Olympic Fever 🐴🇬🇧🐴🇬🇧🐴🇬🇧
With the Olympics going on all around us & Team GB absolutely smashing the dressage out the water it’s hard not to be inspired! Seeing Charlotte Dujardin making history as the most successful British Olympian female is incredible & it is a testament to not only the hard work these athletes put in but also their bonds with their horses.
Watching the German dressage riders was a true masterclass & hearing how they’d all been focusing on their own performance & injury rehab to be at their fittest & strongest physically for Tokyo was amazing to hear.
Dorothee Schneider had been working hard herself to do everything possible to get herself fit enough in time for the Olympics following a collar bone break earlier in the year. Ashleigh Wallace the athlete's lead health coach had the British eventing & dressage teams spinning & doing mobility workouts earlier in the week ahead of the competition so it’s fantastic to see equestrian athletes really starting to make their fitness a priority alongside their horses.
The tone in Equestrian sports is starting to change & as science evolves riders are becoming more aware of how their own movement or lack of fitness impacts their horses & ultimately how they as the rider can change their horse's performance in both negative & positive ways.
Around all the games excitement & with the eventing starting tomorrow it’s hard not to feel inspired! I think most of us will have probably gone out, put our dressage saddles on & tried to ride like Carl & Charlotte then realised ah ok it’s not that easy! So whilst your inspiration is running high let's focus on a few small things you could be doing to improve your riding fitness!
1. Start to work on improving your endurance & aerobic capacity; the fitter you are aerobically the longer you’re going to be able to keep going for & the less likely you are to fatigue. If you need the strength & fitness to stay out of the saddle for 6 minutes or so doing gallop work or going XC you need a good base level of endurance capacity. Find something you enjoy whether that be running, cycling, swimming & start incorporating it into your week once or twice to build your fitness. Especially if you’re in hotter climates or pushing yourself in more stressful situations your body will better handle the pressure if you are fitter. You don't need to be doing multiple hit workouts a week unless you enjoy them, keep your aerobic sessions nice easy effort & this will build your fitness whilst keeping you injury-free!
2. Train your core stability. As we are all well aware riding, in any discipline, requires a high demand for core stability. You’re maneuvering 500+kg of live, strong animal so you need to have the core stability to stay balanced & secure in the seat whilst generating & resisting movement. Rather than faffing about doing endless sit-ups or on a Bosu ball doing 1 legged squats, think about how best you could functionally train your core to build your anti-rotation, anti-extension & anti-lateral flexion strength. The stronger your core is on the floor & in the gym the stronger your core will be riding. Don't mix weight training & balance training keep each one to their own & you'll get more progress.
3. Build strength; think about the muscles you need to be strong in the saddle. For example, you need to be able to have a strong lower leg & the ability to open the hip for dressage so you need a strong lower body, with mobile hips & ankles & strong abductor muscles. When going XC if you’re jumping into a water jump you need the ability & reaction to be able to sit up & push your weight back so making sure you train your core, have strong lower back & hip muscles so you can hinge your hips back effectively is key.
4. Don’t worry too much about going in on the specifics; most riders have a very weak level of fitness & strength so quite frankly any strength work you do is going to benefit you as long as you progressively overload overtime & move safely. If you want to get stronger then this will look like adding more weight or doing more reps on the bar. If you want to improve your endurance capacity then this may look like faster split times per mile or covering a larger distance. Identify what you are trying to achieve or improve & train accordingly.
5. It’s easy to get caught up in gimmicks & kit that is out there; bungees, Bosu balls, mechanical horses whereas if you just focused on building your fitness & strength sensibly & safely on the ground you’ll find it has huge benefits to your riding.
Standing on a wobbly ball on one leg is not relative to riding. It may well help you to activate your core & improve your balance but frankly, it’s not going to improve your strength & you need a high level of skill in the first place to be able to safely use these, which for a beginner to fitness would be putting you at risk of an injury or fall.
Also if you think of the muscles used & the movements when you ride how on earth is standing on a half wobbly wall relative to your riding position? They have their place but there are other areas you can focus on which would be far more beneficial to your performance & better use of your time to improve your riding fitness. Resistance bands & bungees are great for beginners & activation work but in time you’ll find the resistance is no longer enough to challenge you & provide overload so progress will stagnate. You don’t see basketball players in the gym pretending to jump in the air & slam hoops; they squat & bench press & focus on building strength in the gym in the muscles they need for their sport then leave the jumps to court practice & this is sport-specific training so apply the same approach to your riding fitness.
6. Do your mobility & stretching; for most riders, you’ll most probably spend much of your day seated. Whether that be riding, driving, or behind a desk. You then add in strength work & your muscles are going to become stronger but they will also become tighter just as your horse when you start to increase the workload. So making sure you do your dose of mobility & strength work is key to keeping you moving well & injury-free. Focus on your hips & spine mobility & add in some foam rolling or a trigger point ball to really get into those tight areas that affects us riders!
You’ll probably see more Equestrian teams & athletes over the coming week working on their own performance in Tokyo more than usual & it is great to see the coaches of our Equestrian sports realising that both horse & rider performance is equally as important. Use the inspiration from the Olympics & run with it!
Have a think about what area of your riding you could improve to benefit your horse the most & try to add in a few of the above areas to get you moving better, stronger & fitter to ride at your best. Fingers crossed the Eventers do it next!
Hope this gives you some ideas of how to get your fitness to that athlete level!