Is running good for Equestrians?
A really interesting topic;
“Should you be running to help your riding & if so is it good for you as a horse rider?”
So many people tell me that part of their fitness regime as a rider is running, the first question I ask when someone says they run is;
What are the reasons behind your running? Most of the time the response is because I thought I should, which I reply with;
“Do you actually enjoy running?”
I'm not going to lie 9/10 times most people say no, they don't enjoy it or they find it hurts. So my question would be why are you doing something you don't enjoy doing & that causes you pain?
For me, as a runner, I run because I love it & I enjoy testing my mental & physical strength and I love improving my long-distance running & racing. But if you don't enjoy it don't do it. So many people think they should be running but it is more of a case that they don't actually know what else they should or could be doing.
Ultimately whatever fitness & conditioning work you do off your horse you have to enjoy it otherwise long term you are just not going to stick with it. So that's the first part, now back to the question.
“Is running good for you as a rider?”
Cardio training is brilliant for riders, it trains your body & muscles to handle the physical demands of riding as well as being able to ride for longer & keep working without tiring or becoming fatigued. Cardio strengthens your muscles as well as improving your aerobic capacity which is super important for riders if you want to be able to get around a cross country course effectively without being knackered at the end. A well-conditioned rider will be able to perform better, recover faster, stay more injury-free & experience less fatigue. Therefore as you have better control over your own body you will then have more control over your horse & your performance will improve.
And running is a great way to get your cardio in! But like anything else running without a focus or a plan isn’t a good way to get your cardio in. Aimlessly running can potentially lead to an injury or you getting fed up & suffering from both mental and physical burnout.
Muscular imbalance is really important when it comes to running. For runners many injuries come from a muscular imbalance & one side or limb becoming overloaded when you run, trust me I’ve been there & doing your strength work initially is essential to make sure you don’t get injured. Injuries & pain will arise during running just as they do when you ride. If you correct your muscular imbalances & follow a sensible, progressive programme that focuses on increasing your effort & distance gradually overtime then running can be a fantastic tool to help improve your cardiovascular & endurance fitness, both of which are crucial components of all Equestrians fitness to improve performance.
If we suffer from imbalances during running, often these can be coming from your feet or your hips. If the muscles & bone structure around your hips can’t maintain pelvic stability then other muscles around the hips will compensate & try to help stabilise your pelvis. When this happens muscles can end up being used incorrectly & tightening especially your hip flexor, hamstring & glute muscles. The same with your feet, your calves often end up picking up injuries that are down to poor foot stability & balance. This tightening & incorrect use of muscles can lead to pain which often in running presents itself as knee & hip pain so it is essential to make sure you have the necessary strength before starting running.
Shoes are another huge part of running & staying injury-free. Your shoes should be effective at helping improve your running posture & suit your gait, the way you run the same way your horse moves. It’s the same as a farrier shoeing your horse, you need to find the right shoe for your foot. This doesn’t mean that the most cushioned, squishiest shoe is best for you. The best thing to do is to get your gait & stride analysed and then pick a shoe that suits & will help to improve your individual running style.
Before you start a running phase strength work should always be incorporated. As we discussed earlier strength training can help to address muscular imbalances but strength training will also help to improve both your muscular & bone strength which will keep you injury-free. Strengthening your hip muscles would be a brilliant place to start. Working on improving your glute, hamstring, core & hip flexor muscles to make them as strong as possible for your running.
Glutes bridges, hip hinges, lunges are all brilliant strengthening exercises that will compliment your running perfectly. If you pair a progressive running plan with a strength programme then you would be far better off rather than just going out and doing random runs hoping to stay injury-free.
Increasing your distance gradually is a really important point too, if you stick to increasing your overall weekly distance by 10% then this should be a good sweet spot to help you increase your fitness without overdoing it and potentially giving yourself an injury.
Running is good for you as an Equestrian, absolutely. It is a great form of cardiovascular training which is so important for all riders but it’s not the only way to get your cardio in & it is important to remember that.
Running does not suit everyone either so it is important to focus on you, rather than what you feel like you should be doing as you have seen others doing it. As well as implementing a strength training programme, a gait analysis at a running shop would be a great place to start. It can really help you to understand the biomechanics of your body & how you move when your running as well as giving you some clear direction of what you need to improve in your running style.
Starting low & slow and building up gradually over time is key with running and you’re always better starting a bit too easy than going too hard always. Unless your goal is to run an ultra marathon you don’t need to be running for hours or days on end. 2-3 short runs varying tempo, distance, effort levels per week would give you some brilliant adaptations to your aerobic fitness & you will find that your riding effort becomes easier & you find yourself handling fatigue much better & performing better.
Running is 100% good for horse riders but it’s important to remember its not the only good thing to do to help your fitness. If you need help constructing a sensible & safe running & strength training programme then feel free to get in contact. As a rider & a runner who has now completed 3 marathons, I understand the importance of good fitting shoes, incorporating an effective strength programme & slowly and gradually progressing your runs overtime to get the absolute best results, stay injury-free & be the best rider you can be.