It’s no-stirrup November! But if you’re like me, and have a horse that can’t do more than 5 minutes of trot, you might need more to strengthen your legs. Cue my expertise with crossing training! Utilizing multiple sports to create an exercise regimen honestly helps your riding and you will only benefit.
It all started 10 years ago. When I was in high school, I wasn’t exactly in the best shape. I wasn’t overweight, but I had a nice layer of fat in all of the places where I didn’t want it. Riding made me feel fit, but not when it counted. Whenever my trainer would make me do a no-stirrups lesson, I would always be exhausted after. After the lesson, I would always ask her how to improve my riding and get stronger. Her response, as almost any trainer says, was to keep riding and it will get better.
This didn’t sit well with me. I know where she was coming from. As a trainer, you easily have 4 horses to ride each day. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t have multiple horses to practice with and I cannot get excited about doing no-stirrups for 30 minutes once a week. I need something more. So, in college, I decided to make myself a nice fitness regimen. Cross-training, or using multiple disciplines to obtain fitness, was (and still is) heavily featured in that regimen.
Once I started working out regularly, while riding as often as I can, and sometimes dropping my stirrups because I know how important that is, I noticed a huge difference. And because I want everyone to be the best rider they can be, I thought I would share some exercises I do to improve my riding.
- Plank. I know, literally everyone shares this exercise as a must for horse people. But there is a reason! Doing plank strengthens your whole core and works your back muscles. This exercise works all of the muscles that you use while riding…and helps you tone! To do this exercise, simply start on your hands and knees, then move to either your forearms and toes, or your palms and toes. There are also multiple variations of plank that you can do it you want to challenge yourself, or if you just get really bored while doing the plank. Try rocking your waist side to side, or moving your hips up and down to work your core. If you want to work your arms more, go from your forearms to your palms, then back to your forearms. If you want to tone your legs, try balancing on only one foot and use the other leg to pulse in the air, or simply hold it up. There are many variations of plank, and they all work wonders for your riding.
- Yoga. While this isn’t exactly a workout exercise, doing some form of yoga works wonders. A couple of years ago, I HATED the thought of doing yoga. I found it completely useless and boring. Since then, I’ve converted and would proudly consider myself a yogi. I love that yoga not only works your body, but is also good for your mental health. On top of that, it stretches your body in ways that you never knew you needed to do, strengthens your balance, and creates muscles that will only help you while riding. If you want to learn more about yoga, or even try it, I recommend finding a yoga studio close to you or using an app for guided practice. I personally use Gaiam Yoga Studio for yoga and I love it! This app has tons of options for all levels, as well as targeting areas like relieving back pain (which we know all riders have). Before you totally hate on yoga, honestly try one of the many different styles of it. You might end up loving it!
- Squats and lunges. We all know to never skip leg day. While our legs will forever be strong due to the fact that we hold onto the horse with our legs, its also important to keep that strength by toning other areas of muscle that us riders don’t use all of the time. Walking lunges, squats, sumo squats, jumping lunges, or any exercise working your legs will only help you in the saddle.
- Hiking. Now onto my second favorite sport! While finishing a course is my one true love, summiting a peak also gives you the most badass feeling. Hiking is great cardio, but also works your legs like nobody’s business. Plus hiking will give you great views of nature! So log on to all trails or another hiking app to see what hikes you can do in your area.
- Running. This is another exercise that is good, but is probably one that almost no one wants to do. First, let me explain that there are two types of cardio: weight bearing, and non-weight bearing. Riding is non-weight bearing, since we are not “bearing the weight” of gravity while we’re working out. This is good cardio, but in order for you to properly work your heart in a healthy way, weight bearing cardio should be considered. I took up running because I wanted to stay heart-healthy, but I didn’t have the time to walk 3 miles a day. Running works for me because I can knock out a couple of miles, while working up a sweat, and staying fit.
- Arms and Back. This area of the body is crucial for riding. While I usually knock out some arm exercises by lifting hay bales, exercises in the weight room can also do the trick. I’ve found that focusing on triceps, lats, forearms, delts, and pecs help with riding. They all strengthen your arms, while keeping your back strong so that you can maintain a good posture.
I know these exercises basically target all the muscles in your body, but if you want more specific workouts, I am happy to share what I do at the gym and for other workouts. What do you do to stay fit for riding (besides riding)?
And if this is the start of your journey towards a more active lifestyle, remember to just take it one stride at a time 🙂