Have you got the power?
In the second part of their series on tness for riders, writer and photographer DUSTY PERIN and sports physiotherapist STACEY LINGMAN examine the importance of strength and balance
In part two of a series, we take exercise out of the gym and into the stables
Last month we talked about stretching and exibility, and this month we are delving into the importance of strength and balance.
One common misconception is that riding is a whole body workout, but this not true! When you ride, the muscle groups used are always the same, whilst certain others don’t see any regular exercise.
And if you think stable chores will round out your full body workout, think again. A typical day involves lifting buckets, grooming, and moving a wheelbarrow, but it is not sustained activity. Let’s face it; you are not doing bicep curls with a full bucket of water for 15 reps or squatting deadlift sets with a full wheelbarrow!
ere is a di erence between daily activity and exercise. Exercise is a sustained activity, and when pushed to the maximum limits it becomes a workout. Stable chore activity is good (and certainly beats being sedentary), but without overall tness you are more susceptible to injury.
Our body is good at adapting to exercise, and will use the least amount of e ort to complete the task while conserving energy. You need to constantly change things up, or push the limits of weight or reps; otherwise your tness will not improve.
A rider with excellent strength and balance is an asset to their horse. e more control and power you have over all your muscles, especially the core, the better you will ride.
When you get fatigued, you impede the performance of your horse. A perfect example of this is when you’re out of shape and you get le behind going over a jump. ree things happen: you pull on the horse’s mouth, your weight isn’t over their withers, and you op down in the saddle near their kidneys. Do that enough times and your horse will start to have jump avoidance issues.
We have two major types of muscle bres within our bodies, known as slow and fast twitch.
Our slow twitch muscles are associated with strength and endurance like an Arabian. The fast twitch muscle bres give us strength with explosive power, similar to a thoroughbred horse.
In this article, we are concentrating on our fast twitch muscles. Don’t worry; you won’t look like a weightlifter afterwards, but you will develop the explosive power you need to stay with your horse over every jump and through every gait transition.
Physiotherapist Stacey Lingman knows a quite a bit about strength and balance. In addition to being a successful amateur natural bodybuilder, she spent eight years in the NZ Army reserves where good physical strength was a requirement.
Are there any simple tests we can do to see where we are in terms of our baseline balance and strength?
In physiotherapy, we use the balance error scoring system (BESS) which assesses postural steadiness. You could try an adapted version of this as follows:
Stand in bare feet, heel to toe with your dominant foot in front, with your hands on your hips for 30 seconds
Repeat the above, this time with eyes closed
Repeat a) and b); this time a one-legged stance on non-dominant foot. There is no pass or fail on this test. Instead, it gives you a good baseline measurement for your own balance and strength, so you can test to see if you are improving over time.
Strength is often measured by a one rep maximum (1RM); the amount of weight you could safely lift for one repetition. For example a female weightlifter, who weighs 60kg, performing a deadlift could quite comfortably manage a lift of 37kg. This is a different type of lift from picking up bags of feed and would require a gym environment.
A better way to test your strength is to use your own bodyweight, and perform as many press-ups and bodyweight squats as you can do to failure. This will give you a baseline of your current strength and show where you need improvement, upper body versus lower body.
What are the major areas we need to work to get a more balanced, wellrounded body strength?
Focus on core and lower abdominal muscles as well as good scapular control and head posture. As we get older, or we sit at a computer for long periods, we tend to bring ourselves into a forward-head posture with forward shoulders. We shorten our pectoral muscles, and can lose strength through our rhomboids, serratus anterior and rotator cuff.
I currently have a client who rides dressage and has had lower back pain. She noticed from the competition footage that she was sitting upright, but obviously not engaging her core.
Core strength is a major part of rider strength, stability, postural control and reducing injury.
To maintain a strong core and spine you could work on lower core exercises to activate the transverse abdominals, deep breathing exercises to engage those core muscles, and pelvic stabilisers as well.
To build strength are we better off to do more reps with lighter weights or fewer reps with heavier weights, and how do we determine what kilo weight to use?
The general rule of thumb is 8-10 reps for strength and 12-15 reps for endurance. If you are looking to build strength, aim for a weight that you could lift 10 times but by the last two reps you are struggling a little. Then repeat that for three sets. As you get stronger, increase the weight incrementally.
If we don’t have access to weights or a gym, are there other strength-building exercises we could do at the barn?
Press-ups, bodyweight squats, lunges, planks, side planks, resistance bands for hip abduction, burps and curl-ups. Just to give you a point of reference, when I was in the Army reserves, entry level fitness for women required 35 curl-ups and 8 press-ups.
How many days a week should we do strength training?
If you are riding consistently, I’d advise strength training three to four times a week. It needs to be achievable! Alternate your strength training days to give your body time for recovery and to build muscle.
The more control and power you have over all your muscles, especially the core, the better you will ride
BELOW Getting left behind is more likely to happen if you are unfit and fatigued BOTTOM An adapted version of the Balance Error Scoring System