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by Karl Connor Fitness Articles

fitness & training articles

Horse Riding Fitness
Why do you have to be fit to ride

Many horse riders spend a lot of time and money training their horse to make sure it is in top class condition and may neglect the other half of the team, themselves. To perform at your best in competition, both horse and rider need to be in the best possible physical condition. A rider who maintains a reasonable level of fitness is more likely to enjoy riding more, no matter what level or type of riding they are involved in.

Riding fitness incorporates a combination of suppleness, stamina, muscle strength and flexibility. As with any physical sport, having supple and flexible joints and developing the correct type of musculature is the key to increased performance. This in turn will enable you to ride more safely, avoid injuries and make you a more effective rider.

Being fit to ride requires attention to your whole body, not just a strong right arm. Novice riders who ride once a week will begin to develop the correct muscles and suppleness provided they are taught correctly from the start. This makes it very important that you find and ride at an approved riding school or with a qualified instructor.

Doing exercises at the gym or cardio vascular exercise outdoors such as running or cycling will increase your general fitness and strength and to that extent is helpful but too much resistence training may increase your muscle mass and strength too much which may impede your riding.

It is important to develop the correct type of fitness, with strength in your muscles, but not too much muscle mass. Suppleness and flexibility in your joints and freedom of movement in your lower back and hips are more important.

If you can consult a personal trainer, ask for exercises that build strength in your lower back and in your stomach; and exercises that stretch and supple the muscles in your thighs and calves, that open your chest, increase the flexibility in your joints and help you develop stamina.

Use a range of simple daily exercises at home to help you increase and maintain your suppleness and fitness. Regular and more frequent riding will help too, as will having lunge lessons with a qualified instructor.

Some simple exercise routines to help get you fit to ride:

Cardiovascular Conditioning (30 minutes three times a week) :

A cardiovascular workout builds stamina and boosts your energy levels. This is important for busy riders who try hard to fit riding into an already demanding schedule.

Cardiovascular conditioning will help you to increase your heart and lung capacity, retain your muscle strength, increase your bone density and reduce your body fat.

You don't need special equipment, although treadmills and exercise bikes add variety and make it easier.

Basic cardiovascular conditioning requires 30 minutes, three times a week. If you can’t set aside a full 30 minute block, then three 10 minute periods will do just as well. Your goal is to do an activity with enough intensity that you raise your heart rate.

You should be able to carry on a conversation after the exercise and if you are gasping for air or breathing too hard you are doing too much too soon.

Improve your strength, your balance and your flexibility:

Exercising to improve your strength is important as riders have to maintain challenging positions during riding. ie; classical dressage riders need a strong shoulder, back and abdominal muscles to maintain their shoulder, hip and heel positions on a moving horse during upward and downward transitions.

All areas of the body work together while you ride and no single muscle or muscle group, does all the work; so muscle balance is very important. If you are strengthening your chest you also need to work on strengthening your back to balance your muscle groups.

Improving flexibility helps you maintain a correct posture and improves your range of motion. It allows for more subtle use of your aids by enhancing control over each part of your body, making it easier for you to apply the aids independently; and this become more important as we age.

So...... get on the exercise ball. The exercise ball will help you improve your balance, flexibility and strength and tone your abdominal muscles. Make sure you read the following beginners guide and have a ball that is right for your size and make sure you warm up first.

Sitting on an exercise ball

The act of just sitting on an exercise ball is active and requires your core body muscles to work to hold your body upright and balanced on the ball. Until sitting on the exercise ball feels comfortable, it is often a good idea to not fully inflate the ball - a slightly deflated exercise ball is more stable.

Sit in the center of the ball with both feet firmly on the ground about shoulder width apart. If this is difficult, then use a wider stance. Your knees should be in line over your ankles. Your shoulders should be in line over your body (not hunched forward) and your head squarely over your neck (not leaning forward).

You can easily sit on the exercise ball while working at your desk or computer workstation and use it as an alternative to a traditional office chair. Some people prefer to sit on it while watching television. Whatever tyou prefer, just sitting on an exercise ball at some point during the day helps to strengthen the core muscles that support your spine.

Beginning exercise ball stretches

There are several stretches that are easy to do when starting to use an exercise ball. Importantly, these stretching exercises help with proprioception, or the sense of the position of parts of your body relative to the rest of your body, and with balance. Each of these stretches should be done slowly 8 to 12 times.

Move your hips from side-to-side. While sitting on the exercise ball and keeping your knees still, move your hips gently from side to side. Pause for a second at the end of each sideways movement to allow for a gentle stretch.

Move your hips from front-to-back. While keeping your knees still, place your hands on your knees and rotate your hips forward by tucking your buttocks under your pelvis, then push them out behind your pelvis. All motion should be limited to your hip area, not your knees or chest. Beginning exercise ball routines

The following two simple exercises are examples of how to use your exercise ball to help strengthen your stomach and low back muscles. They are simple to do and are gentle on your back. Each stretch should be done slowly 8 to 12 times.

Marching. While sitting on the exercise ball begin by lifting the heel of one foot off the floor, then go up onto your toe, eventually lifting your whole foot up. Hold for a second and then switch to the other side. Notice how much the stomach muscles have to contract to lift your foot off the floor.

Exercise ball squat. While standing with your feet shoulder width apart, place the exercise ball against a wall and align it with your lower back. Face away from the wall and lean back against it, pressing the ball between your lower back and the wall.

Keep your hips aligned with your shoulders. Move both feet out so they are slightly in front of your hips. Bend your knees slightly down, then up.

Start with a small movement and hold for one or two seconds in the down position and then the up position. Proceed slowly and do 10-12 repetitions.
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