Core……Set Training

In proper medical anatomical terms the “Core” isn’t really a thing. However it is a term that most riders recognise as a thing, and if you ask them where it is they will usually point at their abdominals. 

If that’s you, you’re not wrong! The abdominals are very much a part of what we would call the core. However it also emcompasses other muscles around the waist and back too. So really the core is a wrap around of muscles kind of like……..a Corset! Ponders whether that’s where the term came from?

That is why just doing a bunch of sit ups won’t fully strengthen your “Core.” You’ve got to Strengthen the sides and back too! 

Then to have it fit to ride you want it pliable, able to move , absorb force without becoming stiff and able to maintain stability whilst the limbs move independently of it. 

This is why with my Weight lifting clients rarely do any traditional looking Core training. We do full body exercises such as the Barbell Squat and Deadlift which require stability of the torso whilst moving limbs under a load. 

When we do “Core” work without equipment such as in my Classes or Online Programme we will mostly do them with movement of the torso or the limb; or sometimes both. 

Here’s some examples of my core stability training whilst moving limbs. Bird dogs -regular and lifted, Deadbugs - Regular and Double.Mountain Climber Straight and Across, Side Plank Lift and Leg Lift.

 

Why Yoga?

Why is Yoga beneficial for riders?

Yoga is great for :

Switching your brain off, unwinding and relaxing. Let’s be honest horses can be stressful. Add into that work, families etc and it can sometimes all be a bit overwhelming. Taking some time to switch off can be hugely beneficial to your mental well being and resilience. 

It can teach you to focus on both stillness and precise movement of your body. Being able to switch off and fully focus is a huge asset to your riding and Yoga is a great way of practicing that whilst tuning in to how your body reacts to signals from your brain and different movement patterns. If you can fine tune this off horse it will be a whole lot easier on horse. 

You learn to recognise your own movement patterns and asymmetries and can work to improve them. If you don’t know what your body is doing when you ride you have no way of correcting it. If you don’t know your left is different from your right you won’t take steps to improve it. Recognising these things in Yoga means your both feeling and addressing them ready to put into practice when you ride. 

Yoga combines mobility, flexibility and stability. Which are all required not only to be a good rider but also to help prevent injuries and make you feel good day to day. 

I utilise Yoga with my 121 clients, in my classes and we do a weekly yoga session in my online programme. 

 

Marginal Gains

There is a phrase used in Triathlon “marginal gains”

Basically if the right tri suit, helmet, bike frame, trainers etc made you even the tiniest percentage faster you do it because that’s a marginal gain and added to all the other marginal gains will hopefully give you some big gains overall.

Riding is similar in that respect.

Dressage competitions can be won and lost on the smallest of percentage. There could be a huge difference in your placings for getting an 8 or 9 for certain movements so those little extra marks -those marginal gains can make all the difference.

Jumping is the same.If you’re against the clock the smallest second or the tiniest rattle of a fence can win or lose a competition. If being able to ride a tighter line knocks of a second thats a marginal gain that could make a difference.

Most of us are on board with the idea of making tack choices to make our horses just that tiny bit more comfortable, able to move better etc. They’ll have physio, massage pads etc all with the view to helping them perform even the tiniest bit better.

Perhaps you’ve even looked at the difference your boots, gloves breeches etc make to your performance.

What about your own personal performance? 

How many marginal gains do you think you could add if your reactions where faster, if your aids where a little sharper or you were a smidge more symmetrical?

That’s where I come in. 

I’m not really known for massive transformations with my clients. It really is about the marginal gains. 

It’s about being a little more symmetrical in your left and right hips.

Being a little more stable in your lower leg.

Having a little more control of your upper body over a fence.

Being able to rebalance quicker if it gets a bit messy.

These are the things I help my clients with in their off horse training. We do exercises to make them aware of and improve their symmetry. We improve their reactions, stability and control with off horse training alongside some tips and tricks for in the saddle.

These things are difficult to quantify with data, and often difficult to see as a before and after. Its just chipping away making tiny improvements along the way all adding up to bigger improvements over time. 

When you then take all these little improvements to a competition its a series of marginal gains that hopefully add up to marginally better score. That could be 2nd to 1st or it could be just a bit less rubbish than last time, wherever you’re at it means you’re inching forward bit by bit. 

What do you struggle with that with work could be a marginal gain?

 

Pain in the Back?

Back pain and related issues such as hip pain and sciatica are something I see a lot in the riders I work with. It’s something I’ve studied, dealt with in my own body and something I have worked with many clients on-riders and non riders alike.

