Strength, Fitness, and Endurance
© 2008 Cherry Hill ©
is a combination of balance, timing, agility, and maneuverability.
Since your nervous system is the last to respond to training, it may take years
to fine-tune your neuromuscular skills. That's one of the reasons why a smooth
performance is so greatly admired in top-notch riders - it takes time to develop!
Once you have developed riding skills, however, they are much easier to regain.
Like riding a bike, you never forget.
Practice is the most valuable way to improve your sense of timing, providing you
don't practice something so many times that it makes you sore or your horse hyper-anticipatory,
resentful, or sour. Imagine or anticipate the action just prior to a particular
movement in order to get your muscles ready. Use quiet verbal or mental preparatory
commands to help develop a sense of timing for the aids. Participation in active
companion sports will also increase your coordination and timing.
Be absolutely sure that you are practicing a component correctly because it will
become a habit whether it is right or wrong. If you ride incorrectly, you may
be faced with a very difficult and time-intensive relearning process. Many riders
have lamented, "I rode wrong for twenty years and am now trying to retrain
my body to ride correctly." It is much more difficult to change deeply ingrained
old habits than it is to learn correct ones the first time around.
is the toughness, strength, and soundness of your joints. The best way to become
a more durable rider is to ride more! As you are strengthening your knees and
ankles give them an occasional break by riding at a walk with your feet out of
the stirrups or get off and lead.
Chondroitin, MSM - they're not just for your horse!
Vet supply and drug store shelves are packed with glucosamine hydrochloride and
chondroitin sulfate supplements which claim the ability to repair joint cartilage
and/or slow degeneration. MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) is marketed as an anti-inflammatory
especially helpful in pain relief of soft tissue injury. While studies on the
effectiveness of these products have various conclusions, their margin of safety
is high. And first-hand testimonies abound from folks with previously frozen or
creaky joints who can now use their arms and knees in a full range of motion.
Such nutraceuticals may be well worth a personal look and test. (Note that some
folks have an allergy to shark cartilage which is the source of some MSM.)
is the ability of your body or a part of your body to apply a force. You can use
isometric exercises to increase strength of various muscles. Isometric exercises
consist of muscular contractions performed in a fixed, non-moving fashion. Isometrics
can be performed in almost any place for short periods of time, wearing everyday
street clothing. You can perform isometrics as you drive your car, work at a desk,
or wash dishes. An observer will probably not detect that you are exercising.
Breathing is especially important during
isometrics or blood pressure can rise, decreasing the flow of blood to your heart.
On the other hand, if you breathe excessively (hyperventilate) before you exercise,
and then hold your breath, you may faint.
Isometrics help you target specific muscle groups and strengthen them through
prolonged contractions. The abdominals, for example, which keep the lower back
and buttocks deep in the saddle, need to be strong. The abdominal contraction
required for riding is more of a pushing out rather than a sucking in.
To learn how to contract your abdominals without hollowing your back, place your
hands on your abdomen and press your muscles against your palms. Exhale as your
press your abdominals out and inhale as you relax the contraction. Once you have
identified the feeling of an abdominal contraction using your hands, you will
be able to perform this isometric exercise anywhere, any time.
To strengthen the inner and outer thighs, find an immovable object (the wall,
the side of a desk, a footstool, etc.) that you can place your knees or ankles
alongside. Then push outward to strengthen the outer thigh muscles and push inward
to strengthen the inner thigh muscles.
An ideal way to increase the strength of specific muscles is to follow a training
program using free weights and/or weighted resistance via a weight machine. Start
with minimal weights and concentrate on establishing good form before you add
more weight. Three 30-minute sessions per week will show great improvement in
4-6 weeks. Monitor your body's response carefully and make weight changes accordingly.
FITNESS AND ENDURANCE
is resistance to fatigue and the ability to recover quickly from fatigue. In order
to increase either muscular endurance or cardiopulmonary endurance, you must work
beyond your present level of endurance to experience the effect of progressive
overloading. Long, slow distance work develops a base for more intense conditioning.
Walking requires minimal equipment and is a safe form of exercise. Aim for at
least 20-30 minutes of brisk walking at least 3 times a week. Other alternatives
are stair stepping, aerobic exercise, treadmill, rowing machine and other companion
sports (see sidebar).
To increase your
fitness level so you're capable of handling high stress events, use interval training.
Interval training consists of brief work periods or "works" interspersed
with rest or light work. You might begin with ten minutes of standing in the stirrups
or trotting (either mounted or alongside your horse) followed by a five-minute
walk break, repeating for 45-60 minutes. Within two months you may have moved
up to an hour-and-a-half session with fifteen-minute lope and trot works and two-minute
breaks. With interval training you can increase your endurance potential by:
- increasing the number of works
increasing the length of the works
- increasing the
intensity of the works
- decreasing the number of
- decreasing the length of the rest
- performing the work in hot weather.
is an athletic pursuit that requires mental preparation, conditioning and skill
development. Whether you are learning to ride or getting back in the saddle, take
the time to prepare yourself for it so you can enjoy riding, the best activity
Read these other articles
in the Back In The Saddle series:
Part One: Evaluation
Part Two: Improvement