“Horse Stance Horizontal” – Building Your Core
World renowned strength and performance coach Charles Poliquin once said, “You can’t fire a cannon from a canoe.” Think about it: you try to pull that stunt, and your canoe will shoot across the water like a skipping stone. Well, the same can be said for your body. If your core is weak, your body can’t provide a stable platform for you to produce force, whether it is lifting something heavy, or moving something fast, or both. Also, because of tiny mechanoreceptors in the body, when there is instability at a joint, the body will start shutting down the muscles at that joint to protect your body! Let me say that again:
When there is instability at a joint the body will start shutting down the muscles at that joint to protect your body.
So how does that protect your body? Well, by shutting down the muscles, it inhibits your body to allow force production in hopes you won’t try to move something heavier than the body can handle, thus injuring yourself. If this goes on unaddressed, the brain will keep dropping sarcomeres in the muscles, which can lead to a permanent reduction in the muscles ability to work.
So let’s not allow the body get to this point, shall we?
The HORSE STANCE exercise was developed by Paul Chek, and it is my favorite “core” exercise. I put core in quotes because your core should always be engaged no matter what the exercise, but when the main focus of the exercise is the core, Horse Stance wins hands down. Horse stance requires the back and the front muscles of the trunk to work in concert together while holding ideal alignment, thus improving posture. It forces the anterior and posterior slings to work together, creating more synergy in the body, which improves strength and performance, and will give you much more stability. I could go on and on, and if you would like me to, take me out for some fish tacos and drinks and I will talk your ear off about it. Until then, this is how you go about doing this amazing exercise.
HORSE STANCE POSITION
- Get in an all fours position; knees directly below your hips, hands directly below your shoulders.
- Slightly bend your elbows so that your shoulders are as high as your hips. Your shoulders should slightly retract, creating a “valley” in between your shoulder blades.
- The elbows should always be pointing back towards your knees like a cat ready to pounce, not flared out like a bulldog. This places the head of your shoulder in a protected physiological ideal position. The horse stance exercises is not only great for your core, but it also can be used as a wonderful rehab exercise for your shoulders.
- Place a dowel rod along your spine. The dowel should be touching only three points on your body: Your sacrum (the bony area right below your spine), in the valley in between your shoulder blades, and the back of your head. You should be able to just barely fit the meaty part of your hand between your lumbar spine (low back) and the dowel rod without making it roll off.
THE EXERCISE ITSELF
- Tighten your core; imagine somebody is going to come along with a steel toed boot and try to kick you in your gut. DO NOT allow your spine to move. Keep the spine in a beautiful neutral position.
- Lift your right hand and your left knee just enough to slide a piece of paper underneath it. Remember: PIECE OF PAPER! You are not doing the bird-dog exercise where you extend the opposite arm and the opposite leg straight out.
- As you do this, there should be absolutely no shifting to the left or the right, front to back. there should not be any rotation happening at the trunk. If I were to focus on your trunk, I should not be able to tell which arm or leg is working.
- Hold for 5 seconds, and then repeat on the other side. We want to be able to eventually do this for 10 reps on both sides.
A very important part of this exercise is that it needs to be done for long durations with lower intensity. If it is too challenging, it is quite possible for incorrect muscles of the shoulder (such as the pec minor and major) to over-engage. At the lower body, the hip flexors and the psoas muscles can try to dominate the exercise, resulting in faulty recruitment and injury. You need to be able to maintain his exercise for approximately two and three minutes. If it is too challenging we have to decrease the intensity. Signs that this stage is too challenging include:
- You were unable to keep the three points of contact with the dowel rod.
- The dowel rod rolls off the body
- Excessive tension in the neck and jaw
- Pain in the lower back or a feeling the lower back is working harder than the stomach
- Over engagement of the hip flexors
- The elbows are flaring out like a bulldog instead of a jungle cat
- Head looking forward instead of between the hands
You can modify it by simply decompressing the opposite arm and leg as opposed to lifting them. Another option is using a small Swiss ball (generally a 35-45 cm) placed under the trunk to unload some of the weight, making it tolerable (as long as it is not causing the spine to deviate from neutral). On the other hand, you can make it more challenging by moving your arms and legs wider!
If you want to make it super-duper tough, check out the crawling video by Hosmer alum Dan Lauth. This exercise is excellent ONCE YOU HAVE MASTERED THE HORSE STANCE. Otherwise, you run the risk of getting those hip flexors to overcompensate. But, the crawling exercise should be your end goal!