Rider Health

Increasing Cardio Fitness for Riders

Cardiovascular fitness is important for horseback riders of all ages and skill levels. Try these exercises to get you moving and improve your cardio.

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By: Alison Barr |

Cardio fitness is important for riders of all ages and skill levels. I can’t overstate the benefits of cardio. Good cardio fitness is a predictor for a longer lifespan, higher energy, improved mood and a healthier circulatory system. For riders, this translates to longer canters, more energy at the end of a ride and better form at the end of a long show day. This is particularly important for high-impact sports like eventing or endurance competitions.

A cardio exercise is any exercise that gets your heart beating quickly for at least 10 minutes. This means that almost any physical activity can be a cardio exercise. Cardio is the form of exercise that feels the most like work, so pick something you enjoy enough to stick with. Below are four of my favourite forms of cardio.

Walking is a fantastic form of cardio exercise, even if you lead a sedentary lifestyle. It is gentle on your joints, requires no special equipment and can be done anytime and anywhere. Although this can be a light cardio exercise, hills or a faster pace can add difficulty.

Running is a classic cardio exercise, either outside or on a treadmill. It’s very functional, quite meditative and easy to judge your progress. It’s a higher impact activity for your knees and ankles, so make sure you start slowly and invest in suitable running shoes.

Swimming is also a great form of cardio. It’s a fantastic whole-body workout, while still being gentle on joints. Water is very supportive, which makes it easier to challenge yourself with one extra lap. Uniform distances in lanes also makes it easy to set goals and see the progress that you’re making.

Cardio classes can be a great workout and social activity. Having a coach makes it easier to push yourself, and they can guide you through exercises you find tough. Just be careful, as it’s easy to do more than your body is ready for. These classes are best for people who are already very active and want to push their fitness to the next level.

Getting the most from your cardio

Adjust your cardio to suit your needs. Thirty minutes, including a warm up and cool down, is a good volume of cardio for most people. If you’re new to cardio, start gently with lower speeds and only one or two intervals (periods of more intense and less intense work); this prevents injuries by getting your muscles and joints used to the load. Once you’re more comfortable, try adding more intervals to push your heart and lungs harder than just a single round. If you’re already fit and you want to maximize your benefits, try high intensity interval training (HIIT) – this is very short rounds of maximal exercise followed by longer slow periods. It is harder on your muscles and joints, but delivers the most results in the shortest time.

Making cardio part of your daily routine

Cardio can feel like a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be dull. Don’t be afraid to shake up your routine and try something new. Find a new hike, test drive a new sport, or try an activity you’ve always been interested in. By staying active on a regular basis, it gets easier to keep it going. If you are struggling to incorporate cardio into your life, or have an illness or injury limiting you, consider talking to a physiotherapist. They can advise you on how to best reach your goals, how to minimize your limitations, and how to settle injuries or pain.