If you were to measure your fitness level against that of your horse, how would you compare in strength, flexibility and stamina?
Not only can regular exercise help you hold your own in the saddle, but, without it, you could be at risk for long-lasting injury. Riders are particularly susceptible to lower back and knee injuries, caused by spine and joint stress. In order to stay strong and sound, it’s important to participate in a well-rounded fitness program that consists of cardiovascular or aerobic exercise, flexibility, strength and endurance training (including resistance and balancing exercises).
Consider the following benefits of participating in a variety of activities:
- Develop balance and symmetry in the body
- Increase strength, muscle tone and improve flexibility
- Enhance lower back suppleness and elasticity
- Create hip independence and a deeper seat
- Correct body misalignments and imbalances
- Strengthen core abdominal musculature
- Create mind body awareness
- Reduce the risk of injury and shorten recovery time when injuries do occur
Successful communication between rider and horse cannot occur when the human body is unbalanced, weak, stiff and tense. Becoming more fit will increase body function while riding and stamina in the saddle. Further, achieving mind-body connection with a solid foundation of physical fitness, along with a healthy diet and plenty of rest, will help set the stage for brilliant performance and enjoyment at any level of riding.
Getting into the fitness Routine
Remember to use caution and set reasonable goals when you start any new fitness program. You may wish to enlist the services of a personal trainer to keep you on track, but, in the meantime, here is a routine to get you started. Do it two to three times per week to charge up your metabolism and build up your strength, endurance and aerobic fitness. Progress slowly, and work towards completing the routine three times total per week. If you feel dizzy or lightheaded or experience shortness of breath, stop the exercise and consult with a medical professional.
Always be sure to warm-up first – either go for walk or follow this sample:
- March in place for one minute
- Jog in place for one minute
- Alternate bringing your knees up (to hip height) and down for one minute
- Rotate your upper body from left to right – slowly for 30 seconds, then faster for 30 seconds
- Don’t be afraid to mix it up
- Wear good supportive shoes and clear some space
- Have water, a towel and a sturdy chair nearby
- Don’t hold your breath during any of the exercises and take breaks as needed
- Stretch upon completion of the routine
Do the exercises in order with no rest between if possible – the completion of all five exercises is considered a routine or a set. Between each set, rest for 30 seconds to one minute or more as needed, then do 30 seconds of marching or jog in place and 30 seconds of high knees. Do that one to three times depending on your fitness level, before proceeding into another set of exercises.
Beginners – do ‘A’ of each exercise for four to six weeks or until your body is ready for a challenge
Intermediates – do ‘B’ of each exercise for four to six weeks or until your body is ready for a challenge
Advanced – do ‘C’ of each exercise
Exercise 1 – Push Ups x 20 times
Great For: Improving upper body strength and tightening the abdominals
Movement: Lie flat on the ground, face down. Place your hands slightly outside of your shoulders and your fingertips parallel to your collarbone. Keeping a straight line from head to ankle, press your body weight up off the ground. Slowly lower yourself back to the ground without coming to rest. Repeat until you have done this 20 times. Keep your belly button pulled in towards your spine the entire time. Exhale as you press up, and inhale on the way down. Easier ‘A’ – shorten your lever by bending the knees. More difficult ‘C’ – go into a decline position with feet on a sturdy chair.
Exercise 2 – Squats x 20 times
Great For: Overall leg strength and back strength
Movement: Stand with your chest and head up, your hands at your hips. Keep your spine neutral and your feet about hip width distance apart. Retract your hips and bend your knees, lowering your hips until your upper legs and thighs are close to parallel with the ground. Slow controlled movement is important in both directions and keep your belly button pulled in towards your spine. Avoid extending your knees past your toes. Exhale as you press up, and inhale on the descent. Intermediate ‘B’ – add a jump with arms extending up to the ceiling and feet leaving the ground. More difficult ‘C’ – turn the exercise into squat thrusts or burpees, combining the squat, jump and push up all into one repetition.
Exercise 3 – Reverse Lunges x 20 times each leg
Great For: Overall leg strength (one side isolation), abdominal stabilization, balance
Movement: Stand with your feet close together and your hands at your sides. Keeping your head up and your spine in a neutral position, take a step back, bending your front knee at a 90-angle and dropping your front thigh until it is parallel with the ground. Your back knee also drops down towards the floor to a 90-degree angle. The back knee should not touch the floor. Try to achieve a straight line from your spine through your bottom knee. As you step back, add a front raise with your arms (light weights are optional) with your palms down and your elbows slightly bent. Keep your belly button pulled in towards your spine, and lift your wrists no higher than in line with your shoulders. Easier “A” – elevate your front foot on a stable surface and simply lower down and lift doing a stationary lunge, knee issues lengthen the back leg as shown. More difficult “B” – elevate your back foot on a chair or stable surface completing a stationary lunge.
Exercise 4 – Planks (do each exercise for the time indicated)
Great For: Overall abdominal strengthening and stabilizing; “B” – adding arm strengthening and glutes (back end); “C” – side oblique strengthening
“A” Movement: Centre plank – Lie face down on the ground and fold your hands directly beneath your chin or with your palms down in front. Your elbows are by your sides and your feet on your toes. Raise the length of your torso to a horizontal position pulling your belly button into your spine, but keep the natural arch. Your shoulder blades should be flat and your spine long. Hips stay down for the duration. Easier – lower to your knees and raise your forelegs. More difficult – elevate your legs or go to a single leg. Hold for up to one minute.
“B” Movement: Reverse Plank – Completely reverse your position facing upright with legs out long. Your fingers face in towards your hips at shoulder width. Your shoulders should be over your wrists, look forward or towards your toes. Raise your hips to a parallel level and hold up to one minute. Easier – can go to elbows instead of hands. More difficult – lift one leg or place feet on an unstable surface such as a medicine ball.
“C” Movement: Side Plank – Lie on one side with the lower arm bent at the elbow. The lower elbow should be underneath the shoulder joint and place the upper hand on your hip. Align your ankles, hips, shoulders and head. Push the length of your body toward the ceiling, balancing on the edge of your bottom shoe with one foot directly over the other. Pull your abdominals in by pulling the belly button to the spine and keep your spine straight. With your hips stacked and lifted, hold for 30 seconds or more and then switch to the opposite side for the same amount of time. Easier – drop your bottom leg down and bend your knee. More difficult – lift your top leg.
Exercise 5 – Back Extensions x 20 times
Great For: Strengthening the back
Movement: Lay flat on the ground face down, with your hands beside your shoulders and your elbows bent. Keep your neck in line with your spine by looking downward. Simultaneously lift your hands off the floor while at the same time lifting your upper torso. Your hip bones stay on the ground as do your toes. Avoid rotating your torso or hips, and keep your shoulders pulled down and back. Exhale as you lift and inhale as you lower. Complete 20 repetitions. Easier “A” – arms lengthened along the side of the body or behind your back. More difficult “C” – arms extend overhead in shoulder flexion.
*Note: Not all exercises are suitable for everyone. Consult your doctor before beginning this or any exercise program. The instruction and advice contained herein are in no way intended to be a substitute for counselling.