The 4 Key Elements All Rider-Specific Fitness Programs Should Have

Equestrian FitnessYoga, spinning, Pilates, CrossFit®, P90X®, Zoomba®, the Bar Method, POUND… there are as many fitness programs and fads in the world as there are people to use them. Each one has its unique appeal and touted benefit, though all provide essentially the same underlying benefit – they challenge the body’s habituated movement patterns, develop muscular strength and improve cardiovascular stamina.

Many equestrians have realized, quite rightly, that they ride better when they are stronger and have greater cardiovascular stamina. However, while there are fitness programs based on the inherent physical demands of cycling, dancing, running, kick boxing, wrestling, etc… there are no mainstream fitness programs that fully address the physical requirements of riding horses.

Many riders try whichever program appeals to them or their friends recommend, not knowing if the program is really making them ride better or not. Some of the popular fitness programs actually train the body in ways that are entirely counterproductive to riding! In some cases riders resort to creating their own programs – combining different fitness methodologies and hoping that if they put the right things together they will cover their fitness needs. Still others try to explain what they need to a personal trainer so he or she can develop an appropriate fitness program for them. Sometimes personal trainers come along who are themselves riders, and develop programs targeted to riders, but these are often not widely accessible to the average rider. It is highly unlikely that a Rider Fitness class will ever show up at the local gym, and until it does, riders are pretty much on their own in figuring out the best way to train their bodies off the horse.

What is a rider to do? How can you know if your favorite fitness program is actually helping you ride better? What should you look for in a fitness program? To help you answer these questions for yourself, I’ve identified four key elements a fitness program must have in order to make a positive and lasting impact on your riding. These four key elements are Balance, Coordination, Stability, and Mobility training. Let’s take a look at each element.

Balance

Anyone can stand on a wobble board, do squats on a Bosu, or practice balance-challenging yoga poses, but as an equestrian, you need to be able to balance on your seat, on a moving object, with little to no control over how that object is going to move from moment to moment. No amount of standing balance is going to properly train that. However, balance training on a stability ball – both sitting and kneeling – will train your brain and body to respond to instantaneous balance changes that you have little control over. Training on the ball also brings a tremendous amount of awareness about how even the smallest changes in your upper body affect the horse’s balance, as the ball moves in response to every tiny shift you make. This type of training is invaluable, and there are numerous exercises that can be performed with the ball, that will greatly benefit your ability to balance in movement with the horse.

Coordination

We all know the feeling of doing our best to keep our heels down, knees soft, seat deep, arms relaxed, hands just above the withers, eyes up, and still be trying to apply the correct aids in the correct timing, listening to the instructor’s next directions, and steering the horse all at once! This takes tremendous physical and mental coordination. Coordination training for the rider makes the physical coordination more instinctual for our bodies, so we have enough attention left over to be aware of what’s going on around us, feel what our horse is doing, and listen to the instructions we’re being given.

What does coordination training look like? Doing several things at once in an exercise will train our physical
coordination and expand our capacity for mental focus. For example, a side-to-side crossover exercise where one leg crosses in front and then behind the other will challenge coordination slightly, while adding a twist of the upper body, swing of the arms, and eyes following the twist at the same time, will begin to approximate the coordination your body needs for riding. Another, more advanced coordination exercise would be kneeling on a Side crunch on ballbalance ball while juggling balls. A good exercise program for riders will include many combination exercises such as these for optimum coordination training.

Stability

Many of the more popular exercise programs encourage a lot of explosive “power” exercises: power crunches, power jumps, power burpees, etc… There is no point at which this type of movement is needed on the horse, however. Rather, a supple and stable body that is under your complete control and capable of tiny, subtle movements despite being “tossed about” by the horse is what a rider truly needs. This type of fine muscle control comes from slow and controlled strength exercises, with excellent breath support. A good example of this type of exercise is a side crunch on the ball. It develops the strength of the oblique muscles from hip to ribs, while requiring the body to adapt to balance changes, developing fine movement control of the upper body. Another great example of this type of exercise is a V-sit with a pelvic tilt. This exercise isolates the psoas muscle – the rider’s best friend – creating very fine control of the position of the pelvis, while strengthening the psoas muscles through movement.

