Watch and Learn: A Strong Lower Leg Starts at the Hip and Core

Effective riding comes from an effective position, and an effective position comes from focusing your attention on building the right muscle groups up. Today, Laura Crump Anderson shares her favorite move for creating a solid, stable leg:

Laura Collett and London 52: a perfect example of the lofty heights that can be reached when a secure, stable position is maintained through correct training and exercise. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Applying a consistent leg aid comes from the strength and stability in the hip and core. In a dressage seat, you should let your leg hang around the horse like a wet towel — this comes from an internal rotation that starts at the hip joint. I had the opportunity last weekend to audit an Erik Duvander clinic, and a JJ Tate clinic, and across the disciplines and levels, the thing I consistently heard addressed was how to apply a correct leg aid — and how to keep that leg aid applied.

This got me thinking of an exercise called the Seated March. This exercise not only strengthens the core — by its very nature, it enables you to correctly fire in your hip flexors as well. A proviso, though: I would not do this exercise at the preliminary level listed below if you have arthritis in your hip joint, as it will probably aggravate it more than support it. You can feel free to do it at the two more basic levels, though.

The Seated March is a particularly great exercise because you won’t need any equipment and so you can do it anywhere. All you need is a timer and your determination.

(Author’s note: The levels in this exercise don’t actually correlate with the level you are competing! They are simply denominators in order from easiest to most advanced.)

The Beginner Novice modification of the Seated March exercise.

Beginner Novice: I want you to sit on your glutes on the ground with your legs out in front of you, and your feet on the floor.  You’re going to begin by bringing your hands under your thighs, and then you’re going to lean back, keeping your spine straight. Try to keep as little weight in your arms as possible. Set a timer and hold this position for two minutes.

The Novice iteration.

Novice: Start in a seated position with your feet on the ground. Maintaining a straight spine, lean back until your feel your abdominals really engage. Hold your arms straight out in front of you, and keep this position without allowing your spine to curl for two minutes. If you need to grab on to your legs with your hands that’s fine, but make sure you maintain a straight spine.

The Preliminary Seated March — where the marching actually begins!

Preliminary: Sit on the ground with your feet out in front of you, with your knees bent. Engage through your core and lean back. Straighten your arms so you are reaching forward, but keep your shoulders rolled down and back. Lift one leg and lower it, then lift the other leg and lower it. Keep going back and forth like you are marching. Do not allow your pelvis to tuck under — if you feel your spine starting to curl, grab on to the back of your thighs with your arms. Set a timer and ‘march’ for two minutes.

Here’s a video of me running through the exercise to help you get a feel for how it’s done:

Laura Crump Anderson is a certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and is a Registered 200 Hour Teacher with the Yoga Alliance. She specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines through her business, Hidden Heights Fitness, and is also the author of Ultimate Exercise Routines for Riders. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science, and has evented through Training level. You can read more of her fitness columns on our sister site, Eventing Nation.