Can’t You Just Give Me a “Blank Exercise?”

Blank ExerciseUm no…I did not say “blanking!” Where is your mind? 

SO having unmuddied that water trough, what question do you think a rider fitness trainer gets asked…a LOT. As in at least once a week, if not more!

Hey Coach, can you give me an exercise or two to help me with _________?

The “blank” is my seat, my leg, my core or “fill in the _________.”

It’s true! My inbox is full of questions from riders who want me to recommend 1-2 exercises to help them improve their sitting trot or swinging leg or weak core.

It sounds like a simple request.
It seems like I should be able to just recommend crunches for core, squats for legs and hip flexor stretches for sitting trot.


The problem is I can’t and neither can any responsible fitness professional-at least not if the focus of that professional is to help riders to develop into athletic riders. Let me explain…

Riding is a performance sport. Not only is it a performance sport but it is one that must balance the demand of two athletes working and coordinating to appear and function like one body and mind. Talk about increasing the challenges when it comes to designing a rider fitness program! 

To properly train a rider (or any sports performance athlete, for that matter), a trainer must create an integrated training program. Integrated training simply means the program is comprehensive (not just a single exercise that addresses as single body part) and includes all of the necessary components to allow an athlete to perform at her highest level while protecting her against injury. An integrated training program for an athlete will focus on developing functional strength and neuromuscular efficiency. A well designed rider fitness program should then be an integrated training program that focuses on developing functional strength and neuromuscular efficiency. 

In other words, each workout must be designed in a way that enables an athlete to move multiple body parts efficiently in all planes of motion. As any rider knows, when you sit the trot, you are not just sitting. Quite the opposite! You are engaged in your core (so stable in your front, back and side of your core-not just trying to hold your tummy in), you are mobile in your hips (up and down, back and forth, and side to side) , you are fluid and following in your upper body and grounded in your legs. To be stable in your legs, you must be mobile in your hips, engaged in your core, and fluid and following in your upper body. Can you see where this is going?

To explain this multi-dimensional idea of movement in another way- athletes do not move one body part at a time in one direction at a time while the rest of the body is frozen in place.  When a rider sitting the trot with horse bending on a circle, her outside leg moves back a bit, her inside leg remains at the girth while elongating, she shifts her weight in just a bit, rotates her hips and rotates her shoulders. She may lift a rein if a half halt or gentle rebalancing is needed. And so on.  And so on. There are a lot of body parts going in a lot of directions. Now imagine this same break down of movement over and entire dressage test or a jumping course of 10 jumps!

A fitness program whose purpose is to improve an athlete’s sports performance must train an athlete daily to do what she must do when performing. A rider fitness program must train a rider when she is unmounted so she can perform more fluidly when mounted. Returning to the example of the sitting trot, a rider does not need an exercise or even 1-2 exercises that focus exclusively on that movement in the saddle. She needs, instead, a complete program that focuses on all elements of rider fitness (core, flexibility, balance, strength, power and cardio) in order to create muscular balance, functional strength, and neuromuscular efficiency for optimal performance and a reduced chance of injury. 

Do you want to learn how to take the guesswork out of designing your rider fitness program or knowing if your current program is properly designed for improved sports performance? Stay tuned for next week’s blog!

Oh…don’t forget your partner in the equation. Your horse is also an athlete and his program can and should be designed around the same model of integrated training for the same reasons!

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