View Full Version : Rider Fitness

Jun. 6, 2011, 02:36 AM
I've been out the saddle the last two weeks due to a non-horsey injury. My current horse has a good amount of power in the trot and canter, so my muscles aren't as strong to hold not only myself in the correct position, but I tend to want to go into a two point in the canter, to avoid having to work. Other than just getting more ride time, are there any other exercises/workouts that are recommended? I'm an avid gym member (I go everyday before and after the barn) so I would love to work on the muscles that would definitely benefit me in the saddle too.

Jun. 6, 2011, 07:27 AM
Squats are the best exercises for riding. You can add different elements to them for even more results. You can do them on a BoSu or stability discs and work the small muscle fibers involved in balance. You can do bicep curls and/or shoulder lifts or any other exercise that works your arms. You can squat into a jump - squat and as you come up, jump as high as you can - much harder than it sounds. Besides the basic squat, there are also plie squats.

Then add ab exercises. I like bicycle crunches, leg thrusts, clams, and the dreaded plank and side plank. I don't think regular crunches do all that much versus the other exercises.

I hope that helps.

Jun. 6, 2011, 08:57 AM
Disclosure: If you are consciously having to use muscles to 'hold the correct position' you are not in correct balance for dressage work. Dressage is ridden with your bone, hence why men who have been doing it for 50 years can hop up there at 70 and show us all up.

All that said, you do need to be FIT for your body to crave proper balance and be able to maintain it without you telling it to do so. Once of the biggest struggles dressage riders go through is developing the psoas muscle to be both strong and LONG. Pilates will make it strong, but contract it, so without tons of stretching it makes for dressage riders in a hunter perch. I love plank for abs personally. hold that position with controlled breathing for 60+ seconds and you'll know where your abs are. Because you are keeping the torso long while you endure the pain, there's less risk of contracting the abs up.

If you are working out twice a day, you probably need stretching more than anything. Sign up for yoga and you'll be able to follow those big gaits

Jun. 6, 2011, 10:08 AM
Especially for an avid gym person. http://www.amazon.com/Riders-Fitness-Program-Dianna-Dennis/dp/1580175422/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1307365240&sr=8-1

I love this book, and you can look inside it on amazon (click on the ''search inside the book'' link. I own the book too and can say its awesome. You just look through the index on the issues in your riding you want to improve on and it tells you which exercies you can do. A lot of the exercises call for machines, thats why some people dont like it, but seeing that you are gymer than i think you'd really like it. It even has a 6 week plan that you can follow straight through or you can just work on whatever random or individual workouts that you want. If you get it and use it let me know how you like it. :cool: I tend to do some yoga in between because I feel like its a sister sport to dressage riding. It is relaxing yet evens out your body to make you more correct, stronger, and balanced in the saddle.:yes::D

Jun. 6, 2011, 05:24 PM
Thanks everyone, everything posted definitely helped!

Petstorejunkie - I honestly did not even think about looking into yoga to help me with dressage. The more I think about it, the more I realize I am not has relaxed in my body as I can be, to help absorb my horse's motion, nor do I do any real stretches to help loosen my body before I ride.

XCpony - THANKS! I plan on ordering the book when I get off work in a bit. That is exactly what I was looking for too!! I enjoy working out at the gym, so I'm just a tad bit excited to get this in the mail and put together a new workout routine. :D

Jun. 6, 2011, 05:33 PM
I am in the opposite boat. I have contiued riding but not gone to the gym for about two weeks due to serious time crunch.

I have noticed a huge difference with even two weeks off, especially since my butt has been glued to a chair for two weeks and I have not even really stretching.

My core is getting weak already and my riding has started to backslide. I am really surprised at how quickly I am losing it!

Jun. 6, 2011, 05:48 PM
Do you have access to a pool? Swimming is great in the summer for core, balance, and heart rate improvement.

It's also great for joints that aren't what they used to be; and the long strokes makes stretching a naturally added bonus.

There are great YouTubes of both beginner Yoga and TaiChi that you can do in the water to add resistance. I love both Yoga and TaiChi.

