Leg strength is important for riders because it is the foundation of a stable leg and seat. Your legs need strength to deliver effective cues while remaining relaxed and long on your horse’s sides. Weak leg muscles often lead to postural faults like lifted heels or turned out knees. This makes you less stable on your horse and increases your risk of falling. Many different muscles contribute to leg strength. A great way to exercise them simultaneously is to use body weight exercises, such as squats.
How Squats Boost Leg Strength
The squat is an effective exercise for riders since it emulates the position on the horse without the support of a saddle. This means you are strengthening your riding muscles while simultaneously working on your balanced posture. The squat is also incredibly functional for everyday life. It protects your back and gets you using your big leg muscles. Try to emulate this posture while bending, lifting or carrying.
The Basic Squat
Squats can be challenging to perform correctly, but the basic movement is simple. Start in a standing position, with your feet approximately shoulder-width apart. Your toes should point straight forward or slightly out to the side, depending on what’s comfortable for you. Next, bend your knees and hips while dropping your bottom down and back, as shown in Photo 1.
All types of squats require your knees to be lined up over your second toe, as shown in Photo 2. Often, we have weak hip muscles that cause our knees to collapse inward. How far apart your knees are will depend on how turned out your feet are. Try slightly different foot positions, always with your toes and knees lined up, to find what is most comfortable for you.
Your back should keep its natural curve through the squat, as opposed to rounding or hollowing. This can be tough, especially if you’ve had a back injury in the past. Using a pole placed against your spine, like in Photo 3, can be a great way to help you keep your form during the exercise. You should feel the contact of the pole on your head, your mid back, and your tailbone/sacrum. You should be able to keep these three points of contact for all but the deepest squats.
Finally, identify how your weight is distributed through your feet. Like in riding, your weight should be in your heels. Tapping your feet during a squat can help you to correct your weight distribution. Weight-bearing through your heels during squats fixes a whole range of incorrect techniques.
With all this in mind, you’re ready to perform your squats. A mirror can be helpful in establishing and maintaining your posture throughout the exercise. I recommend incorporating at least two minutes of squats, three to four times per week. Only go as far down as you feel comfortable while keeping good posture. To make them more challenging try holding the squat position for up to 30 seconds.
Expanding on the Basic Squat
Once you are comfortable performing a basic squat, there are many variations that can keep your workout interesting and help you to achieve specific goals. Squatting on unstable surfaces, like a BOSU ball, can challenge your balance, and resistance bands or weights can help you build strength. You can adjust your breathing, speed, depth and holds, but all should still incorporate the basic elements discussed above. If you would like assistance with your squats consider consulting an exercise specialist, such as a physiotherapist.