It’s a complex issue and can be multi factorial so I’m not going say I have all the answers for you. All of my clients have been different in their journeys. Some are non specific back pain clients who just need some guidance and hand holding finding what works for them , some are hoping to avoid surgery and some are post surgery. 

What I find super interesting is the attitudes around back pain with riders. Often someone will still be riding, maybe mucking out etc….but they’re worried an hours supervised exercise with a professional is going to harm them? I can assure you I’d have to go seriously out of my way to actually do that if you’re already managing all that! 

Of course you might have some muscle soreness afterwards but that’s completely normal after any exercise, ask a high level athlete if they get sore after training sessions despite being super fit and they’ll say “heck yeh”. Often part of my job is just reassuring people that discomfort, pain etc is normal and in most cases not a sign of extensive damage. 

Anyway back to the helpful stuff. 

Any Dr worth his certs will tell you that exercise can help manage back pain. However where you start with exercise is the really important bit. As is trial and error. 

Strengthening the muscles around the hips (glutes etc…) and the muscles of the back (you’ll have probably included the rest of the body by doing this so you will have balance) can help but it’s important you start small and focus on good form. This could be Pilates or it could be more traditional resistance training-I tend to do a hybrid with my clients depending on their needs.

For some people Yoga really helps -it’s how I started my fitness journey from back pain so I’m definitely a believer in it’s magic. 

With Yoga I think the physical is as important as the mental, as your emotional state can have an influence on your pain levels and I think Yoga can be a great tool for this. For me and some of my clients doing a flow style yoga switches off the brain, calms the mind and therefore brings with it some relief in pain levels. 

As I said back pain can be multi factorial so you’ve looked at exercise, then your mental well-being so now let’s look at how your day to day movement patterns look.

You could exercise every day but if you then spent the rest of the day either stationary or in a variety of poor postures and repetitive movement patterns that hour isn’t going to undo that.

 The body likes movement, and being stationary even if you held yourself in a “perfect posture “ sat at a desk all day it wouldn’t negate the need for regular movement. On the flip side if you muck out 10 stables all the same way that’s a constant overuse of one set of muscles so is equally not ideal. 

Ask yourself how much time you spend moving each day. If you’re stationary at your desk most of the day try adding in some stretches to open your chest up, do some left to right rotations and stand up or walk around for periods to break up the sitting. 

If you’re fairly active ask yourself what repetitive patterns you do that may not be helpful and see if you can possibly adapt them. If not,  add in some movement the opposite way to help regain some balance. 

Like I said it’s multi factorial so there’s no one size fits all fix, it’s just looking at the obvious factors like daily movement patterns, physical fitness and mental well-being and finding what works for you in those areas. 

It’s understanding that there may be set backs, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t working or that you should give up.

If you’re struggling then working with a professional like myself or a Sports Physio can give you the confidence you need to make progress. I know you’d make that kind of investment if your horse needed it so give yourself the same treatment and know that in doing so you’re more likely to still be riding your horse for years to come.

 

Ride strong right to the finish

On Sunday I did a workout with a friend that we finished with a short run interspersed with a couple of exercises. 

The aim wasn’t to do it as fast as we could but to do it with enough effort to be tired but be able to maintain form throughout.

We did a ½ mile run then 10 press ups and a 30 second plank, repeated x 3. 

This helps to improve both cardio endurance and muscular endurance. 

This style of training is especially useful if you are an Eventer. During a cross country round you need to be able to maintain your breathing and your stability throughout. 

If you start struggling for breath it will affect your concentration and decision making skills-not helpful when you’re in the thick of it!

If your muscles tire after a short time you won’t be riding well right up to the finish. This affects yours and your horses performance as well as potentially increasing your risk of a fall. 

This is why I emphasise the need to maintain form in this workout. To ride well right to the finish you need the endurance to be strong enough right to the line. Just having the lungs and stubbornness to get you through isn’t enough, you need your muscles to be strong enough to do their job too.

The workout doesn’t have to be complicated or involve equipment-mine didn’t. Just the basic principle of getting your heart rate up then performing some resistance moves with good form, repeated a few times. 

Here’s a couple of other examples using other cardio equipment if you were in the gym or had a skipping rope etc. You could add a slightly longer circuit on the end if you wanted, mix the exercises up and do anything from 3-6 rounds whatever feels right to you. 