Jun. 7, 2011, 01:55 AM
SanJac - I don't personally have a pool but know a friend or two that has one, so I'll definitely ask them! Its extremely hot in Maryland these days, so that's just an extra bonus then :) Thanks!!

Jun. 7, 2011, 10:43 AM
Well, just thought I'd ask. The larger gyms have pools down here.

Squats with dumb bells or medicine ball would help improve the canter seat.

And another exercise is while mounted at a walk - extend your foot outward and make circles or figure 8s. It's a killer but you can't duplicate it in the gym.

Jun. 8, 2011, 04:33 PM
I go to a well-known gym and the locations my membership allows me to visit, don't have gyms, but the smaller gyms I've visited to :/

Thanks for the tips! Going to try them out when the weather is decent to ride in.

Jun. 8, 2011, 04:46 PM
so even though I just started it four weeks ago...I gotta throw Crossfit in there are a recommendation. I didn't realize how much of a difference it was making already until my lesson yesterday, when my horse decided to throw in some completely unanticipated refusals. I started CF to begin with because her refusals previously unseated me, and would send me tumbling over her shoulder. But yesterday, I wasn't going anywhere! I was pretty surprised.

I feel like the philosophy behind CF fits well with riding (or any sport or just life, really) because your strengthening your body while in motion. It makes for very functional fitness and health.

If you look on their main website and check to see if you have a local affiliate, I really recommend it.

Jun. 8, 2011, 05:25 PM
I was intrigued by crossfit and went to the website, but it's really hard to navigate. I found a list of seminars, but couldn't find affiliates. Was I looking in the wrong place?


Jun. 8, 2011, 05:33 PM
no, there is the main Crossfit site, and there should be the ability to look for the affiliates. Or just type in Crossfit "locationX" into Google and it should pull up any that are nearby.

I hope you have one near you! Its also a great alternative if you hate going to typical gyms, or get bored doing hours of cardio. I know I put off working out for so long because it bored the crap out of me, after doing group fitness for so many years. Crossfit is short and sweet, but extremely effective. Its amazing how quickly it forces your body to adapt. And if you ever played team sports growing up, I think you'll find the format and atmosphere very similar and familiar.

Here you go:

on the left there are links to all the states.

Jun. 8, 2011, 05:52 PM
I liked the video, but unfortunately there isn't an affiliate near me.


Jun. 10, 2011, 04:12 AM
Petstorejunkie, how, exactly, does Pilates make the psoas muscles short? Could you elaborate please? Thanks.

Jun. 10, 2011, 12:12 PM

Jun. 10, 2011, 03:43 PM
I also vote for Crossfit! I started it in February and it has done more for my riding than any other physical activity, by far.

Jun. 10, 2011, 04:17 PM
I had been doing Crossfit for about a year now...and just left the program. It was starting to make my hips and psoas muscles extremely tight and painful. My riding was taking a major backslide...so much so, that I have been having issues even doing a posting trot. I've been away from Crossfit for about 2 weeks...doing a lot of Tai Chi stretches, and I'm slowly getting the flexibility back. I think it's a good program overall especially for cardio fitness...just watch the weight that is being placed on you...I have a feeling that I was ramped up too fast.

I'm also checking out The Rider's Fitness book. That looks awesome.

Jun. 10, 2011, 05:19 PM
I think it's a good program overall especially for cardio fitness...just watch the weight that is being placed on you...I have a feeling that I was ramped up too fast.

Absolutely! You have to scale the weights to your abilities or you will hurt yourself, and no one knows your body better than you. I'm still working on my form on many of the lifts, so am still doing pretty light weights. I'm sorry you didn't have the best experience with it.

Jun. 10, 2011, 05:45 PM
Petstorejunkie, how, exactly, does Pilates make the psoas muscles short? Could you elaborate please? Thanks.
I wish I had the full explanation for it, but I'm relaying information I was given without alot of elaboration. I learned this from a BNT who specializes in body work for people.

Jun. 10, 2011, 09:03 PM
Petstorejunkie, I hate to disagree but I must. I am also a body worker, Pilates instructor, and I ride.

