This past weekend while doing a clinic, I had a really great example of a rider with extremely tight lower back and hamstrings muscles. Since I see either one or both of these issues quite frequently, I thought it might be helpful to share some ideas about what to do about it.
Kelsey (photos in the comment below) is an intermediate level rider, but she seemed to be at a plateau- which is why she registered for the clinic. She works during the day seated at a computer, commutes back and forth seated in her car, and was having difficulty sitting her trot and following the canter motion. In watching her ride, it was clear that the seated position she is in all day was affecting her hip mobility, and that her hips were indeed fairly rigid. She has been riding for years and is only in her early 20's, so it was quite surprising to see how little fluidity she had in the hip joint.
When she dismounted as part of her clinic assessment to do some flexibility testing, the pieces really fell together. If asked to touch her toes, her fingertips were six inches above the ground and her back was quite rounded indicating both tight hamstrings and tight lower back/sacroiliac muscles. She also indicated feeling fatigued in the lower back. When asked to move her pelvis forward and back from the waist, she was barely able to do so. The connection between the tight pelvis, sacroiliac area and hamstrings is actually quite strong. The body has a large centre of fascial tissue in the lower back area, connecting the hamstring groups to the lower back area, as well as muscles through the hip area. In an extreme case of tightness, all the relevant areas can be affected as they were in Kelsey's case. Sometimes, stretching is not quite enough. Also, tightness is very often an indicator of weakness since strong muscles are less prone to getting stretching into a tight position. There is really a three-step process to unlocking this problem and improving flexibility in the tight muscle areas, as well as mobility in the hip joints
1. Release fascial tissue. Sometimes when a few stretches are not enough, you need to put gentle pressure on the tight knots either through massage, muscle release therapies, or self-release such as lying on a tennis ball, handweight, running shoe or other semi-hard object placed at the location of the knot.
2. Stretch regularly. Of course, stretches held for long periods are the next step to continue the releasing into the muscles, and to keep them supple. In Kelsey's case, we had her stretching her hamstrings lying on her back, as well as stretching her lower back by sitting on her exercise ball with legs straddled wide, and touching the floor between her feet with her hands. Another stretch in her program is the hip twist, lying on the floor with arms out and knees over to one side.
3. Strengthen the area through regular exercise several times a week. Kelsey will be doing 'supermans' lying on her stomach on the floor, lifting her arms and legs about 30 times, 3-4 times a week to build up better strength in her lower back. She will also be working on hip mobility by rocking her exercise ball back and forth while sitting on it, and moving her seatbones engaging core muscles below the waist.