You are an athlete, whether you are a happy hacker or international event rider. Your body is put under certain demands when riding and we expect it to perform.
So what can we as riders do to make sure we are promoting all round good physical health?
In the same way you would for your horse.
To keep in shape as a rider there are a few key points we need to focus on.
Correct nutrition is a big part of the puzzle, but for today I want to cover the physical aspect. And i have broken these down into 3 main areas;
Joint health - to keep us mobile and flexible in the saddle.
Core and all round muscular strength to support ourselves in the saddle.
It's important we spend time maintaining our mobility and flexibility to ensure good joint health. Mobility and strength exercises are proven to promote and maintain good levels of synovial fluid in the joint - it is this that protects and ensures our joints move freely. Achy or painful joints are common amongst riders because of the demanding work we place on them, however it doesn't have to be a painful time riding your horse. Regular low impact exercise, strength training and mobility work will keep your joints healthy - by promoting the production of synovial fluid.
Strength exercises and compound lifts such as squats, lunges, deadlifts and push ups are great ways to not only build strong muscle to support joints which will relieve pressure, but also promote the production of synovial fluid as I mentioned above.
Adding resistance (weight/ bands) to these exercises will increase the benefits and also support strong bone health. If your joints are already painful then performing these exercises using bodyweight only, or a low impact resistance exercise such as swimming is a good way to prevent your joint health from deteriorating without the pain from impact.
Stretching or participating in mobility work such as Yoga or Pilates are also great ways to maintain joint health.
Remember if you don’t use it you lose it!
So bend, twist and stretch your body regularly to maintain and improve your level of flexibility.
The majority of rider ailments stem from either weak or tight muscles… your sore knee is more likely to do with tight hamstrings or hip flexors than the knee itself!
Much like your horse, the majority of the time a sore SI joint is stemming from somewhere else. So take care of your muscle and joint health to ensure it can perform effectively!
This is 1 thing all riders need to work on out of the saddle, our core supports everything we do in the saddle and will compliment our riding if we have a strong core. It's also important for safety reasons, if you don’t have a strong core this will leave you vulnerable should your horse spook or stop at a fence.
It only takes roughly 15 mins 3 times a week to build a strong core. There are thousands of different exercises that target the core but here are 3 simple exercises everyone can do;
The Plank - Great as low impact and can easily be made more difficult as you progress and get stronger. But here is the standard plank. Begin lying face down, take your weight onto your forearms, keeping shoulders above elbows and hands apart. Now take your weight up onto your toes creating a straight line from the base of your neck down to your heels. It's really important to keep your bum low, if your bottom is too high it won’t be working the core but instead will put the pressure onto your lower spine. Aim for 30 secs at first but look at getting that up to 90 secs
Leg Raises - Start laying on your back with legs out straight, lplace your hands under your lower back to support it if needed. Now simply raise your legs together off the ground as high as you can, hold for a second and slowly lower again. If more experienced don’t let your feet touch the ground between reps. Aim for 5 reps and 3 sets and look to increase each week.
Side plank - Start by lying on your right side, legs extended and stacked ontop of each other. The elbow of your right arm is directly under your shoulder. Ensure your head is directly in line with your spine. Your left arm can be aligned along the left side of your body.Brace your core and lift your hips and knees from the floor while exhaling. You should now have a straight line from your torso down the leg. Hold this position for as long as you can manage and return to the starting position, aim for 30 secs at first. Change sides and repeat.
To get all the health benefits and improve fitness for riding, cardio doesn't have to be long and gruelling. 30 mins 3 times a week is enough to maintain heart health and improve anaerobic capabilities. Depending on what discipline you take part in will determine the intensity of cardio you need to do out of the saddle.
For example, if you mostly hack or compete in Riding Club activities the brisk walking or cycling - incorporating some uphill stints or a leisurely swimming would be sufficient.
If you compete a couple times a week and do more SJ or faster paced events then you will need to up the intensity a bit more to include more cycling up hills or incopartining short sprints into your cardio sessions. These extra short bursts of exercise will condition the body to withstand short periods of working anaerobically, replicating the demands from in the saddle.Think of your SJ round, its higher intensity but only for 60 secs. SO include short bursts of high intensity for 40 sec repeated 4 times - rather than a 20 min slow paced jog.
And if you event and compete at a higher level then a little more focus on cardio is required. You would need to look at incorporating HIIT or circuit training into your cardio sessions to properly condition the body to work under anaerobic conditions for more frequent and longer periods of time.
For example a 15 min circuit training session would be broken down into exercises with 45 secs on and 15 sec rest and repeated over the 15 min period. This conditions the body to withstand the short bursts of high intensity but also works on your stamina levels and will allow you to recover quicker.
If you are looking for ways you can look after your body and support your riding these are the 3 key areas I recommend you start focusing on.