Equestrian Fitness

As a fitness professional in Wellington Florida, a major target market, November through April,
are equestrians. This includes polo players, hunters, jumpers and also dressage riders. Good
fitness always provides an edge in athletics, and these sports are no different.
Poor fitness does not only result in soreness and injury, but it can also contribute to lower
scores and even accidents. When your body position is off-balance on the saddle, and your
proprioception (awareness of where your body parts are in relation to your body and
movement) is off, the horse will not be in balance as well.
The purpose of all equestrian fitness programs is to build stamina, flexibility, and strength, with
balance being more appropriately worked on while on the horse. While most of the
programming will be similar, there will be a few modifications based on the specific discipline.
Keep in mind, the the Law of Specificity says that to get better at something, you must do that
something. I have seen so many examples of trainers doing crazy exercises like balancing on an
exercise ball while lifting a weight and telling the client that it will help with their balance and
coordination on the horse. It may look innovative and high tech, but the reality is that most of
those physical skills do not transfer to the sport. That being said, stick with the basics.
STAMINA
While the physical demands of each equestrian sport may be different, having great stamina is
always a plus. Playing 18 holes of gold isn’t very physically demanding, but you would be
surprised at how many scores drop on the last 9 holes compared to the first, simply due to poor
stamina. This is one component of fitness that a trainer should focus on with an equestrian
athlete.
FLEXIBILITY
Flexibility is one of the most neglected exercise components. Good range of motion is
important in allowing riders to move at one with the horse and also minimize injury
by relaxing the connective tissue and muscles around joints. Poor hamstrings and hip flexors
are two of the leading causes of back pain and strain, while poor shoulder flexibility can cause
rotator cuff tears. While experts now say pre-event stretching does not reduce injury,
increasing flexibility overall does. This however requires stretches to be held for between 30-
60 seconds. More advanced techniques like P.N.F stretching can improve long term flexibility
very rapidly.
STRENGTH
Equestrian sports impose specific demands on the body. Below are some of the most
important movements for equestrian programs. (It is important to note that athletes should
train all muscles, and not just the muscles most used in that sport. Examples: Training the back
and not the chest creates an unequal pull on the shoulder joint and could result in impingement.
Having your quadriceps over 25% stronger than your hamstrings can cause knee problems.)
CORE
Stabilized Crunches
Although it is normally contraindicated to brace your feet when doing crunches, in this
case, doing so mimics the rider in stirrups. The client will not do a full sit-up, but will
engage the core and do crunches with a limited range of motion.
Planks
The plank is the ultimate total-body movement. Hold the & push-up position,
supporting your bodyweight either on your elbows (directly under your shoulders) and
toes, or on the palms of your hands with arms fully extended (hands directly under your
shoulders) and toes. Engage your entire body to keep your spine straight (no bend at
the waist), and hold the plank for as long as you can. Slowly build up the length of time
you can hold that position.
Russian Twists
Russian Twists shouldn& be a staple exercise. Russian Twists done wrong, are actually harmful to
your spine. It shouldn& be a rotational movement where you twist your lower back. Rather, lock in
your core and rotate the weight you & holding slowly from side to side without twisting.
Maintaining this rigid position will crush your abs and stabilizers while your oblique work to prevent
your torso from rotating as you move the weight back and forth. These are especially beneficial for
polo players who move from one side of the horse to the other several times during a match.
LEGS
Squats
Strong legs are crucial for equestrian sports and the squat still remains king of all
exercises. Squats strengthen the quadriceps (thighs), glutes (butt) and sometimes
adductors (inner thighs) depending on foot position. Contrary to popular opinion, the
hamstrings are only slightly activated in a squat.
Plia Squats
Plia squats are squats with the toes pointed at 45 degrees or more outward. This forces
the adductors to come into play and these are the muscles that help a rider hug the
horse with the legs to stay on, as well as maneuver.
Adductor Machine
The adductor machine strengthens the same muscles as the plia squat.
Deadlifts
Deadlifts are another great, total body movement that works the quads, glutes and also
the spinal erectors and lower back ,all of which are crucial in riding.
Glute Bridge
Another total-body movement, the bridge will work your glutes, as well as your
transverse abdominus (lower abdominals/pelvic girdle).
Calf Raises
Calf Raises will help with the flexibility of keeping our heels down, a key feature of good
leg position while riding.
BACK
Rows
Rows will strengthen the lats (gives the V-shape to the back), rhomboids (muscles that
pull the shoulder blades together) and lower traps and give you better control of the
horse with the reigns and keep you from muscling them with the biceps.
REAR DELTS/POSTERIOR DELTOIDS- (Back of the Shoulder)
Bent Over Lateral Raises
While doing rows will work the rear delts, a more targeted exercise is the bent-over
lateral raise where you sit on the end of a bench with moderate weight dumbbells. Lean
over with your chest on your lap and raise the dumbbells to the side with a slightly bent
elbow. Strong rear delts are also key for controlling a horse.
FOREARMS
Wrist Curls & Dumbbell Hammer Curls
Highly overlooked muscles in equestrian fitness routines are the forearms. This
includes wrist flexors, wrist extensors, and the brachio-radialis muscle. A variety of
wrist curls as well as the dumbbell hammer curl are great ways to keep the muscles
responsible for controlling the reins strong.
Athletes like to perform well and win, and usually spend a lot of time practicing the craft.
Investing an extra 4-5 hours per week by incorporating a good fitness program into the overall
plan gives a lot of bang for the buck. Working with the right coach and trainer is equally
important so before you start a plan with anyone, do your homework.
*Chris Adair is the Owner of Get Fit Palm Beach, and is also a personal trainer with 23 years of
experience working with a variety of athletes. In addition, he has also trained and developed
hundreds of other personal trainers, helping them to increase their fitness and nutrition
knowledge and develop their personal training skills.
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