet are hip width apart for most but if you have a healthy lower back and SI joint they can be together). Then really pull your belly button to you spine (you will have space between your stomach and mat, however your pelvis is very grounded in the mat) from there you will take and inhale and slowly retract your scapula together and down your back, lifting your head and hands off the ground a little bit. On and exhale return to the start position making sure you stay connected in your core the whole time, belly button away from that mat. I do about 6 of these.
Single Leg Extensions or Walking Backwards: This is the same position and connection as above. In this exercise we are lengthening our legs so much that they lift off the ground. You lengthen and lift on an inhale and place the leg back down on an exhale. As you do this the key is to lengthen the legs put keep the weight in you hips and pubic bone equal and steady. If you lift your leg to high the weight in your hips shift and you need to keep the lift smaller. I usually do 6 to ten of these.
A Full Upper and Lower Body Lift Together (Modified Superman): So this basically combines the first two exercises. This may not be for everyone so if you found the first two helpful it's ok to stay with them for a while till you feel more confident and stronger in this practice. Ok if you are ready for this and most people are. All the same principles from above apply. Keep you head attached to your hands the whole time. Prepare on the mat, engage the core and lengthen the body on the mat. Start your lift on and inhale, retract your shoulder blades and lengthen both legs so that both the upper and lower body float off the mat at the same time. (Quick note, most people are more comfortable with the legs at hip distance, but if you have a healthy lower back you can do it with your legs together) On your exhale slowly return to your start position strongly pulling your belly button in, and away from the mat.
I will be posting videos of these exercises soon. They will be available on the Facebook page this week. I will also have a few bonus exercises for you there as well. If you have questions or want any clarification please feel free to reach out, or schedule a session. I am hear to help everyone and look forward to peoples feedback. Good luck and be mindful in your extension practice.