Bike-Side Plank-mountain climber

Row 200m -Plank up downs-Side Lunges

Skip 2 minutes-Squat-Press Up

Quantum Woo Woo for Riding

As part of my groundwork with my new Fell pony Gwydion I’ve been doing some breathing exercises. Gwydion has a tendency to hold his breath and then when he can’t contain it anymore he has a little “tantrum”. He’s not being naughty he’s just anxious about the changes that have occurred in his life this past few months. So when I sense him stop breathing I stop and face him then I start to breathe more purposefully. I take a deep breath in for a count of 4 then out for 8, directing that out breath towards his nose. On that out breath he finally releases his breath and starts to calm and breathe again. (Don’t ask me why I started doing this, I just followed my gut instinct at the time!) 

I think breathing is such an underrated part of working with and riding horses. Without this going too woo woo, breathing patterns have the power to change the energy within us and around us (it’s quantum physics stuff if you need the science). 

I can feel the energy between me and Gwyd change when he stops breathing and I imagine it’s the same for him if I do. This creates tension in him which he then has to release in his little display of head flinging that follows. If I stop breathing properly, I get tense and then potentially overreact to a situation I.e. When it gets too much I release the tension with a little tantrum. 

If you’ve ever heard the saying “Your horse is your mirror” I think I’ve just highlighted mine and Gwyd’s similarities right there…….

Whether you’re on the ground or on board the principles stay the same. 

Your breath has the power to change your energy and therefore your body and how it feels and functions. If you don’t breathe deeply and fully whilst riding you will feel tense, your body will not move freely or fluidly and that tension will transfer to your horse. Which means he will feel tense and won’t move freely or fluidly. 

Practice breathing with movement off horse with things like Yoga and Pilates-Weightlifting also has a breathing practice. 

When you’re working your horse either on board or on the ground notice how you breathe. Are you taking full breaths and really using your diaphragm. Is your horse? 

Try the pattern I used above of in for 4 and out for 8 and see if you can feel yourself change and then maybe your horse. 

Also next time your ride or groundwork isn’t going to plan check into your breathing pattern and see if you can make some changes there and then try again. -Let me know what happens…….

 

Tweak Your Training

Whilst there are some fitness fundamentals that should be the focus of your programme there will be some areas that need tailoring to you.

Maybe now you’re back out competing you’ve noticed there are still a few areas for improvement.

There are things in competition that you just can’t prepare for at home.

Firstly, there is the excitement and nerves on the day. How you deal with this mentally can have an affect on you physically.

Shallow breathing as a result of nerves means you aren’t sending enough Oxygen to your brain to enable it to focus or your muscles to provide them with power.

If this is you maybe add a breathing focus into your training. Adding a breathing cue to movement can make it a more natural thing for you to do in moments when you aren’t fully focusing on it. Yoga, Pilates and Weightlifting have a coached breathing element to it.

Perhaps you noticed that your body wasn’t up to the extra effort you put in on competition day.

You rode the round of your life but you finished it breathing harder than expected. You may be already doing cardio sessions but could you change them up a bit if you feel like you still weren’t fit enough to perform at your absolute best.

If you’re running or cycling for example you could try training at Threshold pace. There are formulas etc for calculating this if you’re using heart rate monitors but in it’s basic form its training at a pace that’s just harder than your regular pace but not so hard you can’t sustain it. Basically it feels really, really hard! Or you could try interval training-short bursts of high efforts followed by a short rest period. These can be done for set timed efforts or more sporadically if you are outside and just run/cycle faster then slower between different points.

Maybe you lost power in your legs and core so weren’t riding as well as you could for the full round. You need to work on your muscular strength and endurance. This could be adding more volume to your weight training sessions; maybe adding in some isometric work or time under tension training. In simple terms increasing the length of time the muscle is contracting during the exercise.

If you’d like some help with tweaking your training I’ve got space for 121 in person and Zoom training.

Competition Planning

The competition season has finally started, at least in part anyway. 

Athletes in sports like Triathlon have fitness programmes that build them up to peak fitness just before the event and then they may have a taper leading up to it so they are fit but well rested for competition day.

Of course sports like football, rugby etc similar to equestrian sports run across a season with one or two events per week. This means tapering isn’t an option-nor is it necessary. However their training may be scheduled and planned according to the competitions. 

For example a heavy training session wouldn’t happen the day before a game. You wouldn’t have a heavy x country schooling session the day before your ODE because your horse would be tired.

The same should apply to you.

Leading up to a weekend competition you may do a mid week heavier workout then the day before some mobilising, activation and general preparation. 

Then post event some stretching and relaxation before training harder a day or so later.

This enables your body to “peak” on the day so all your hard work pays off.

