What do I need to do to get myself riding fit?
This is a question I’ve been asked alot lately by clients, friends, family members & other fellow riders. It’s always the same at this time of January, the sudden realisation hits you as the horses start doing more with their training programmes & are gradually increasing their own fitness & you suddenly realise you’re doing absolutely nothing for your own fitness & need to get yourself stronger, fitter so you can actually help your horse not hinder them this year.
The fitness world can seem like a minefield when you first get started
"Should I be doing pilates?"
"Do I need to lift weights?"
"How will running help my riding?"
"If I’m training at home is that enough?"
"What kind of equipment do I need?"
"Am I better to do group or 121 training plans?"
There are so many unanswered questions but for me as a coach the most important things are;
1- You ENJOY what you do. Simple as, if you don’t enjoy it you won’t prioritise the time to get it done & therefore you won’t stick to it however hard you try
2- The plan is simple & works for you. It’s no good following a 6 day a week gym plan if you know you can’t commit the time to getting in the gym 6 days a week. Be realistic with what you can do & keep things simple. No need to overcomplicate things (although many do!)
In terms of what you need to be doing you need to think about what you need for your sport.
So most equestrian sports primarily use the aerobic energy system therefore you want to make sure your programme consists of some cardiovascular or conditioning work to increase your aerobic fitness. Think steady state cardio training, swimming is a great option for riders. It reduces impact & as it is non load bearing & is very easy going on the joints, it’s also pretty easy to fit in a swim indoors in the winter!
Find something you enjoy whether that’s running, cycling, using the row machine whatever suits you best. Aiming to do 2 days per week of endurance training where you focus on cardio would be great. This can also be incorporated into your resistance or functional workouts if needed.
If time is an issue or you don’t personally enjoy steady state training you can think about doing higher intensity training, this will challenge both your aerobic & anaerobic systems & if you’re short on time this will give you a lot of bang for buck! You’ll get alot of work done in a short space of time, using something like HIIT or a crossfit WOD are great for this.
Riders do need to be able to use their anaerobic system as events such as going cross country or polo require fast changes of speed & your heart rate will elevate rapidly at certain points so you need to have the fitness & ability to handle that but also the better your aerobic fitness the faster your recovery will be which is exactly what you need when you’re wanting to be riding at your best rather than flopping up the neck out of breath at the end of a 6 minute course or take a shot at a goal towards the end of the chukka.
The better your aerobic fitness your muscles won’t tire as fast either & you’ll be able to handle fatigue better & for longer which is really important when you need to be there to support your horse whether that's in a dressage test or around a showjumping course. Seeing fatigued riders at the end of a round or course is one of my big bug bears!
Cardio fitness is incredibly important but so is resistance based training. The only way to get your body stronger is by applying stress to the body through external resistance & loads such as resistance bands, weights. When you apply this stress to the body during the recovery period your body then adapts to the demand you’ve placed upon it & adapts in terms of getting stronger. To begin with if you’ve never trained you will probably find that bodyweight exercises are plenty to get started with but in time you’ll want to add some external load in.
You don’t need much kit & if you find the gym a little daunting or not your scene then there is plenty you can do from home. If riders ask should I train in the gym or at home it’s a pretty simple answer;
Do what you prefer & what works better for your schedule, if it’s a hassle to get to the gym or adds an hour to your day then you can do plenty from home.
You will get progress faster in the gym as you have access to more kit & options therefore you will probably find improvement is quicker as you have more variety. That doesn’t mean you won’t improve at home however & a good coach should be able to kep your training varied at home as well as the gym.
Thinking of equestrian sports you want to think about the actions you need, so alot of pulling through the upper body occurs when we ride so we need to make sure we have strong back muscles. The back of our body works predominantly when riding so glutes & hamstrings should be the next focus to really work on increasing strength through that posterior chain. Most riders are incredibly weak in their posterior chain & the muscles become lengthened so we want to work on increasing the strength of these muscles as well as getting the muscles back to their normal length.
Core strength is obviously important as our core is responsible for stability which is most definitely needed when we’re in the saddle. You need to think about the movements that occur when riding so you’re trying to resist collapsing into one side, stopping your horse from pulling you forwards or to the side, holding your position when landing so you need to focus on exercises that build these movements & encourage stability. Like any other muscle, your core muscles will require external resistance at some point to become stronger so make sure you consider that within your programme. Working your thigh muscles is important too as in the saddle we need to make sure we can hold our 2 point position out of the saddle, whether that’s out hacking or in a jump off.
A balanced programme is important to make sure you hit all of your muscles & movement patterns equally & to make sure you're not overloading certain muscles as this can cause injury through overuse & repetitive strain. Your programme should be specific to you so if it may have more of a bias towards working on your weaker movements or muscles that is fine, but it should still be a balanced programme when you look at it from a weekly or monthly perspective.
Mobility is also really important for riders, most equestrians are incredibly limited & have poor flexibility through their posterior muscles such as the hamstrings & glutes. This can be one of the biggest reasons for back pain. If muscles are too tight or have become shortened then they put pressure on other areas of the body & you might find they pull you out of alignment. For instance if your hamstrings are tight this would pull on your pelvis & could cause your pelvis to tip backwards meaning you cannot maintain a neutral pelvis & this can overload the lower back & lead to pain.
Adding some flexibility to your routine is a great start! Making sure you hold static stretches & allow your muscles to relax & lengthen is really important, yoga is great for this however I am very firm on the fact that flexibility or yoga alone is not enough.
As an Equestrian athlete, you need a balance of cardio fitness, strength, mobility, agility, quick reactions so it’s important you train & incorporate all of these areas into your own training. Pilates again is great, often pilates uses some form of external resistance but in time if you were consistent with pilates it would be good to add some more load in through heavier resistance & compound movements such as overhead presses or squats to hit all your muscles & joints & keep your body adapting. If you do the same thing over & over again & don’t progress you will find you hit a plateau.
The body needs to see the same stimulus enough to progress but repeating the same thing for too long can lead to plateaus & a reduction in performance so it’s important you know how to schedule your programming.
121 coaching is a great place to get yourself started if you’re completely new to getting yourself in a consistent training routine.
A good coach should incorporate all of the areas I’ve spoken about into your programme & design a programme that is based on improving your mobility, building your weaknesses & making you the most functional athlete & person as can be. So if you’re a Mum making sure you're fit & strong for everyday life with your children is just as important as your riding fitness.
Learn from your coach, understand why you’re doing what you’re doing & use them to learn from, in time if you have the knowledge you should be able to construct your own routine. A coach is also the best way to make sure you’re doing exercises safely with correct form & proper technique & this is so important to stay injury-free but also to get the most out of every exercise & session you do. Having the support & accountability from a coach is one of the best ways to get yourself started & keep moving forwards.
I hope this helps to start to give you an idea of what you want to be doing training wise & how to structure things. If you’re a newbie I can’t recommend using a coach enough, I personally still use a coach & we can all learn something new!
If you need help getting your fitness started then apply to the Event Rider Fitness 121 programme NOW. Click the link here to apply & book your free 10-minute strategy call.
Good luck, if you ever have any questions then feel free to reach out