As riders, our training tends to be very sport-specific – hours in the saddle, sitting trot without stirrups. Equestrian sport isn’t easy to cross-train for; we use our legs and core in a very different way than many other sports, and employ short bursts of energy in the competition ring. It is therefore important to include some form of aerobic training in our regimen.

HIIT the mats

HIIT, or High-Intensity-Interval-Training, is getting a lot of attention in the scientific community for many reasons, the foremost being that is a great-bang-for-your-buck. It involves shorter, intense training bursts punctuated by small, active rest periods. In the equestrian world, it mimics those short, high-intensity bursts of energy that we need for competition.

HIIT training has also been shown to enhance fat burning as well as the consistency of muscle enzymes that promote this, and it provides excess post-exercise O2 consumption up to approx. two hours post-exercise, where the body is restoring itself to pre-exercise levels. It is a viable one-stop-shop for increasing fitness, quality of life, functional ability and fat loss.

Before starting a HIIT program, a medical screen is necessary for those who are sedentary, for smokers, or those with hypertension, diabetes, etc., and it may be necessary to establish a base level of fitness (20-60 min of challenging exercise 3-5 times per week) first.

Getting Started

The dosing recommendations are less specific in the literature, and are variable depending on age, gender, and baseline fitness, but general guidelines range from a 1:1 exercise:rest ratio to variables such as a 60-second effort, 15-second rest, 60-second effort, 4-minute rest. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 20 minutes, 3 times a week, consisting of 5-second to 8-minute long intense exercise at 80-95% maximum heart rate (HR) – a hard to very hard effort, with equal time recovery periods at 40% maximum HR (mild to moderate effort).

The maximum effort phase of the exercise can be tailored to your surroundings, equipment, and wishes. I’ve personally turned my long endurance runs into hill runs (HIIT): maximum effort for about a minute up the hill, rest and recovery as I jog down the other side; repeat.

Here is a sample exercise plan to incorporate 2-4 times into your week. The warmup combines muscle activation and dynamic mobility work specific to the intense exercise phase.

Warm up:
approx. 5 minutes, 3 sets each of:

• 20 cradle walking lunges
(10 per side) (Lunge figure 1-2)

• 10 no-jump burpees
(Burpee figure 1-6)

approx. 20 minutes.

• Find a hill that you can run up in 45 seconds to 1 minute at 90% effort (approximagely 150-250m). For the first session, aim for 3-4 sets of maximum effort run up, walk down, repeat.

• Cool down: walk 5 minutes to circulate blood flow and dissipate lactic acid