Young riders, international grooms, and four-star professionals - Laura Crump Anderson has built her life around improving rider fitness. Her clientele includes NAYC silver medalist Haley Carspecken, Sharon White’s super groom Rachael Livermore, and four-star rider Jan Byyny. In the last article, Allison Springer shared her tips on the importance of exercise from a rider’s perspective. In this article, Laura Crump Anderson, an equestrian fitness specialist at Inform Fitness in Leesburg, Virginia, shares her years of experience related to rider fitness.
“The plank is the exercise that is the most effective for the rider in the shortest amount of time. It’s a full body workout that targets the riding muscles and there are so many different levels you can do with it, like the side plank. It also doesn’t require any equipment,” emphasized Anderson.
Any athlete can experience pain, soreness, or weakness, but what makes riding so hard on the human body is “the repetitive motion. It’s the constant repetitive motion that can lead to joint degradation. The same thing that your horse develops arthritis from are the things that are going to impact your joints.”
Dressage riders, eventers, foxhunters, and the weekend warriors, Anderson has noticed several differences in the disciplines. “For the event rider, ankle issues become a lot more severe than the dressage rider, where [for] dressage riders their issues tend to arise in the hips. But low back issues I see across the gamut – [for] jumper riders the landing is absorbed through their back, [in] dressage you’re constantly using your core, and everything done around the barn like lifting water buckets, picking stalls, etc. targets the lower back.”
Although riders might have strong lower backs, they are more prone to specific imbalances and weak areas. “Riders tend to be very weak in the chest muscles, think ‘the armpit muscles’ and in their hip abductors. Those two areas are the biggest imbalances I see,” explained Anderson. “Riders are strong in their upper back but weak in the chest area and have weak hip abductors but strong hip adductors.”
Wearing it as a badge of honor, some horse enthusiasts like to boast about the little amount of time they take off. Anderson explained that the mindset of “I haven’t taken a day off in four months” can be both mentally and physically damaging. Similarly aligned to Max Corcoran’s advice on how to properly condition horses in The Road to Recovery, rest is essential for recovery. “A lot of people go, go, go, and they don’t slow down. They don’t give their body enough rest and recovery that it needs. Take a day off. It’s not important - it’s necessary,” said Anderson.
Rest and recovery are such significant factors in exercise that it’s addressed the minute a new client steps into InForm Fitness. “The first question I ask any new client is, ‘Are you getting eight hours of sleep each night?’” Anderson continued, “It’s not a thing you think about, but it has such an impact on your body’s ability to repair.”
In order to maximize an exercise program tailored to the rider, Anderson is also a yoga instructor. However, when it comes to riding, she admitted, “The yoga piece is big, but I think strength training is bigger. Improving rider strength is not about increasing the aids used on the horse, but a strong rider is more capable of applying a subtle aid more accurately.”
“The fortunate part is that the amount of time it takes to build strength is much shorter than the amount of time it takes to increase flexibility,” said an optimistic Anderson. Two minutes or less is all it takes to build strength and it’s a proven fact. “Nintey seconds is the point of which it takes the muscle fiber to fatigue. But my number one focus is form, I’d rather have a client go for a lighter weight and longer time than one that shoots for the 90 seconds with poor form.”
Lastly, her number one tip to riders: stop running! “Don’t pound the pavement because it has such an impact on your knees and hips. Eventing is already a high impact sport, the sitting trot, the posting trot, the gallop - all of it is wear and tear on your joints. Cycling and swimming or anything that’s low impact I would recommend over running.”
If you have a unique fitness routine, the USEA wants to hear from you! Email [email protected] with your fitness stories, advice, and/or practices.
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