On the subject of stability, one cannot avoid discussing the “core”. Most riders know that they need a more stable “core”, and yet the vast majority of riders think only of their abdominal muscles when the term used. They might do lots of crunches, sit-ups and boat poses, thinking they are developing a strong core. However, they completely overlook the back and sides of their bodies, and even if they do some training of those muscles, they often isolate just a few. There are many small and overlooked muscles that provide “core” stability, which cannot be addressed by only working the abs. A great rider-specific workout will work all of these muscles evenly, from shoulders to hips, rather than isolating just a few.

Mobility

I like to say that without mobility there is no relaxation, and without relaxation there is no feel on the horse. I would add to that, without unrestricted mobility of the rider’s body, there is no swinging or freedom of movement in the horse. It would probably surprise you how many riders have tightness and restricted mobility in their hips, without having any idea that they do – even thinking they are very flexible in the hips. It might surprise you even more how many “lazy” horses are actually being restricted from going forward by their rider’s lack of mobility. One thing that I see with nearly every horse and rider combination in my clinics is that after the rider does several mobility exercises, the horses start to really move out with impulsion.

What does mobility mean for the rider? It means that the joints in the rider’s body are free enough of restrictions to allow the motion of the horse to move through them, equally, from head to heels. When there is one area of the body that is restricted, another area must become hyper-mobile in order to allow for the horse’s movement and prevent the rider from bouncing uncomfortably against the horse’s back. We often see this in bobbing heads, bouncing heels, or even hyper-mobile lower backs. These areas of hyper-mobility are at risk for stress injuries, while the areas of restriction cause the horse to have to compensate for the lack of mobility in some part of his own body.

The best mobility exercises for riders are done in movement, rather than through static stretching. Static stretching has its place in fitness, but there is nothing static about being on a horse, so it has only limited benefit for a rider. An example of a “mobility through movement” exercise would be a hip opener exercise that I like a lot, which mobilizes and removes restrictions from the hip joint through small circles and rotational movements of the joint. Another great mobility exercise is what I call a hip and shoulder twist, which mobilizes the entire spine in a rotational movement, while simultaneously releasing tightness in the hips and both engaging and stretching the core muscles all the way around the body.

Try Ridefit Now! Watch sample Ridefit videos, subscribe to the online Ridefit program, or find a Ridefit class or clinic near you.Try it NowThe bottom line is that a great sport-specific fitness program for equestrians that actually improves fitness for riding will put equal emphasis on all four of these key elements. Without mobility and stability, there can be no balance or coordination. Without balance and coordination, the rider cannot hope to ever develop an independent seat, good timing or truly effective aids.

With a fitness program that combines all four of these elements, your body can actually be prepared for the challenges of riding off the horse, and time spent in the saddle can be utilized for refining your skills and advancing your training program, rather than continuously working on basic equitation! Furthermore, this type of complete fitness program will greatly increase your longevity as a rider, since it provides much more than simply better riding fitness – it provides better fitness for all of life.

Try Ridefit Now

Want to try Ridefit for free? Download one of our brand new FREE exercise guides:

Sitting Trot Bootcamp-Mockup-HD or Canter-with Confidence mockup-HD

Team Challenge

Ridefit 90-Day Rider Team Challenge

 20160115_152850

Get fit, ride better, and win great prizes all at the same time!

 

How it works:

You and at least two of your fellow students (with the same riding instructor/trainer) can challenge each other to see who can earn the title “Most Improved Rider” by signing up for the 90-Day Ridefit Challenge. Here’s how it works:

  • Sign up for Ridefit’s 90-day Unlimited online group classes program ($199/mo. and for a limited time and get your first month FREE).
  • Work out at least 3 days per week utilizing Ridefit’s 30-minute online fitness classes – LIVE training with a Ridefit Instructor, from the comfort of your own home! All you need is a stability ball and a mat.
  • Ride and take at least one lesson per week with your normal instructor.
  • At the end of 90 days, your instructor will judge between you and your teammates, the “Most Improved Rider”
  • Win one of three great prizes from Ridefit if you are the “Most Improved Rider” – a customized saddle pad, quarter sheet, or Ridefit t-shirt

Get ready for the 2016 show season, and get into the best riding shape of your life, with Ridefit!

 

Sign Me Up!

Download a Team Challenge flyer to post at your barn: Ridefit 90-Day Team Challenge Flyer

Revolution Smoothie

If you are one of the millions of people who don’t get enough fresh food in their diet, especSmoothie - blueberry kaleially fresh vegetables, this smoothie will be a game changer for you. It may even save your life! Revolutionize your health, with this vitamin and nutrient packed smoothie:

Revolution Smoothie

Put all ingredients in a high powered blender such as a Vitamix and blend until completely smooth. Pour into a glass and enjoy immediately!

