I’ve definitely seen some mixed messages about exercise for riders. However one of my biggest bug bears is people saying strength training won’t help your riding.
Reasons are usually things like -
- Riding isn’t a strength based sport so it’s not relevant
- It will make you bulky
- It will make you tight and therefore unable to ride effectively
To be honest I think all of these comments are made by people who don’t understand strength training at all.
I agree that riding is not a strength based sport as if it were a case of a 60kg rider against 600kg horse of course the horse is going to win. However if the rider isn’t truly in control of their own 60kg they have even less chance of communicating what they want to their 600kg partner.
You need to be able to fully control your own body from top to bottom, then you need to be able to control it under load. That load may be the horse underneath you or it may be a weight you are lifting. The principles of neuromuscular connection are the same.
Lifting weights is highly unlikely to make you bulky. When you see people with big muscles I can assure you that has taken a serious amount of gym work (not just 1 or 2 sessions a week) alongside a proper nutrition programme designed to optimise muscle growth. Also as most of you reading this will be female we lack enough testosterone to build a huge amount of muscle.What it will do is give you that “toned” look so many of us are after.
It will make you tight. Well full disclosure sometimes after a training session you may be sore the next day or so. I try not to over do on this with my clients but it’s sometimes unavoidable. However if your muscles are sore the day after a workout that means they are adapting and building back stronger (they may not always be sore to be doing this). The best thing to do is just to keep moving gently through it and they will loosen off soon enough. The “tightness” is not permanent. As you keep up your training sessions the soreness should lessen.
So What will strength training do for your riding?
As mentioned if you become a master of your own body you will be able to control it better on a horse. The horse underneath you is a load placed on your body which is required to work with. If you have no idea how to control the muscles of your hips, shoulders etc. and get them to work together on the ground with a load I.e a weight then how can you expect them to do it on a horse?
A strong, mobile body is less prone to injury as it is more robust. A body that is able to control itself under load has a better chance of controlling itself in the event of an impact. Also as injury in equestrian sport is often unavoidable, a stronger body will recover better and more quickly than a weaker one. Proper rehabilitation from injuries can prevent asymmetries, pain issues and ongoing dysfunction that so many riders often just struggle on with. It’s also never too late to do this as I’ve worked with plenty of people who sustained injuries or had surgery years ago and have managed to improve on that area with corrective work.
Strength training can help you manage asymmetry, as working with weights can highlight asymmetry and you can then work towards correcting them with targeted training.
What I will say is any old lifting of weights won’t necessarily get the benefits you’re after. Of course I’m biased but I think working with or at least following and learning from a decent strength and conditioning coach will ensure you get the most out of your training.