With the lockdown in South Africa being one of the strictest lockdowns globally, for us, equestrians, who are very active, this situation can be rather stressful, not to mention not being able to see your stead for weeks on end is even worse.
So for those like me who do not have their horse pals at home with them I did some research on how to keep ourselves riding fit.
Fitness in the saddle is important for equestrians
Whether you are a dressage rider, show jumper, eventer, or simply a happy hacker like myself, here is an introduction to some really fun equestrian workouts that will improve your riding and overall fitness. Having some form of fitness in the saddle is important for all equestrians not just for the extra stamina but also for the suppleness and stability you need to feel secure in the saddle.
Riding is a great form of movement, and the general upkeep of horses means you are most likely active more often than not. However, what is often overlooked is how you are performing as a rider.
We often spend all of our time thinking about our horse’s health and well being, how they are performing, what they are eating, and getting the balance right within their training schedule. Yet as riders, we often forget to pay attention to our own fitness. In order to prevent injury in our horse, you are ensuring they are using their body correctly, they are building the right strength and stamina through their body to be able to utilize it no matter what equestrian discipline you concentrate on.
You as the rider should be exactly the same. Taking care of yourself as a rider isn’t just about fitness. It’s about ensuring you are using your body correctly so that you prevent injury and can continue to ride for many many years to come.
It’s not just about being fit. Alignment is crucial for both horse and rider, so too is our posture and balance. The common thread amongst all equestrian disciplines is the ability to move with your horse and be stable in the saddle.
This requires you to have strong core control, balance and co-ordination. Then there is the need to ensure your posture and alignment is helping you prevent undue wear and tear.
Just like horses have one side they find easier, so do we as riders and your role when you are off the horse is to ensure you are doing your best to work on your posture and alignment so that when you are riding and you add the forces of the horses movement to your body, you aren’t creating any extra stress which can lead to injury later on.
Let’s start with the mother of all core-strengtheners, the plank. Planks not only work your abs and obliques, they challenge those core muscles deep inside your body that help promote stability and power.
They can also reduce back pain and improve your balance and posture. Get down into pushup position, feet behind you, hands under your shoulders. Lock out your arms and legs, squeeze your core muscles, and hold your body stiff (like a plank!) for as long as you can.
For a more challenging variation, try a forearm plank with your arms out in front you. Lay your forearms on the ground for support, with your elbows under your face rather than aligned with your shoulders.
Watch this video to see how to plank correctly.
To hit your obliques even harder, try this challenging variation, the side plank. From plank position, rotate onto one side. Prop yourself up on your elbow and one foot with your body straight and stiff. Don’t forget to squeeze your core as you hold this position for as long as you can. Switch sides and repeat to avoid creating muscle imbalances.
Watch this video to see how to do a side plank.
The regular stomach crunch is a fine exercise, but when it comes to abs and core strength, you’ll want to opt for moves that are a lot more challenging. When you can crank out 50 crunches without a problem, it’s probably time for something new.
The reverse crunch packs a wallop for your lower abs and can be done anywhere, anytime, just like the standard crunch. Lay on your back with knees bent in crunch position. Place your hands flat on the ground by your side and lift your pelvis, bringing your knees up toward your face, then back down again. Engage your lower ab muscles to do the work, not your back.
Repeat for a few sets of 12-20 reps.
Click here for a video on how to do reverse crunches.
The lower abs are a problem area for a lot of people, so we’ll want to work them hard. If that sounds like you, flutter kicks are just what the doctor ordered. Lay flat on your back in leg raise position, hands at your sides or pressed into the floor.
Raise your legs together about 6 inches off the floor, then alternate lowering one and raising one a few inches in rapid succession. It should look like you’re kicking the air, and it should give you quite a burn in your abdominal area.
Watch this video to see flutter kicks in action.
Arms High Sit-Ups
Imagine a crunch, but way harder! Lay down on the ground in sit-up position, knees bent, feet flat on the floor in front of you. Raise your arms up to the sky and keep them elevated as you perform a few sets of sit-ups.
Engaging your arms in this way makes the move extraordinarily difficult and taxing. You’ll get a lot more mileage out of this move versus traditional crunches.
The L-Sit is outrageously difficult to perform well, but if you can build your strength here, the benefits are phenomenal.
To perform an L-Sit, you’ll need a stable surface to press off of. You can do them on the floor, but it’s a little easier if you can elevate yourself on a pair of dumbbells, two sturdy chairs, or a similar apparatus. Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you.
Lock your arms in place at your sides, palms on the ground or surface, and press. Bring your legs into the air, perpendicular to your upper body, using the tension from your locked arms. Hold this position as long as possible for an intense strength building workout.
And now for something different! It’s easy to work your front-facing abdominal muscles, but there is another muscle group in your core that’s frequently overlooked: The transverse abdominis.
This muscle isn’t visible through your skin, but it’s incredibly important in stabilizing your body, creating good posture, and holding your belly in tight to your spine. To strengthen this muscle and get a flatter stomach, try stomach vacuums.
Standing straight and tall. Exhale all of the air out of your body and simultaneously pull your belly in tight. Imagine sucking your belly button back into your spine. You’ll feel the transverse abdominis engage. Hold as long as possible, rest and then repeat.
Have a look at this video to see how to do stomach vacuums.
Ab work alone won’t shred stomach fat. But when you combine abs and cardio, that’s when you’re onto something magical. Mountain climbers fit the bill if you’re looking to blast your core and also work up a good sweat.
Get down into plank position. With your arms locked and your body tight, drive one knee at a time off the floor, up toward your chest, and then back to its original position. Repeat in quick succession. It should look like you’re climbing a hill, and it should exhaust you in a matter of seconds!
Watch this video to see how to do mountain climbers.
Planks are too effective to not utilize multiple variations of them in your routine. The star plank engaged similar muscles to the traditional plank, but is a lot harder to hold for time.
From the push-up or standard plank position, walk your feet out wide and your hands, as well.
See how to do star planks on this video.
Workout from Evan Porter – Fitness Enthusiast, Expert Researcher, and Full-Time Dad. Author and owner of The Trusty Spotter and Dad Fixes Everything.
Get in touch with Heavenly Stables after lockdown to book your beach rides, trail rides, lessons & stabling – contact 081 890 7080 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.