The Energy Equation

Do you have as much energy as you would like?

Have you ever thought that if only you had a little more energy, your life would be different? Do you find that you can’t wake up in the morning without a cup of coffee? Do you work during the day and by the time you get off work you feel like something sucked all the energy right out of you, just when you finally have time to go do things you enjoy? Do you wish you had more energy to spend quality time with your kids, or riding your horse, or even working out? If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, listen up! I’m going to give you 3 tips to help you maximize and keep your energy high, no matter what!

Tip #1: Get Plenty of SleepSleep with hound

We all have the same number of hours in the day. Some of us prioritize sleep down on our list of things we should really do, but don’t. We put everything else ahead of sleep, but we are just shooting ourselves in the foot by doing so. Lack of sufficient sleep actually impairs our brains, slows down our metabolisms, and is just as dangerous as one drink of alcohol when we get behind the wheel. It goes without saying that lack of sleep and horses are a very bad combination!

But wait, what if you suffer from insomnia? Many people would give anything for a good night’s sleep, but the reality is that no matter what they seem to do, their mind and body seem bent on preventing healthy sleep. There are many reasons for insomnia, from simple dietary indiscretions to serious medical conditions, so determining your underlying cause will be a critical first step if you suffer from insomnia and would like to have more energy by getting enough restful sleep. As a health coach, this is something I can often help with.

For those of you that don’t suffer from insomnia, but simply don’t get enough sleep or feel that you have so many things to do that you can’t get enough sleep, I encourage you to take a step back and see what it is that you are doing instead. Do you stay up and watch TV? Perhaps having more energy during the day would make it worth skipping the late night show. These days, you can watch almost any TV show online, at your leisure, anyway, so you won’t be missing out if you watch SNL on Sunday, instead of Saturday night… Do your kids keep you up late? Perhaps they need an earlier bedtime. They need to have good sleep habits too, so the younger you establish those for them, and set a good example, the better off they will be. Maybe you have trouble falling asleep, or are a light sleeper and wake up at the smallest noise. Well, there are plenty of safe and effective sleep aids out there, some of them completely natural, such as chamomile tea, melatonin supplements, and even meditation music that can help you fall asleep. If you wake easily, try wearing one earplug (we want you to be able to hear if the horses get cast in the barn, or the kids wake up from a nightmare, but one earplug will filter out the smaller noises that might otherwise wake you unnecessarily).

Tip #2: Eat Energy Enhancing Foods

People often hear that carbohydrates are for energy, but there are limits to that. Too many carbs (which is a large part of the Standard American Diet) will actually deplete energy in a big way. So, what are energy enhancing foods? Fresh vegetables and fruits. Dietary recommendations for fresh vegetables and fruits are as many as 10 servings per day. And yet, many Americans don’t even get a single serving in a day. A diet without these foods is an energy sucking diet, because they have nutrients and enzymes that are required for healthy cellular development and energy production, that proteins, starches and fats simply don’t contain.

SmoothiesIf you are one of the millions of people that don’t get enough fresh foods, there are many ways that you can get those things into your diet in easy and convenient ways. Smoothies are my go-to favorite. I have developed a fresh fruit and veggie smoothie that I call the Revolution Smoothie (click for the recipe), which supplies all the nutrients of 10 servings of fruits and vegetables, in one delicious glass! It does take advantage of a couple of power-packed whole food supplements, which are concentrated and nutrient dense, as well as including fresh fruits and dark leafy greens in the form of kale. It tastes fresh and delicious and will give you a serious energy kick, as well as supplying enough protein for a whole meal. Add one of these to your diet each day, and you will notice the difference immediately!

Tip #3: Exercise!Runner Lunge Image

You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you? And you may be saying, “But Tammy, I don’t have enough ENERGY to exercise! Exercise makes me more tired. This is no solution! What are you smoking?!” Bear with me here, there is a VERY GOOD reason you MUST exercise if you want more energy. In the simplest terms possible, muscle tissue produces usable energy, so the more muscle tissue you have in your body, the more energy your body will produce.

