Dino Fretterd is one of those genius equine massage therapists who I was fortunate enough to be introduced to several years ago here on the West Coast. He has helped so many horses - mine and those of clients & associates, and we all rave about his work. He is a consummate horseman with an extraordinary knowledge of the anatomy of the horse.
What are some body weight only strength workouts for when there is no gym, but you want to do strength training?
I love looking up the official definition of words that I’m familiar with. I usually read the definition and think to myself: Yeah that’s what I thought. But sometimes I read the definition and think: Wow, that really nails it! The definition of the word strength really nailed it for me this time.
Merriam-Webster definition of strength: “capacity for exertion or endurance” and “power to resist force.”
If you can’t get to the gym, then I recommend focusing on doing exercises that will directly improve your riding fitness. You can use body weight strength training to directly improve your capacity for endurance and exertion, as well as your ability to resist force (the movement of the horse). There are so many great strength training exercises to be done at the gym (with weights), but if you’re looking to get something accomplished with just your body weight then I’d keep it simple. The exercises I recommend at the bottom of this article can’t be done too often, nor can they be perfected enough.
In riding, the main places in our bodies that need strength are our legs and our core. Our legs need to be strong enough to easily support us in a light seat without getting fatigued as we canter around a course. That requires strong yet flexible calves, very strong quadriceps, strong adductors, and stable hamstrings. Our core muscles need to hold our upper body in the horse’s center of gravity and be strong enough to follow with our “break” in the air over the jump. Then there’s that thing about keeping our shoulders back. We’ve all heard being said ringside, “Get your shoulders back!” The problem with that concept is that keeping your shoulders back only works while you’re consciously thinking about it. As soon as you take your mind off your shoulders they revert to their normal position. What really works to change the look and position of your upper body is to strengthen your core muscles. Then your ribcage will be lifted. With that your shoulders will go back on their own in relationship to your ribcage (core) being up. This position of core strength becomes your normal way of standing and riding. How great would that be?
So, let’s get to the exercises. My two favorite exercises for this are alternating planks (targeting your entire core, shoulders, arms, and pectoral muscles) and box squats (targeting your quadriceps, hamstrings and, glutes). Both exercises give you a stationary target point (i.e. the floor or the box and that helps you to keep each rep at maximum quality). You can adjust the difficulty by increasing or decreasing the hold time of your plank, or in the case of the box squat, use a lower box when you ready to progress. The box squat is such a great off-the-horse exercise to keep your legs strong and to practice the feeling of keeping your weight in your heels when you ride. If you lift your big toe just enough to feel the inside of your shoe while you squat, you will be practicing the exact feeling/position to keep your weight in your heels when you’re riding.
Alternating Plank: I recommend starting with 3-5 sets of 10 for the alternating plank. See how your soreness level is in about 24-48 hours and then decide to increase your sets accordingly.
Box Squats: Do 3-5 sets of 20 for the box squat. See how your soreness level is in about 24-48 hours and then decide to increase your sets accordingly.
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