Rider Health

Maintaining Fitness in the Off-Season

Stay fit and flexible with these winter workouts for horseback riders, so that you’re ready to get back in action in the show ring next season.

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By: Jamie Camp |

It’s getting cold outside! As the show season wanes, those of us who don’t spend the winter in a warmer climate might be less inclined to ride as often, but it’s important to maintain our riding fitness in the off-season.

Following are two days of workouts meant to target endurance, dynamic core stability, mobility, and strength in a few key muscles: adductors (the inner thigh muscles that keep you glued to your horse’s barrel), lats (important back muscles that helps us sit tall and connect our glutes to our shoulders through the thoraco-lumbar fascia), and glutes and hamstrings (the posterior chain that controls flexion at our hips). These exercises can be done on any days you don’t ride.

DAY 1

Warmup

To achieve pelvic mobility in three dimensions, this regimen is something everyone should explore every day to maintain full body range of motion and increase your ability to adapt to your horse’s movement in the saddle without disrupting your posture. Do each for 30 seconds to a minute.

  • Alternately bend each knee, keeping your heels on the ground, causing the opposite hip to hike.
  • Anterior and posterior pelvic tilt: standing with feet hip-width apart, pretend your pelvis is a bucket and anteriorly tilt, tip the water out the front and stick your seat out. To posteriorly tilt, tip the water out the back and tuck your seat.
  • Pelvic shift: standing with feet hip-width apart, shift hips to one side as far as you can without bending your knees or twisting your body, and counter-balance with your upper body.
  • Pelvic rotation: this can either be done by rotating from the ankle up through the body to the head as far as you can, or by keeping the eyes/head forward, and rotating the pelvis one way and the thorax/upper body the opposite way.

Lunge Walk w/Twist
Start by taking a large step with your front leg and touching your back knee to the ground. Put arms in ‘field goal’ position, and rotate body towards the front knee. Try to complete 25’ of steps 3 times.

Workout

Deadlifts
You can do these with barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, body weight, or a resistance band. Stand with feet hip-width apart and soften, but don’t bend, your knees. Set your shoulders back and down. Arch your lower back slightly and anteriorly tilt your pelvis, sending your hips backwards until your arms dangle just in front of your knees. Keeping an arch in your back, squeeze your glutes to stand up. Keep your chest up throughout the exercise. Do 6 sets of 3 reps at 75% 1RM (1RM equals the maximum amount of weight you can lift one time).

Burpees
This is a full-body endurance exercise. The classic burpee has four points to the movement. Start in standing position, drop to a squat with your hands on the floor, then kick your feet out behind you into a high plank. Control down through one push-up and as you return to the high plank, pull your knees under you. Return to standing position and straight into a vertical jump with arms clapping overhead. Start with 5 in a row and work up to 15-20.

Banded lat pull downs
This exercise can be done with resistance bands or therabands. Loop the band over a rack or close it in a door overhead. Step back about 3 feet/1 arm’s length. Standing with feet hip-width apart, move your hands up the band until they’re close to eye level with some mild tension on the band (#1). Tuck your core, squeeze your glutes, and pull your hands to your hips (#2), then slowly control back to the top. Do 5 sets of 10 reps.

DAY 2

Warmup

A 350-500-metre row is a great way to dynamically warm up the lats and glutes in preparation for this workout.

Spiderman Crawl w/Twist
This exercise addresses mobility, especially through the lower body, while incorporating core stability. Start in a high plank (hands on the floor, elbows straight/push-up position). Bring your left knee up to your left elbow (#1). Bend your left elbow and touch to the floor (#2), then raise left arm upward in a full body twist (#3). Create forward momentum by ‘crawling’ (#4), bringing your right knee to your right elbow (#5), then repeat twist on right side. Picture Spiderman scaling a wall. Aim for 25’, 4 times.

Vinyasa
I love yoga for its emphasis on symmetry and lengthening of the body while keeping it strong. Vinyasa is a slow and controlled sequence of plank to Chaturanga to Upward-Facing Dog to Downward-Facing Dog. Start in a high plank and on exhale, shift your weight forward to lower to Chaturanga (#1). Elbows should be at 90 degrees and squeezing into the ribs. Maintaining a strong shoulder position is important to avoid injury here. On inhale, shoulders roll up and back, the back arches, and the arms straighten (#2). On exhale, tuck your core and pull your seat back and up into a Downward-Facing Dog position (#3). This creates strength in the glutes and lats, and mobilizes the hamstrings.

Workout

Pull-up practice
These two exercises are to help train the pull-up. If you can already do full, strict pull-ups, then stop reading and go do some! Otherwise, you can start to build pull-up strength for things like sitting tall around turns and holding your form against a strong horse. Sometimes just hanging from a bar is hard and requires endurance. To start with scapular retractions, hang with hands shoulder-width apart (#1), contract your core, and try to pull yourself higher by keeping your arms straight, but pulling your shoulder blades back and down (#2). Then slowly resist your shoulder blades elevating. Repeat in 5 sets of 5 reps, in control.

Side lunge walk
Side lunge walking is effective for the adductors and hip muscles that we use as riders. Start with feet much wider than hip-width, knees at about a 60-degree angle, chest up. Step widely to the side with your right leg. Instead of pushing off your left leg, use your right leg to pull your body to the right, and continue stepping sideways. Aim for 10, then change direction and repeat.

Air squays/wall balls
The goal is to drop your hips below your knees into a deep squat, then rise with control. Make sure your chest stays elevated. Wall balls are done facing a wall, incorporating a medicine ball thrown to the wall above as you come up out of your squat.

Rowing
Finish this day with a long row to emphasize some cardio fitness while incorporating all the muscles you just worked on.

COMPLEMENTARY WINTER SPORTS

Aside from being an enjoyable sport that provides a change of scenery, alpine skiing requires maintaining an equestrian-like position in some form of a squat while using the adductors to resist doing the splits. Equestrian sports are hard to cross-train for effectively, but I can say that the equestrians in my house fared better than the non-equestrians on the first day on the slopes every season. Cross-country skiing or even snowshoeing can also be useful as a fun cardio workout.