We have all heard or have experienced first-hand that off-horse fitness or cross-training helps you with posture, alignment, and correct movement patterns which helps you ride better, right? With that in mind, I signed up for the recent Kudzu Klinic held at Body Pros Physical Therapy Gym in Alpharetta, Georgia, with strength trainer Anna Anton*. When that Saturday dawned cold and blustery, I wasn’t in the mood to go outside let alone workout, but I was sharing a ride so I had to go.
Riding uses many muscle groups in the legs, abdominals, lower back, upper back and shoulders, chest, buttocks and arms. I have not owned my own horse for several years now. Although I’ve remained active with Pilates, Body Pump, and yoga classes, walking/hiking, and riding 1-2 days a week, I have definitely noticed a softening that wasn’t there when I owned and was riding more frequently. During the clinic we ran through a few standard exercises to learn proper form. It was harder than expected! With those few exercises, her obvious personal fitness level, and encouraging words, Anna Anton inspired me to look at my fitness and make some changes to my routine.
Anna is a proponent of weight training to increase strength, balance, and coordination. She’s not the only one. Most doctors agree that weight-bearing exercise (with the goal of building lean muscle mass) becomes increasingly important as we age. Increasing muscle mass can do many important things for the rider: protect joints and ligaments, spur one’s metabolism to burn more calories, help to prevent loss of bone density, increase energy, and (gasp) even boost a sagging libido!
Anna’s philosophy in training athletes is, “Whether your interest is in lacrosse, tennis, cross-country, or dressage, strength and fitness training is guaranteed to improve performance. As a long-time eventer and horse trainer, I have personally experienced the benefits of weight training. At 48, I’m in the best shape of my life! I tell my clients to just show up. That’s half the battle.”
A recent episode of The Doctors focused on losing belly fat**, but the main recommendations coincide with Anna’s. Anna suggests working out three to five times a week to make significant improvements in your fitness and therefore your riding. GDCTA (gdcta.org) has posted Anna’s recommended Ground Exercises for the Rider on the website on the Education/Kudzu Klinic page. While there are some exercises listed, there are no weight or repetitions listed. We discussed what would be ideal and the results were that a good warm up for your workout would start with:
- Jumping rope
- Jumping jacks
- Full sit ups (rather than add reps, add weights when this becomes easy)
- Full push ups (no on-the-knees push ups – if full push ups are too hard, start with incline push ups against the wall or a solid surface; if full push ups are really easy and you want more of a challenge, use a stability ball)
- Side plank with hip dips (remember to do both sides!)
- Wall Sit or squats
- Standing lunges
- Pull ups (you can start with under bar pull ups to build strength)
The Doctors recommendations focused on the core incorporating Plank and Side Plank (holding each for 15 seconds and repeating) combined with the high intensity workout of your choice, 30 minutes at least three times per week, to “torch” the fat away.
Another key factor in fitness is nutrition. While not a nutritionist, Anna suggests a several small meals a day, high-protein, low carb diet (very difficult with my penchant for pastry!) to help build muscle. Your body needs protein to build muscle. Muscle burns calories all the time. Plenty of lean muscle is a good thing to have in my opinion! The Doctors also touched on diet, suggesting three smaller meals plus two or three light snacks. The foods they recommended for a lean belly were beans, whole eggs, berries, dairy, and whole grain. Also, remember to stay hydrated! Dr. Travis Stork said that if you drink eight glasses of ice water per day, you can burn 500 more calories per week. Admittedly, that’s easier to do here in Georgia in the summer than the winter, but the idea of burning more calories with no effort on my part is appealing.
Horseback riding requires a huge amount of strength, balance, and muscle control. In short, fitness for equestrians is important. At the time of writing, it’s only been a couple of weeks of high intensity working out for me. I hope to remain diligent. Check back with me in a few months to see how I’m doing. (May update: I am pleased to report that I have been working out with weights fairly regularly since that cold February day–positive changes are occurring!)
Before starting any exercise program or diet it is recommended to check with your doctor or a registered dietitian.
Need more inspiration? The experts weigh in…
“A good piece of advice to all who want to ride well, and who wish to acquire a good position, would be to do gymnastic exercises, which give suppleness, ease, and sureness in riding… Only the rider who is free from any contraction will have a horse equally free from contraction.”
~Nuno Oliveira, Reflections On Equestrian Art
“As in most athletic endeavors, the rider must develop the seemingly contradictory qualities of relaxation and strength… If you can’t discipline your own body, you cannot discipline your horse.”
~Charles de Kunffy
“Everyone who rides should incorporate a cross-training program and proper nutrition in their regimen to stay fit and healthy and prevent injury… Riding alone does not provide the fitness required for performance, especially if you only ride occasionally. Like any other sport, riding requires that other athletic activities be added to the mix.”
~Mary D. Midkiff Fitness, Performance and the Female Equestrian
“Many people expect self-carriage from the horse when they themselves have failed to attain this. The rider’s body is like a balancing pole to the horse. A loose, flaccid body gives little support; similarly, a tight one restricts movement.”
~Sylvia Loch and Richenda van Laun, Flexibility and Fitness for Riders
“What does it take to be a successful competitive rider?.. If you want to be a successful rider, you must train hard and intelligently in the saddle… However, intensive riding is not all you can do to become a better rider. By improving your physical and mental fitness you can utilize more of your full athletic potential to further develop your riding skills… Achieving a higher degree of fitness will make your reactions quicker and your cues more precise.”
~Tom Holmes, The New Total Rider
“How many times have you blamed your horse for being disobedient, when, in fact, the problem stems from a lack of control of your own body or because you’re sitting crookedly when you give an aid? If you give your aids from an unsteady, crooked, or uncentered position, those signals can’t be as clear and effective as aids that are given from a fit body and a stable seat. It might not be glamorous to work on your position or your fitness, but the rewards are well worth it. Your horse will thank you!”
~Jane Savoie, http://www.janesavoie.com
*Anna Anton, 678-595-3909 / email@example.com
**Dr. Travis’ Secrets To Losing Your Gut For Good! February 1, 2012