You’re aiming for your body to feel strong and limber on the day, then recover well ready to get back to training a day or so later.

If you plan your own training as well as you plan your horses training you will both be ready to perform at your best on competition day.

Seriously, you can learn it on a Space Hopper

Last week you may have seen my clients hopping around and even over poles on a Space Hopper.

Of course this looked like lots of fun and like we were just messing about. It’s actually a tougher cardio workout than you realise!

However there were some serious lessons being learnt here. Most notably in relation to your internal spring.

When an advanced rider asks for more collection, extension, impulsion even a half halt it can be almost invisible to the rest of us. If asked they might say something like they used their seat, maybe their core ……..but your brain still asks “but how?”

Now the answer is via a serious of muscle contractions and relaxations both from your abdominals, your back, your glutes…….yeh I know “how?”

The thing is its quite a big combination of things going on that unless you can actually narrow all those finite movements down it’s not really a learnable thing by directing muscle contractions.

Enter the Space Hopper!

Bouncing on a Space Hopper gives you feedback on your internal spring system. If you bounce from your middle rather than your legs you can feel how much higher you can go with less effort.

You can feel what it takes to absorb the movement of the hopper (or your horse) underneath you whilst remaining balanced and without tension.

You can play around with height (Collection), distance and speed (extension) and then when you’ve got the hang of it try upwards and downwards transitions and half halts. It sounds really silly and kind of wishy washy to say to just think it, try playing around with taking a breath using more or less tension in your middle and glutes. See what a different feel it gives you. Which is exactly why it works! You can play around with it and the space hopper will give you a different feeling.

You can do most of this with a regular gym ball you just might struggle to move forward -it’s not impossible just tricky without the handles!

I’d love to know if you give this a try and see what you can discover about how your body can affect your horse.

 

I bet your horse eats better than you ……..

Most riders will give lots of thought into their horses diet, researching different products perhaps even seeking advice from a nutritionist. 

Yet when I speak to the riders about their own diet, they are usually running on caffeine and chocolate! 

This leaves them:

  • Lacking Energy 
  • Constantly tired
  • Feeling weak
  • Aching muscles 
  • Not getting enough nutrition to enable their bodies repair and recover
  • Struggling to focus

Riding and looking after horses is physical work.

if you have a desk job, one horse on full livery so it’s just the riding element you’re doing, that takes less fuel than someone who mucks out a couple of stables, carries buckets and feed etc. Then there’s the professional who possibly rides for several hours a day and still will do some yard work. 

Whichever situation is yours it’s still up to you to fuel yourself properly to keep up your end of the partnership with your horse. If you lack the energy to use your body effectively and to think clearly your horse isn’t going to be able to perform at his best.

I get that we can be super busy people and it’s just easy to grab bars of chocolate or packets of crisp, drink another coffee for some energy but it’s not helping your performance and it’s definitely not helping your health. 

So instead of viewing eating well as an all encompassing thing taking hours of your time preparing absolutely everything from scratch; make it easy for yourself. Do a little cheating and just aim to make better choices rather than perfect choices.

Think about including a protein source in every meal-lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, legumes or beans.

Then add either fruit (most commonly at breakfast) or vegetables at every meal and that’s a really solid foundation. 

Then you can add your starchy carbs -oats, rice, pasta, potatoes, bread as necessary. 

Yes you can still have a little treat just not at all meals all day. 

I promise you will feel and perform heaps better with proper fuel.

Here’s some of the stuff I do to make healthy eating a little easier.

 

  • I buy pre prepared soup for lunch so I just have to heat it up.
  • I have a fortnightly fruit box delivery on subscription so I always have healthy snacks. 
  • I pour oats and milk into a microwaveable tub and take breakfast with me to eat mid morning as I don’t tend to fancy it or have time first thing. You could do this with granola and yoghurt or make a smoothie or protein shake……..buy it pre made if you want to!
  • Pre prepare- make breakfast and lunch the night before. You could batch cook mid week meals and make all your lunches etc in one go. Tupperware is your friend! 
  • Scrambled eggs on toast is an excellent fast meal. Packet rice, cooked chicken, whatever it takes to save time and still eat healthy meals.
  • Drink more water.
  • Swap some of your caffeine for herbal tea. There are zillions of flavours so just experiment to find some you like.
  • Plan when you’re going to eat if you have packed days. I have to do this to fit it in around clients, making sure I know I may have to eat lunch earlier or later, or if I’m recording online workouts to do them earlier so I can eat breakfast afterwards otherwise I’d be too full! 

 

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