Fitness for the weekend rider
Many of us spend our days & weeks working 8-5 then come Friday the weekend is here & hurrah it is pony time! For those of us who are what I would call “weekend warriors”, we spend the weeks working hard to earn a living so that then at the weekends we can afford to be able to do our love of horses & go out competing & be competitive.
In some respects being the weekend competitor makes it much harder than someone who rides full time & competes for a living. You only ride a few times a week where you can. You’ve got your 1 or 2 horses & only a handful of opportunities to do well, get placed & if that is something you’re aiming to achieve qualifications for certain shows. Your own fitness & performance should therefore be a big consideration if you’re wanting to compete at your best.
The last thing you want at the weekends is to be lacking energy or not feeling strong enough halfway round XC & letting your horse down, is it? We all know just how expensive going to a show is these days; by the time you’ve entered, filled the lorry up, paid a groom or roped in a helper let alone been up since 3am it quickly adds up. So you want to make sure that your 50% of the partnership (that's you!) is primed & ready to go out & ride to the best of your ability.
A question I am often asked is how many times a week should I be training? The answer is well that depends!
It depends on what level & discipline you compete at & what your goals are for both your riding & your own fitness. The higher the level you’re competing at then the fitter you should be for sure. Having the fitness to go around Badminton cross country & ride effectively is very different from completing a BE90 without feeling out of puff. Equally, if you want to be running 5k at the weekends then you will need to have a higher level of fitness compared to someone who just wants to ride.
You want to be exercising for the right reasons too. Yes of course you want to exercise to compete & ride better but ultimately it's about living a healthier life, having more energy day to day, having longevity in your health & life so you can live life as you want & do all the physical things you wish. This is where you need to connect with;
EVERYONE HAS A REASON TO EXERCISE; whether that is to improve your core to do sitting trot better or being able to be fit enough to run alongside your child on the lead rein at camp. Take some time to have a think about your why, connect with the real reason why this is important to you & why you want to achieve this goal. Then make a plan & structure around your why which will lead you to achieve the goal.
Whilst deciding what fitness & exercise to do many riders become rather confused as to what they should be doing! The important thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong as such & doing something is better than nothing. As long as what you are doing is safe, it is progressively increasing your strength & fitness, gets you results, will benefit your riding & you enjoy then that is the key.
You want to be incorporating both strength & cardiovascular training into your routine, just make sure it is specific to your discipline & the goals you’re working towards. Being muscularly strong is incredibly important but don’t forget how important having the aerobic capacity & endurance fitness is for your riding. I would suggest you aim to train somewhere between 3-5 times a week, mainly focusing on strength within these sessions but you can include finishing elements that challenge your cardio system at the end to get that metabolic effect & aerobic response in.
Adding in a high-intensity interval to finish will get your heart rate up, challenge your strength & get your lungs working building your aerobic capacity & teaching your body to handle fatigue as it does say towards the end of a cross country horse or run. Adding in a quick 6-10 minute HIIT finisher is a great time effective way to hit all these areas at the end of your session & make sure that the time you spend working out hits all elements of your fitness including strength & cardio!
Even though you might ride 5 days a week & feel “riding fit” it’s important you take some time & prioritise working on yourself out of the saddle. When you’re riding you mainly focus on the horse as opposed to you, so it is easy to pick up some bad habits & dysfunctional movement due to the way you normally ride & sit.
For instance, if you have a more dominant side of your body doing some work off horse would hugely help you to even out that imbalance side to side which in turn will get you sitting more even & balanced & help to make you feel like you’re riding more effectively. Your body also adapts to specific imposed demands, so if you ride all the time your body will become accustomed to this so it is important to find other ways to challenge your strength & fitness. In the fitness space, this is where progressive overload becomes a key factor in getting results!
The last thing you want to be doing at weekends is going out & feeling knackered after a long day riding or at a show so getting yourself as physically fit & strong as you can so you feel your best is essential!
The more you train & the fitter you feel the more energy you’re going to have & a higher workload you’ll be able to handle & this is so important if you want to go out & enjoy your weekends not be knackered after an early start on show day! I remember when I competed around grooming I was knackered at the end of the day & I had a very strong horse who I competed around work & I wasn’t strong enough when it came to riding one at the weekends & I definitely didn’t ride to my best. If I had the physical strength I have now it wouldn’t even be a bother as I am so much stronger & fitter!
Your diet should also be a consideration, if you want to be going out & performing at your best then you need to think about how you’re fuelling your body. Remember what you put in your body is what you get out. Make sure prep competition days you eat well & have a good dinner so your body is full of glucose & has the energy it needs! I wrote a blog all about competition nutrition so you can find that here!
Remember it’s the same as your horse you wouldn’t expect him to go well at the weekend at a show if he’d stood in the box all week & done nothing & the same applies for you! Doing something is better than nothing always & it is only going to benefit both you & your horse. The smallest things can make a big difference to your riding so use what time you have & make your training fun & beneficial to your riding so come weekends you are the strongest & fittest rider there!
Good luck & I hope this gives you some direction with your training!