The iliopsoas muscle can be used in different ways. If you use it one way, it will cause too much arch in the lower back. If you use it a different way, it will tuck the pelvis under take the arch out.

Pilates does NOT as far as I know contract and shorten the iliopsoas muscle. At least in my training, we strive for a neutral pelvis. A neutral pelvis is defined as the plane made by the pubic bone and the ASIS (points of the hipbone as we usually refer to it) is vertical when standing or sitting, including riding.

How this shortens the iliopsoas is unclear to me.

Another book on the subject is "The Tao of Riding" by Tom Nagel. He talks about the iliopsoas muscle throughout this book and it's a good read.

Thanks for listening.

Jun. 11, 2011, 01:19 AM
I had been doing Crossfit for about a year now...and just left the program. It was starting to make my hips and psoas muscles extremely tight and painful. My riding was taking a major backslide...so much so, that I have been having issues even doing a posting trot. I've been away from Crossfit for about 2 weeks...doing a lot of Tai Chi stretches, and I'm slowly getting the flexibility back. I think it's a good program overall especially for cardio fitness...just watch the weight that is being placed on you...I have a feeling that I was ramped up too fast.

I'm also checking out The Rider's Fitness book. That looks awesome.

That's interesting because at my affiliate it's a lot about opening up your hips since so many of the moves power comes from the hip. Ive never heard about it making people tighter, if anything the people I've talked to it's actually increased their flexibility.

Jun. 13, 2011, 12:47 AM
That's interesting because at my affiliate it's a lot about opening up your hips since so many of the moves power comes from the hip. Ive never heard about it making people tighter, if anything the people I've talked to it's actually increased their flexibility.

I have lorodosis in my lower spine, and because of the way my spine is curved it is difficult for me to open up my hips already. Then adding lots of weight aggrevated the problem. When I tried to address this with the trainer, I received a lot of push-back, and didn't feel that I was getting the support I needed to continue on. I have a lot of upper-body strength already...so, he just wanted to pile on more and more weight, without addressing that I needed to work on the flexibility within my hips first. After the last WOD I went to...I could barely walk the next day, let alone ride. Finally, today...my right hip released, after being away from Crossfit for nearly 3 weeks now. I'm going back to the gym and working on the program I used to do with my former personal trainer until I can find a program that will work better for my "issues". My husband still does Crossfit, and it's been great for him.

Jun. 13, 2011, 03:11 PM
This shows some ignorance on my part, but what are you trying to accomplish with the either opening or closing of the iliopsoas group of muscles? What riding problem is addressed? And why is it not strengthened(?) while riding?


Jun. 13, 2011, 04:27 PM
Twiliath gives an excellent explanation...so I'll let her answer.

From what I have experienced...yes, riding does strengthen those groups of muscles, but also seems to shorten them...making them tight. In my experience...and this may be because I have an extreme arch in my lower back...that when those muscles tighten...doing movements such as rising trot are extremely difficult. It makes it nearly impossible to relax those muscles to allow the horse to go forward. So, when I ride...I have to constantly think of loosening those muscles, relaxing my hips, and allowing the horse to come through.

Twiliath...I wish you were in my area...I would come and take Pilates from you!

Jun. 13, 2011, 10:36 PM
The iliopsoas muscle (actually a pair, one on each side) is attached to the anterior (front) of the lumbar (low back) spine and runs down the anterior (front) surface of the ilium (part of the pelvis) and finishes at the lesser trochanter (a knob on the upper inside of the femur, or thigh bone). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iliopsoas.

BlkArab says she has lordosis and tight hip flexors. Lordosis is too much forward curve in the lumbar spine. Tight hip flexors mean her thighs tend to always be flexed or bent at the hip joint. Therefore, it will be hard for her to sit upright and get her legs long.

Lordosis means that her iliopsoas is already too tight, especially the upper part of the psoas muscle. It is pulling her lumbar spine and thighs together, more or less keeping her in a kind of crouch.

The wrong work with the iliopsoas will continue to shorten and tighten it, exacerbating the problem.

