5 TOP TIPS FOR EQUESTRIANS TO IMPROVE FITNESS & PERFORMANCE
Guest Blog by Coach Sando Training
Strength-training, conditioning, nutrition, cardio, weights, stretching, workout routines – are you feeling overwhelmed just reading that list? There’s a TON of information out there on “do this – not that” when it comes to fitness and performance. It can be hard to even know where to start! Or even to know what it all means! But have no fear - I’m here to break it down into some bite size pieces that can help get you get going in the right direction.
Here are the top 5 tips to improving your fitness AND riding performance. Buckle up!
1. If your horse needs to warm-up - so do YOU!
· Having a pre-ride warm-up is beneficial for a lot of reasons. A warm-up will:
- Start to increase your core temperature
- Help to prevent injury
- Prepare your muscles for movement and increases their “tone”
- Increase your respiration rate
- Prepare your mind for training
· When you take your muscles through their full range of motion in a warm-up, it provides your joints fluid to prepare them for activity. Joints don’t receive direct blood flow like muscles do. Joints need to be prepped! By getting your joints the fluid they need you’re going to increase flexibility and range of motion.
· Last but not least?! A warm-up primes your central nervous system for activity. It gets your brain to tell your body – “Hey! We’re about to get going, so let’s be sharp out there!” A proverbial pep talk (if you will).
Can you see why it’s so important to warm up? Not only will it help keep you safe, but it’s also a great time to take inventory of how your muscles feel and measure the level of energy you have.
2. If you really want to improve your riding performance - train to acquire TOOLS not TONE.
I know what you’re thinking. “Coach Sando, what does that even mean?!”
· Well when you start to “work out” or “train”, the most important thing to consider is the why.
- Is it just to lose a couple of pounds?
- Is it so you can relieve some stress?
- Do you want to improve your over-all health?
Those are all good reasons, but if your goal is to improve performance? Then you need to make sure your training program is designed for that.
· As a strength and conditioning coach - I believe the best way to train riders is to focus on the muscles and the mind. We stimulate muscles through “stress” (like weight training) to get your muscles to change. And we train the mind to overcome adversity (from a physical perspective). As your muscle and mind get stronger, we want to make sure this new strength can be carried over to be used in your riding.
· Everyone is going to start at a different level of training. You don’t want to skip steps and start by doing something too intense for you. Start slow and build up your training level. The goal is just to start! And if you don’t know how to start? This is where a coach can come in handy. Sometimes you “don’t know what you don’t know”, and that’s ok! Coaches go to school and have many years of experience to help guide you. It’s what we’re here for 😊.
· If you’re not working with someone yet – make sure you are only performing exercises that you’re comfortable doing. And pick exercises that will help improve your strength and impact your riding.
- For example, many riders have lower body imbalances (which means one side of your body is stronger than the other). If that’s the case for you? You need to do a lot of single leg exercises. I have a ton of videos on my Instagram page (@coachsandotraining) that show single leg exercises to help imbalances. Check them out and (pro tip!) save them on your phone for when you’re training.
· Another pro tip? Focus on execution! In my experience, concentrating on your form/how you do exercises will help you to transfer your new strength and skills over to the saddle. You’ll have the tools you need to adjust to coaching cues faster and have a better “mind to muscle” connection.
Where’s a good place to start with all this? Here’s a basic exercise you can do to improve your lower body strength and coordination:
And again – check out my Instagram page for all the exercise ideas you need!
3. Protect your brain by strengthening your NECK. (This tip is more for your safety than fitness)
· We know Eventing is one of the most dangerous equestrian sports. One of the things you can work on to help lower the risk of injury is by strengthening your neck. Strengthening your neck will help:
- Reduce the likelihood of concussions
- Your performance by improving the range of motion in your neck
- Build confidence by knowing you have the strength in your neck to help protect you
· Here are the stretches and exercises you need to build neck strength
· **(link to concussion guide)**
4. Build up your engine by working on your conditioning (which is what most people associate with the word “cardio”)
· The goal of conditioning is to improve your ability to work/ride/workout at a high level for a sustained amount of time. How do you do that?
- You have to build your engine up like horses do - by hacking! So what’s the equivalent of hacking for humans? If you guessed “walking”, you’re right! Walking to reach a specific heart rate has been proven to improve your ability to handle high intensity work AND aid in muscle recovery.
- When you walk to recover – you’re helping to circulate your blood (filled with all types of nutrients) to all your muscles. This also helps to remove the toxins in your muscles that you’ll get from training.
· Another benefit of walking? It helps to relieve stress! Going on long walks will help to calm down your brain. It will also help to bring your nervous system down to a level where it can relax. Once you’re relaxed? THEN your body can recover effectively. Stress goes down (yay!) and overall performance increases (double yay!).
· Once your engine is built up by walking? Now you have a great foundation to start your high intensity training (like running/sprinting or group circuit training like Orange Theory). You wouldn’t just start galloping your horse without building up his/her conditioning first, would you? Same goes for you - build up your work load!
· How do you get started? Go on a long walk (at least 20 to 30 minutes) 2-3 times a week. Get your heart rate up to a range that is of 50-60% of your maximum heart rate (see graph below). Use a watch so you can tract your heart rate during your walks. You’ll probably notice you need to walk faster than a normal pace to get up to the heart rate range you want.
5. Hydrate by drinking lots and lots of (you guessed it) WATER.
· We are made up of around 70% water. So it’s extremely important we stay hydrated to function properly. Now what does it mean to “function properly”? I’m so glad you asked!
- So many processes in our body depend on water. Everything from weight loss to the ability to focus depends on being properly hydrated.
- If you’re recovering from an injury? Trying to work off soreness? Drank too much wine at dinner? DRINK WATER.
· Drinking electrolytes is also an important piece of hydration. You’ll see bottled water at stores that show on the label they have electrolytes included or are alkaline. Those types of water are a great way to have the water AND get the minerals needed to be able to absorb the water.
· “But Coach! Right now I don’t drink much water.” No problem! Just start off slow.
- You can’t go from drinking a glass of water to a gallon of water a day. It takes time to get accustomed. If you’re only drinking 12 ounces of water a day, work on increasing that to 24 ounces a day. Once you have that down? Make another increase. The goal is to slowly increase the amount you drink without disrupting your day completely.
- Your first goal? Shoot for half your weight in ounces of water (Example: you weigh 160? You’re first goal should be 80 ounce of water every day). Once you hit that goal work on gradually getting close to your full body weight in ounces. Plan on increasing your water consumption once a week. This way your body has time to adjust.
· Do you hate water? Do you not have enough time to drink water? May sounds harsh, but we can all make adjustments to include things in our lives that have a high-level importance to us. Make it a priority!
- Have no time to drink? Carry a water bottle around. Buy one that you enjoy and get excited to use.
- Don’t like the taste of water? Try adding some of those flavor enhancers to start while you’re trying to get used to water.
· Where there’s a will – there’s a way!
If you hung in there with me for all 5 tips – nice work! And if you noticed any sort of theme? It was probably START SLOW. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and habits take time to form and change. Be patient with yourself – especially during these extraordinary times.
Following each one of these tips may take some time, but as you work on each one you’ll start feeling better both on and off your horse. If you have any questions about what we covered or would like more guidance - please feel to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.coachsandotraining.com . Remember? That’s what I’m here for!