H&H’s 12 days of fitness: Strength and conditioning exercises for riders

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  • Whether you’re doing yard chores or gearing up to compete again, chartered physio Sarah Claridge recommends these strength and conditioning exercises to improve your fitness levels

    Here are some strength and conditioning exercises for horse riders. You can do them all at home, on the yard or in your garden – specialist equipment isn’t essential, so what are you waiting for?

    Take care: With any new form of exercise, your body needs to build up gradually to avoid strain. Seek the advice of a chartered physiotherapist if you are unsure if you should do any exercises due to underlying health conditions. Particular caution applies if you have any cartilage injuries in your knees or joint replacements; avoid the cardiovascular exercises if you have any unstable cardiac health problems, acute disc bulges/prolapses or referred leg pain, pins and needles, numbness, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, gynaecological conditions – or if you are pregnant or undergoing cancer treatment.


    Squat to hamstring stretch

    • 10 secs, 6 reps, 3 sets

    Stand tall with your feet wider than hip-width apart. Bend forward at the waist to grab your toes with your hands. Drop down into a deep squat, keeping your arms straight, elbows inside your knees, back flat, and chest up. While holding your toes, raise your hips back and straighten your knees until you feel a good stretch in the back of your legs. Reverse the movement pattern and return to the starting position.

    Sarah says: “This stretch increases flexibility for the back, hips and hamstrings. It’s a nice mobilisation and stretch for the hamstrings, to aid your ability to lengthen your leg down around your horse’s sides. Never force, only gently stretch. Do not go too low if you have had a hip replacement.”


    strength and conditioning for horse riders

    High knee & arm hops

    • 30 reps, 3 sets

    Stand up straight. Bring one knee up as high as you can in front of you while you hop forward on your standing leg. Simultaneously raise your opposite arm. Hop forward on your standing leg once more, landing with both feet.

    Upon landing, instantly repeat, leading with your other arm and leg. Continue to travel forward for the desired distance. Keep your torso upright and avoid twisting. Start with 30 seconds of high knee hops with a 20-second rest between sets. Then build up to 40 seconds skipping with a 20-second recovery break, three sets in total.

    Sarah says: “It helps build our cardiovascular fitness, chest and lung expansion, but also explosive power in the legs and arms is key for competitive riders. The single leg hop helps increase ankle stability and strength, which is useful for shorter stirrups in showjumping, as a jockey and in two-point seat canter.”


    strength and conditioning for horse riders

    Bicep curl to overhead press

    • 12 reps, 3 sets

    You will need: 2kg hand weights or suitable substitute.

    Stand with the weights in both hands. Keep your elbows close to your side as you bend the elbow, bringing the weights towards your shoulders.

    Continue this movement reaching the weights up to the ceiling in an overhead press. Reverse the movements to bring it back down to the start position. Notice how your hands rotate as you curl up.

    strength and conditioning for horse riders

    Sarah says: “Upper body strength is important for putting on tack, rugs and grooming our horses, alongside all the yard duties.

    “This is a simple exercise you can make harder by going heavier with the weights to suit your level of fitness. Make sure you engage your core during the exercise so as not to arch or lean back while performing the overhead press section.

    “To increase the difficulty, go up to 6-8kg weights in each arm, 6-8 reps, three sets. As the weight gets heavier the reps should get lower, as a general rule of thumb.”

    strength and conditioning for horse riders

    About Sarah: Chartered physiotherapist Sarah Claridge runs Meadow Physio and Pilates, specialising in rider strength and fitness. Visit meadowphysioandpilates.com for online classes and one-to-one sessions to help improve your body’s optimal performance. Follow on Instagram.

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