Using the psoas differently, it can be used to tuck the pelvis instead. But that will be hard for Blkarab to do, since her nerve pathways and muscle memory will go straight to the way she's always used them, resulting in lordosis and tight hip flexors.

From a Pilates perspective, she needs to learn to flatten her lumbar spine and open her hips through specific, graduated exercises, by using her transversus abdominis, internal, and external obliques instead of relying on the psoas. This may be quite difficult to do without personalized, individual help.

Most exercise in the weight training world is high reps with high loads to strengthen the muscles. Normally speaking, strengthening the muscles means to also shorten them. Strong muscles generally are short and bulgy. Think of a muscle builder. Pilates works on a different premise with a goal of stronger but longer muscles. This would include stretching and using the opposing muscles.

All muscles have an opposite to itself, such as biceps vs. triceps. A muscle only "knows" how to do three things: fibers attach to one another, they shorten on each other, and they let go. They cannot stretch by themselves. They must be stretched by using the opposing muscles.

Pilates works in low loads and low reps, focusing on core stability, as well as core strength.

Core strength is again high loads and high reps. Core stability is gained through low reps and low loads.

Also, core strength is done through strengthening (high reps, high loads) the superficial (outermost) muscles, such as the rectus abdominis (six-pack) muscle. The RA muscle is a GLOBAL mobilizer.

Core stabilization works on and with different muscles - internal and external obliques, transversus abdominis, diaphragm, and the pelvic floor muscles. Again, low load, low reps.

The internal and external obliques are LOCAL mobilizers, as well as local stabilizers. The TA, diaphragm, and pelvic floor are local stabilizers. There are also a bunch of small muscles running up the spine that are also both local mobilizers and local stabilizers.

Just doing a lot of weights will work for some people but not others. Posture and alignment are important along the effective use of the breath.

I hope that helps.

Jun. 14, 2011, 10:53 AM
Thanks a lot. That certainly helps me understand something that I did not previously know. I think, fortunately, that it is not a problem area for me, but had totally missed that little group of muscles.

Thanks for the link. Your excellent description makes it a lot easier to understand.

Jun. 14, 2011, 12:22 PM
Twiliah...thank you for that wonderful and very correct description, as that is exactly what I am experiencing right now with my hips and back. It makes it very frustrating to ride.

Jun. 14, 2011, 12:36 PM
Blkarab, where are you located? Have you looked for a Pilates instructor near you?

There are exercises designed to stretch the quads and hip flexors (same muscles, just different location).

Lie on the floor with your knees up and try to flatten your lower back to the floor without tightening your butt (gluteal) muscles. Rock back and forth between both positions to train your abs. You need to be using your obliques and transversus, not the rectus abdominis.

A variation here is the "Pelvic Bowl" or "Pelvic Clock" exercise: Rock into imprint where your lower back is touching the floor (or as close as you can get it) using your abs and not your butt. Then lift your left hip or butt cheek off the floor about 1 inch. Then put it back down and arch your back only to neutral. Pick up your right butt cheek off the floor. Then put it back down and roll into imprint. Imagine that your pelvis is bowl and you're rolling a marble from the center of the clock face to six o'clock, then nine o'clock, then 12 o'clock, the three o'clock, and then back to six o'clock. Try to smooth out the motion and transitions. Do about six reps then change direction.

Neutral pelvis is the plane made by the pointy bits of the hip bones and the pubic bone is parallel to the floor when lying down or parallel to the wall when standing or sitting. That means it would horizontal when lying down or vertical when standing, sitting, or riding.

That exercise will help to mobilize the lower back and the hip joints.

Then while standing, with your pelvis in neutral (see above), do the classic quad stretch by grabbing your ankle with either hand and trying to pull your knee back. However, if you let your lower back arch in order to get your knee back, you've avoided all stretching.

You can do the same thing in a lunge position. Be sure that you're holding your pelvis in neutral and press the hip forward over the bent leg.

Or stand in a door way with your lower back flat to the door jamb. The standing leg is about a foot away from the door jamb and the knee is bent. Then with the other leg reach back along the wall as far as you can with a bent knee and toes on the floor. Then press your heel back. The lower you can bend your standing leg, the more intense the stretch on the hip flexor. Make sure that your lower back is touching the door jamb so that you have that tactile feedback on keeping your pelvis tucked under. Otherwise you won't get the stretch.

