Low Impact Exercises to Help Your Rider Fitness

Our fitness expert walks you through some low impact exercises to try, that can help you stay fit and limber for every ride.

We recently brought you an article centered around returning to exercise after time off or an injury. Now, let’s delve into some low impact exercises, that can help keep you fit for long rides, and being the best rider, you can be. We bring you these fitness tips from our expert, Kelly Altschwager.

These exercises can up your rider fitness game, and make you a stronger rider. Photo courtesy of Kelly A.

[Read the Previous Article Here]

Walk It Off

Walking is one of the most underrated forms of movement, especially in today’s day and age of increased commutes and drive time, computer time spent sitting, and an overall increase in more sedentary lifestyles. Owning horses tends to provide more activity if you are the sole caretaker or don’t board your horses or have full care boarding.

However, increasing your daily steps is a sure-fire way to improve physical and mental health, increase stamina and help you reach your goals without having to add prescribed cardio like running. Much like 1 hour of intense exercise a day does not negate a more sedentary lifestyle with a low step count… feeding, mucking stalls, also does not negate a more sedentary lifestyle outside of your daily chores and riding time. 

Get outside for a daily, 30-minute walk, or use a treadmill if the weather doesn’t allow for outdoor movement.

Give Yoga a Try

Yoga is another great low impact activity to improve flexibility, mobility, muscle health, and stamina. It can also improve mental health and reduce stress. Yoga also provides a great setting to focus on increasing your mind to muscle connection, which makes you more effective in the saddle.

It increases your ability to be able to better feel your horse beneath you, along with being better able to feel your own body position and where you may need to adjust throughout your ride. 

The importance of stretching in any exercise regime can’t be ignored, try these stretching techniques, here.

Strength Training

As a whole, strength training is considered a low impact exercise, however, when significant weight and intensity is present in training, it can strain joints a fair amount. It’s important to know your level/ability before starting, to ensure you are giving yourself the benefit of the doubt and not causing unnecessary strain.

This end-of-bench lying hamstring curl is a great way to incorporate non-traditional strength training. Photo courtesy of Kelly A.

Strength Training (Conventional)

The following exercises are great for strength training.

  • Body weight or goblet squats
  • Variations of lunges (walking, reverse, side)
  • Dumbbell deadlifts
  • Pushups
  • Planks and reverse planks
  • Birddogs.

All of these conventional low impact strength exercises require our legs and corset to engage one way or another which is incredibly important for riders. This is because our legs and trunk play a constant role in all maneuvers and for riding at all speeds.

When our corset is strong, our posture is automatically improved as it lifts our lungs and encourages us to be looking ahead, versus slumped and channeling our energy downward instead of forward. 

Strength Training (Unconventional)

These exercises were created by fitness expert, Kelly Altschwager, over the last 5 years alongside a physiotherapist. For unconventional strength training exercises, try these out:

  • Seated knee to elbow lifts
  • Reverse prayer
  • Reverse plank with leg sweep
  • Lying end of bench posterior chain curl
  • Side planks with half circle hip rotation
  • Elevated toe two-point triceps kickbacks.

[For More Information on Specific Exercises, Check Out Kelly’s Videos at Horse&Rider OnDemand]

Try this side plank with half circle hip rotation. Photo courtesy of Kelly A.

All of these non-conventional, low impact strength exercises require us to use multiple muscles at once, primarily our anterior (front) and posterior (back) chains of muscles. As riders, we are continuously utilizing chains of muscles versus isolating one muscle at a time to engage.

These exercises strengthen the muscles of each chain simultaneously, so once we are in the saddle, we are able to use them in more of a second nature fashion without having to think it through in the moment. 

Why Should You Try It?

Low impact strength training is a must for every rider of every level and discipline to maintain and increase strength, stability, balance, and body control in the saddle. It improves our ability to cue effectively and timely and communicate with our horse.

Competitively, it gives us a huge edge as you’re able to push you and your horse harder and more confidently in whatever discipline you compete in. You not only know but feel your ability through your increased strength and control in the saddle.

It also improves our spatial awareness and where our body is in conjunction to where it’s going and/or our next move. Beyond the benefits riders receive in saddle, the out of saddle benefits are just as numerous. 

These include:

  • Improved bone density (reducing risk of severe injury and broken bones)
  • Improved muscle recovery once a consistent routine is maintained.
  • Improved strength and performance in daily tasks.
  • Improved balance (also negates injury risk especially as we age).
  • Overall better technique/movement patterns.
  • Increased range of motion.
  • Increased body control/spatial awareness.
  • Decreased stress/Improved mental health.
  • Great for all levels beginners to advanced.

Strength Training Vs. Cardio

When it comes to strength training versus cardio for riders specifically, strength training is an absolute must. The aforementioned benefits are far too great miss out on in and out of the saddle. While this lifestyle is definitely physical in itself, we more often than not strain our bodies instead of strengthening them in our day-to-day tasks. Incorporating strength training automatically helps negate that strain and the all-too-common aches and pains. 

Cardio is important for heart health but isn’t necessary in terms of cardio endurance, depending on how intensely you strength train. It can absolutely be beneficial for cardio endurance done properly. If an individual has a specific cardio-based goal, it then becomes a must in terms of training. 

Kelly recommends all individuals focus on strength training, as well as increased daily steps and walking. From there, she recommends adding specific or prescribed cardio in, if needed or applicable to their personal goals OR just as important, if they enjoy it.

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