As an equestrian, you know how important it is to be fit to ride your horse, but designing an effective fitness program is challenging. Do you just lift weights? Do some cardio? Take up yoga or Pilates? Of course the answer is “it depends” because it’s based on the demands of the sport you participate in, your medical/injury history, and what type of exercise you enjoy and will commit to doing.
However, an effective exercise program that supports performance goals has three parts:
This aspect of an exercise program addresses if you have enough range of motion to perform said activity. You might think of this as flexibility. Basically, do you have enough range of motion in your joints to move one without compensating or stealing range from another joint?
Here is an example a mobility exercise:
Hip Flexor Stretch
Get into a half kneeling position with one knee and one foot on the floor.
Slightly tuck your tailbone under you (posterior pelvic tilt) and squeeze your buttock muscles (gluteals) to stabilize your hips and spine.
Move your hips forward and hold for 10 seconds. Relax and repeat several times.
You will feel a stretch on the front of your thigh. If you don’t feel this, you can place your back foot on a small block to increase the stretch in your hip flexors and quadriceps.
This area of an exercise program is often overlooked, yet is a critical component to your performance in the saddle. Exercises that work on control are designed to improve your neuromuscular system and teach you to stabilize and move. These exercises are often performed moving weights or pulling bands at end range, meaning far away from the body. You will also work on unstable surfaces, such as foam squares, or close your eyes for these types of exercises. It’s highly important to learn to recruit the proper stabilizing muscles to perform exercises, and too often the nuances of this are missed and later lead to injury and/or poor performance.
Here is an example of a control exercise:
Single leg deadlift on foam
In bare feet, perform a single leg deadlift with light weights standing on foam.
Hold light dumbbells. Stand on one foot on foam. Keeping back flat, hinge at your hips and lower then weight toward the floor. Go down as far as you can with a flat back. Return to standing position. Repeat 10 times per leg.
This part of your exercise program deals with getting stronger. It’s designed to come after you improve your range of motion and neuromuscular control. Here is where you work on improving your strength, cardio, endurance, etc.
The key principle is progressive overload. Your program should progressively add more challenges for your body in a logical manner to help you get stronger without significantly increasing your risk of injury. A good rule of thumb is make an exercise challenging enough you can do 8-12 repetitions. If you can do more than 12 reps, you should increase difficulty.
You can make an exercise more difficult by:
- Increasing the resistance
- Changing the tempo (go slower or faster)
- Adding a pause in the exercise. For example, squat and hold at the bottom for 2 seconds.
- Taking shorter rest breaks
Here is an example of a load exercise:
Using as heavy of weight as you can handle with good form, get into a push up position. Row one weight up, keeping good body alignment. You can place your feet further apart for balance if you want. Perform with the right arm, then switch to the left. Go back and forth for 8-10 reps.
Take a look at your current exercise program. If you look at your monthly program, Does it support these three areas? You don’t have to work on all of them every day, but they all need to be included consistently.
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