I hope that was clear.

Jun. 14, 2011, 01:52 PM
BlkArab, I hope these exercised alleviate your problem. Years ago my husband had back problems and the exercises Twiliath described cured his problem. He also slept on a very, very, very firm surface and that helped. It all seems so related.

Jun. 14, 2011, 01:54 PM
Twiliath, do you know any exercises that straighten legs. My legs have become slightly bowed, which is a change. I have had some success with a couple of yoga exercises - just need a little more dedication to them.

Thanks for the informative posts you have made - great, clear, concise information.

Jun. 14, 2011, 03:28 PM
Twiliah---thank you so much for all the information!! I will try those exercises tonight when I get home. (been working on "tucking under" while at my desk today).

I'm located in Tulsa, OK...I just had a studio give me a call back, and after talking with the instructor, it sounds like it's going to be a good fit.

Jun. 14, 2011, 04:17 PM
I took two months off from riding this spring. At first, I tried riding once or twice a week - thinking I would ease back into it. On days that I wasn't riding, I went for long walks or hopped on my elliptical. I found after 2 weeks that I was just really sore each time I rode and wasn't getting anywhere - I too kept wanting to go into half seat to avoid work.

What really worked for me was a crash week of riding every.single.day. I rode for six days straight - walk-trot the first two days and then walk-trot-canter the last four. No sitting trot the first day. I didn't focus on what I couldn't do - I just went with what I could do. The first two days involved lots of short trot intervals - posting, and changing direction and pace often to keep my horse's attention - followed by walk breaks. When I started to get tired - I walked and caught my breath and then started over again. The first two canter sessions were mostly in half seat. By day six, something clicked and I found I could sit more easily and hold the sitting trot for a while. Then I took the long weekend off and went back the next week and started dropping my stirrups in lessons. I was in pain that first week, but by the second week I felt great.

On a few of the days, I also forced myself onto the elliptical to build stamina. I figure if I was going to be sore, might as well make everything sore.

Don't worry about riding well - you won't ruin your horse with one week of mediocre riding. Just worry about getting out there and doing it.

Jun. 14, 2011, 04:37 PM

If you don't have access to a Pilates Reformer and good instruction, try this: Stand with your feet tight together and parallel. Notice how bowed your legs are and if they medially rotate, that is the shin bones rotate inward. Bowed legs and medial rotation seem to go together. At least mine do. Anyway, while keeping your feet together rotate your shins outward (laterally rotate) to bring your inner calves and thighs together. It will feel odd and somewhat painful. Keep doing that as often as you can think about it - standing in line, etc. You might feel that your weight on your feet shifts from the inner edges to the outer edges. You might experiment with tightening your butt as you do this.

If you weren't normally bowlegged, then that means that some muscles have become tight while others have become stretched out. I'd have to really think about which ones are doing what, but then, you probably don't really want the anatomy lesson. :)

Good luck to you.

Jun. 14, 2011, 05:30 PM
Twiliath, thank you!

I just tried that - and that's interesting. It's not painful, but it seems to do something good My guess is that I really have to hold it longer or do some repetitions. I only feel the weight shift to the outside of my foot slightly, but feel the foot being held in place with friction on the bottom. I could shift the weight more if that's the better way.

I'll do this a lot. I'll definitely use this and see if I find more and less effective ways to do it.

I am not naturally bowlegged in the least - not any. This is a definite and distinct change.

My shins do not point inward or outward.


Jun. 14, 2011, 08:29 PM
Coyoteco, you could try squeezing a tennis ball between your knees. There's also an adductor machine in some gyms, if you belong to one. The resistance is when you bring your legs together.

Good luck to you. :)

Jun. 14, 2011, 11:41 PM
Thanks Twiliath. I will definitely follow up on your suggestions, and continue doing the two yoga ones.


Jun. 15, 2011, 07:30 AM
Coyoteco, you're welcome! :)