As we stare down a winter with limited access to gyms, it seemed appropriate to provide some training tips for strengthening you can do at home, specific to staying solid in the saddle.

This program is constructed to provide appropriate warm-up and to prioritize strength in core, legs and associated upper body muscles that help us to pilot our horses effectively.

Overview: Components of a good strength program include a warm-up, a system of progressive overload to increase tension and promote muscle building and repair, proper rest between sets and program days, and a cool down. Typically, endurance programs involve higher reps of lower weight, and strength programs work with high weight and lower reps. As a caveat, if you’re new to weightlifting, start with lower weight and higher reps to train proper form, before you start loading on weight.

For overall load volume, to increase strength, we’re going to work at 80% of 1RM for 4-6 reps per set, x 3 sets. If you’re starting out, begin with 8-10 reps and lower weight x 3 sets. Your 1RM is the max amount of weight you can lift (and still maintain correct form) for 1 repetition. Conversely, if you don’t want to find out your 1RM, you can warm up the exercise and progressively add weight until you feel challenged at your 5 rep weight and make that your working weight (or 5RM).

The program is broken into 3 days per week, with rest/ride days in between. Overall caveat: If you can’t maintain good form, or experience pain, you’re lifting too much weight. Our goal is to build strength, but it’s also to be able to do the next workout ie. avoid injury. Fun fact: the biggest predictor of injury is …… previous injury.

Warm up: Each exercise is preceded by a warm up, consisting of 2-3 sets of 5 reps of that exercise, starting with bodyweight or bar/light weight, and increasing with each set to working weight, to promote blood flow, oxygen uptake and mobility. Warm ups that deviate from this are mentioned separately below.

Day 1 – Lower Body

This day works glutes, hamstrings, quads and core.

Front squats – 3 sets x 4-6 reps at 80% 1RM

(Images supplied by Jamie Camp.)

Equipment: dumbbells, kettlebell, barbell, band

Rack weight onto shoulders, keeping elbows and chest high. If using a kettlebell, can hug it to chest.
Squat with feet shoulder width, keeping knees out slightly and sitting hips back to start movement. Squat hips below knees.

To adapt a band, loop band under feet and either hold band at chest or loop around back of neck

Deadlifts – 3 sets x 4-6 reps at 80% 1RM

Equipment: dumbbells, kettlebell, barbell, band

Start in a standing position, feet shoulder width apart. Keeping weight in outside of heels, chest up, soften knees and hinge at the hip, sending hips back so the weight ends up right in front of tibia/shins. * if arms are out farther than tibia, this puts strain on back. Squeeze glutes and hamstrings and stand tall.

To adapt a band, loop band under feet and loop around back of neck

Day 2 – Upper Body + Core

These exercises are designed to focus on core and upper body, but incorporate overall stability as well.

Joga hovering table

Equipment: yoga mat

Taking a page from the JOGA playbook, cycling from crouching downward dog to hovering table. Start in a table top position, knees under hips, hands under shoulders. Tuck your pelvis/posterior tilt, and lift your knees an inch off the ground for a count of 5. Then send your hips up and back into a short downward dog position with arms straight and knees bent, then cycle back into a hovering table x 5 seconds

Tempo Push-ups – 3 sets of 5

Equipment: yoga mat

Start in a high plank (elbows extended) with hands stacked under shoulders. Tuck your pelvis and squeeze glutes, and slowly lower down for a count of 5 to a hover, then push back up, keeping elbows close to your sides. If your back starts to arch, you’re done that set.

Bent Over Row

Equipment: bar or dumbbells, can be adapted with a band

Pick up a bar or dumbbells and start in a standing position. Hinge at the hips, sending your hips back behind you until you feel a hamstring/glute (back of legs) load. Keep chest up, pull the bar/dumbbells to your chest, keeping elbows in. Squeeze scapula/shoulder blades down at the top of the lift.

Band adaptation: step on band and shorten the band until there is tension throughout elbow flexion/extension

Seated Overhead Press

Equipment: dumbbells, can be adapted with a band

Warmup: floor slides – start lying down with knees bent. Arms out to the side at shoulder height, elbows bent. Exhale, tuck ribs down and push arms to straight overhead, keeping forearms in contact with the floor. If this is difficult, this is the exercise.

Start in a long sitting position (pictured above – this adds a core component), with legs in front, feet together and ankles dorsi flexed. Start with dumbbells at shoulders, push overhead, locking out elbows at the top. The core component comes from a full lockout, pushing head forward and through slightly, and keeping the ribs tucked with arms fully extended overhead.

Band adaptation: sit on that band and shorten band until there is tension throughout elbow flexion/extension

Day 3 – Combo Power and Strength

This day combines core and legs in some more complex and explosive movements

Reverse Lunges

Equipment: bodyweight, dumbbells, barbell

Rack bar on shoulders or hold dumbbells. Take alternating steps back, lowering back knee to floor so hips and knees reach 90 degrees. Maintain weight in heel of the front leg. 3×5 per side.

Step-Ups/Box Jumps

Equipment: bodyweight, dumbbells or box

Box jumps: two foot hop to a box, standing fully extended at the top – 3×5
Step ups: using a box or stairs, foot should be knee height on step. Can add weight in dumbbells. Use the stepping leg to pull you up to box/step. 3×5/side

Monster Walk

Equipment: bands

Tie a band around knees and step a little wider than hip width into a “ready position”. Sit hips down low and keep them there, keep knees externally rotated. Step sideways using stepping leg to pull the rest of your body with you. 5 steps each way x 3 sets

Cool down can be ten minutes walking or mobility work, yoga, or other movement practice.


Jamie Camp, MScPT, NKT, AiM, Medical Acupuncture, is the co-owner of Shift Bodywork and Performance Care