Now, for the longer explanation… Our bodies literally have the “potential” energy to power an entire town for a week. But, that energy is produced through “catabolism” – one of the two types of metabolism that occur within the body’s cells. Catabolism happens when calories are converted from food into heat. While this metabolism does take place in nearly every cell in the body, it is more concentrated in the muscle tissue. This is why diets that don’t include building lean muscle mass as the foundation to fat loss, are so damaging to the overall metabolic function of the body – because simply eating less will reduce the entire body weight – muscle mass included, which actually reduces the rate of energy production (and thus fat-burning potential).

Just like with any other thing that you do in life, you start small, push your limits a little, and the potential grows. Same applies with energy. Spend more energy in the form of exercise, and your body’s capacity to produce energy grows! This does require greater muscle mass, however, so it’s not just enough to do cardio, you must do some amount of strength building in order to enjoy these benefits. But, enjoy the benefits, you will!

We can’t increase the hours in the day, but if you are serious about getting more energy, applying these three tips could change your life. And, as always, we are here to support you in whatever way we can. We’d love to hear from you. Post your comments and suggestions below and share what works for you, as well as ask any questions you like!

Until next time, Ride fit!

A Bit about Balance

Are you a “balanced” rider?

Have you ever gotten left behind or fallen forward when your horse changed gears suddenly or unexpectedly (or expectedly)? Have you ever been told that you are sitting or leaning to one side or the other, or have trouble with uneven stirrup leathers? Gotten “jumped” out of the saddle? Then you have met the Rider’s Best Friend “Balance” – or at least the lack thereof!

What is balance, really? Balance, or “Equilibrioception” is a result of elephant-balanceyour brain comparing sensory data from your skeleton and muscles with those of your eyes and inner ear in relation to the gravitational pull of the earth. It processes these data faster than you could possibly be aware, and then sends signals to the muscles, tendons and joints to adapt to changes in speed, angle, elevation, direction, etc. Since our brain is the processing center for all the information as well as the transmission center, it behooves us to ensure that it is as healthy as possible. It is critical that we keep the communication pathways strong and clear, so that our muscles and joints don’t miss those extremely important signals! This is why balance training is so very important for riders.

Why is balance so important, anyway? Well, there are many very good reasons that you may not have thought about, such as:

  • Your balance directly affects your horse’s balance. Horses being prey animals have a very keen instinct to keep themselves in balance. Horses that are out of balance are vulnerable to predators, and therefore tend to feel fearful. It is not uncommon to see a horse feel completely secure and confident under a very balanced rider, but get worried, upset, spooky or even dangerous under a very unbalanced rider. People often assume this is because the former rider is also the more skilled rider, but it has much more to do with the balance than the rider’s skill. A completely novice rider who has excellent balance will instill much greater confident in the horse than a very skilled rider whose balance is compromised.
  • Your brain controls your balance, and if your balance is weak or unstable, it is a clear sign that your brain is not properly communicating with your body, and both need training.
  • One out of every three adults age 65 or older falls each year. And 1/5th of those falls result in serious injuries. As we age, and especially if we have had previous injuries, our balance is compromised more and more each year, unless we actively work to counteract that trend. Balance training is critical for overall quality of life, not just riding!

It is equally important to ensure that our inner ears and eyes are healthy. Congestion from a cold or chronic infection can completely upset our brain’s ability to manage our balance appropriately – the brain will process the data, whether it’s right or wrong, and will make incorrect adjustments based on the flawed data. For this reason, if you are an individual who often suffers from vertigo when you are sick, it is safest to stay off your horse during those times. Support your immune system by eating a “clean” diet full of fresh vegetables and fruits and lean sources of protein, avoid allergens which can cause inner ear congestion, and stay well hydrated in order to support a healthy equilibrium!

One final thought on balance. Balance is your body’s position relative to the ground – or the gravitational pull of the earth. Balance on the horse is no different than balance on the ground. Many people think that they must stay in balance “with the horse”, but this is a misconception that results in many a rider leaning with their horse, collapsing in their bodies, and further upsetting the horse’s own balance. The rider must “move” with the horse in order to stay in balance, but balance is ALWAYS relative to the ground. If the rider remains in balance with the ground, the horse will have a much easier time of balancing himself, and in fact will learn to “stay with” the rider, as much out of a sense of self preservation as because it is simply easier and more comfortable.

So, train your balance! Appreciate the challenges you experience as you do so, knowing that in this way you are helping your horse, as well as your own body!

‘Till next time, Ride FIT!