Rider Health

How to Set Up the Perfect Home Gym for Horseback Riders

Here’s a list of simple, economical home equipment and rider-focussed exercises to give you some bang for your out-of-the-saddle buck.

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By: Jamie Camp |

As we hopefully know by now, some of the success we have in the saddle comes from the hard work we do out of the saddle. I’m a big fan of marrying core stability, mobility, and simple body weight exercises to achieve these goals. Below is a list of simple, economical home equipment and rider-focussed exercises to give you some bang for your out-of-the-saddle buck.

Mats

Yoga and stretching mats are useful for a number of things: they can cushion knees for stretching or provide some traction. If I had to choose, I would opt for a yoga mat. I particularly like the BMat brand for thickness, durability and traction.

Downward Dog – This is standard yoga fare and it’s great for overall mobility, core, lat and glute activation: Start with palms down at the top of the mat; step your feet back until you’re in an inverted “v” position (image #1). You’ll feel a stretch through your posterior chain (a useful stretch as we ride in a knee-flexed position) and you can slowly peddle your heels to gain mobility through hamstrings and gastrocnemius/soleus muscles. Keep shoulders moving down your back away from your ears to activate lats and gain shoulder and thoracic spine mobility. To add some core activation, squeeze your glutes and abdominals and slowly move forward into a high-plank position, then back to Downward Dog.

Russian Baby Makers/Deep Squat/Malasana – Using the yoga mat to avoid slipping and straining anything, start with feet a little wider than shoulder width. Move into a squat position and grab your ankles inside of your knees. Slowly drop your hips below your knees as far as mobility will let you. You can either stay there or bring your hands into a prayer position with your elbows inside your knees and hips almost in between your heels. The important part here is to maintain core activation and an upright torso. The goal is to enhance core stability, hip and ankle mobility. You can rock a bit side-to-side to increase ankle mobility.

Wall Space

There is a lot you can do with open wall space! From hip openers to handstand pushups (this needs progression and coaching, don’t try it at home if you haven’t done it before), open space is useful.

Wall-facing squats – The wall-facing squat helps to strengthen your core in a heels-down position. Start with hands overhead and toes close to the wall (image #2). As you descend into the squat, maintain a gently tucked/neutral chin and a flat lumbar (lower) spine. When you descend to the point where you start to lose the correct posture, hold there for 5 seconds. Do 3 sets of 12 reps.

Hip openers – move your mat right against the wall. Sit facing the wall and lie down with your legs up the wall. This can be a hamstring stretch and a lumbar traction with your legs together (image #3). Then you can slowly let gravity take you into an adductor stretch letting your legs fall into a V-position (image #4). That takes care of the posterior chain (hamstrings and adductors, which work really hard in the saddle). For the anterior chain, you can do a “couch-stretch” for your psoas and rec fem (hip flexors), as we spend a lot of saddle time in various degrees of hip flexion. Kneel in front of the wall, facing away. Put one knee against the wall with your shin up the wall. Move your other leg into a lunge position. Use your core and do a posterior tuck with your pelvis to achieve a stretch in the front of the wall hip and anterior thigh.

Mirror

Mirrors are useful to assess our own symmetry and mobility. Particularly important to riders is symmetry in pelvis mobility (see October 2019 issue).

• Assess and work on hiking each hip by keeping your heels on the ground and bending the opposite knee, shifting your hips out from under yourself to each side, plus full body rotation on each side all with feet grounded in hip-width. To synchronize with our horse, we need our pelvis to move smoothly in three dimensions.

Bands & Pull-Up Bar

These are both versatile and they’re mentioned together because they’re useful in tandem. You can get a standard set of resistance loop bands and/or TheraBands that you can use for resistance and also to help you work on pull-ups. You can find pull-up bars that are easy to install and remove from a doorframe in a matter of seconds.

Monster walk – loop a resistance band (TheraBand) around your knees. Sit back into a squat/ready position and take side steps with the bands providing resistance. Move in both directions.

Lat pull downs – using the pull-up bar, loop a resistance band over the bar and slide one end through the other. “Tighten the reins” on the band so that your arms are about forehead level and straight at the elbows. Activate your core, shoulders back, glutes squeezed and pull your hands down to your hips (image #5). Slowly control the movement back up.

Pull ups – using the same loop, you can stick one knee into the hanging loop of the resistance band and using a wide grip and the band to give you a ‘leg up’, pull your nose to the bar and slowly lower again.

Kettlebells

You can find reasonably-priced kettlebells online from $30/bell to $200/set roughly.

Kettlebell swings – are mainly a glute exercise. One caveat: if you do them improperly you end up using back extension instead of focusing on a hip hinge and this can create low back injury. With the bell almost between your feet, send your hips back with soft but not bent knees and pick up the bell. Hip hinge again, letting the bell swing between your thighs behind you (image #6), and squeeze your glutes to quickly send your hips forward to bring the bell up to eye height (image #7). A progression of this is letting the bell swing overhead in a full arc, ensuring that you squeeze your glutes and core at the top to avoid low back injury. You can also use the bells for a variety of other exercises – deadlifts and bicep curls, all the way to the much more complicated Turkish getup.

Weighted Balls

Weighted balls (medicine balls or D-balls) can be versatile and used for deadlifts, cleans, and a variety of other exercises.

• Clean-over-the-shoulder – pick up the ball the same way you would with a kettlebell (think deadlift the ball to the hips, image #8), then squeeze your glutes to help the ball continue upwards (image #9) as your flex your elbows and move the ball over one shoulder (image #10) and drop it behind you. Turn around to grab the ball and repeat over the other shoulder.

Cardio

Don’t forget the importance of some cardio in your home workout. While you can splurge for a rower, bike, or trainer for your bike, you can also achieve
some cardiovascular exercise using jumping jacks, burpees and/or air squats. Another simple method is  to go for a HIIT run (high intensity interval training,
see May 2019 issue).

Music

Last but not least, add music to your workout. The literature suggests that using music can enhance your workout by increasing work output, regulating mood, heightening arousal, increasing functioning, delaying fatigue, reducing inhibition and improving overall performance, endurance, power and strength. Find  what moves you!

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