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H&H’s 12 days of fitness: plank exercises for riders of all levels


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  • In the last of this five-part fitness series, chartered physio Sarah Claridge suggests a variety-packed fitness routine, with a demanding plank exercise to round it off...

    This week’s fitness focus is plank exercises for horse riders. The side plank is key for working those crucial muscles that help your lateral work, controlling green horses and general yard chores. If you regularly try different planking exercises, you could be ready for the advanced exercise, while others may have to start planking from scratch. Whatever your fitness levels, it’s not too late to start now.

    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.

    Stretching

    piriformis stretch plank exercises for horse riders

    Piriformis stretch in sitting

    • 45 secs, 2 reps

    You will need: a chair

    Start in a seated position. Cross one leg to rest your ankle on the opposite knee. Apply gentle pressure to the knee as you lean forward, increasing the depth of the stretch. Hold this position, you should feel a comfortable tension with no pain.

    sleeping pigeon plank exercises for horse riders

    Sleeping pigeon pose

    • 45 secs, 2 reps

    You will need: an exercise mat. Don’t have one? Here are our favourites.

    Start on your hands and knees. Bring your right knee forward and get as much external rotation in your hip as you can. Lie your leg down on the mat and lower your chest down to the floor as far as you can.

    Sarah says: “The piriformis exercise stretches the buttock muscles while the pigeon pose is an advanced stretch for the gluteal and hip flexor muscles in the hips.

    “Both exercises should be comfortable to hold for 30-45 secs. These muscles can get tight when worked hard or if they are over-dominant. Stretches should help improve hip mobility and consequently your body’s ability to move with your horse in sync.”

    *Do not do this if you have a hip replacement or are very hypermobile in your hips. 

    Cardio

    running plank exercises for horse riders

    Running

    • 40 secs, 3 sets

    Consult with your therapist or GP on how long you can run and at what interval you can continue.

    Sarah says: “This could be a fast walk, moderate jog or fast sprint start with 30sec work, 30sec rest, building up to 40 sec work and 20 sec rest. It helps build cardiovascular fitness, increase chest and lung expansion, and boost the feel-good hormones, which are key to a healthy body and mind.”

    Strength – plank exercises for horse riders

    side plank knees plank exercises for horse riders

    Basic level – Side plank on knees

    • 10 secs, 6 reps, 3 sets

    You will need: an exercise mat. Don’t have one? Here are our favourites.

    Lie on your side and prop yourself up on your elbow, positioned under your shoulder. Bend your knees and lift your hips off the mat until you have a straight line from your knees to the top of your head.  Progress the hold time to 30-40 secs, 20 secs rest, three sets for further progression.

    side plank for horse riders

    Intermediate level – Side star

    • 10 secs, 6 reps, 3 sets

    You will need: an exercise mat. Don’t have one? Here are our favourites.

    Lie on your side and prop yourself up on your elbow, positioned under your shoulder. Bend your knees and lift your hips off the mat until you have a straight line from your knees to the top of your head. Holding this position, straighten your top leg, and lift it directly up towards the ceiling. Ensure this leg does not travel forwards. Control the movement as you lower the leg back down and then repeat. Progress the hold time to 30-40 secs, 20 secs rest, three sets for further progression.

    Advanced level – Side plank high elevation hip adduction

    • 10 secs, 6 reps, 3 sets

    You will need: a chair and an exercise mat. Don’t have one? Here are our favourites.

    This is a hard exercise and should be built up to gradually. Lie on your side with your top foot elevated on a chair. Your lower foot will be positioned on the floor. Place your lower forearm on the floor with your elbow under your shoulder.  Lift your hips off the floor until you have a straight line from your head to your ankles. Holding this position, lift the lower leg up and hold. Lower this leg back to the floor and repeat. Progress the hold time to 30-40 secs, 20 secs rest, three sets for further progression.

    Sarah says: “These three exercises, at different difficulty levels, help build strength and stability in the shoulder, abdominals and hip/pelvis. These are key for taking rugs and saddles on/off, lateral work, and keeping green horses on the straight.”

    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.

    Exercise mats

    When choosing which exercise or yoga mat to go for, there are two key elements to consider – grip and thickness.

    Grip is a combination of the materials the mat is made from and the surface design, such as bumps or ridges. Polyurethane is known for providing a particularly good grip, so look out for those made of this or have a polyurethane top layer. But most mats will offer a sufficient grip for the majority of activities.

    Thickness is important as a thick mat provides cushioning for your knees, elbows, hips, your tailbone and other potentially painful areas. Yoga mats usually range from 1–6mm, but general exercise mats can come thicker. You should opt for a thicker mat if you find harder floors to be uncomfortable on your knees or hips, while you should go for a thinner mat if you work out on carpet as thicker mats on carpet can make it difficult to balance.

    Here are some exercise mats worth considering

    Nyamba Comfort Fitness floor mat

    Nyamba Comfort Fitness floor mat

    RRP: £24.99 |

    This mat is 15mm thick – thicker than your average mat – so it will offer plenty of cushioning on a hard floor.

    View now at decathlon.co.uk

    Sporteon TPE Eco yoga mat

    Sporteon TPE Eco yoga mat

    RRP: £11.99 |

    This anti-tear, non-slip mat is eco-friendly, antibacterial and sweatproof.

    View now at amazon.co.uk

    Yogamatters Eco Rise yoga mat

    Yogamatters Eco Rise yoga mat

    RRP: £45 |

    Made from sustainably harvested natural tree rubber, this mat has a super grip.

    View now at amazon.co.uk

    Yoga-Mad Warrior Plus mat

    Yoga-Mad Warrior Plus mat

    RRP: £29.99 |

    This lightweight mat is 6mm thick and suitable for all sorts of home exercise.

    View now at amazon.co.uk

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