Advanced ‘Lateral Work’ Exercises for Rider Strength

Laura Crump Anderson is an Equestrian Fitness Specialist at InForm Fitness Leesburg. She is certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines. She is EN’s fitness columnist and returns this week with the finale of her series on “lateral work” for rider strength. If you missed them, check out the Beginner Novice and Prelim editions. 

As equestrians, we respect the importance of regular exercise, combined with sufficient rest and recovery, for our horses. Regretfully, we tend to forget that we are athletes too and require the same care and attention to perform optimally.

For you, the athlete, regular strength training outside of the saddle will lead to a better connection with your horse, an improved seat, a stronger core (to help hold galloping position), prevention from injury and greater endurance. Just as we keep conditioning schedules or logs for our horses, we need to honor our own conditioning schedules too … even if just for the horse’s benefit.

Laura’s client Haley Carspecken. Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

That said, I know few riders who have time to spend 30 minutes most days of the week in the gym. The good news is that science is proving that you don’t have to. Even fewer riders know when during the week is ideal time, for them to strength train outside of the tack.

Take a leap of faith and go against the conventional; try a “less-is-more approach” 20 minutes once or twice a week and you may be amazed with the results. Just like a green horse new to jumping, one must exercise more often than an experienced person until they become confident and proficient at it. Once a week is enough for an individual who is experienced and dedicated, training with a quality personal trainer who emphasizes ‘one-set’ to momentary muscle failure and the paramount importance of maintaining good form. On our own, without instruction, it’s simply more challenging to get the same results with a once a week program.

A perfect example is one of my clients, Haley Carspecken, who has been strength training consistently at InForm Fitness for the last three months. Haley had a big year, professionally, having been named to the USEF 2018 Eventing 18 Program. Haley also got the ride on Center Stage, a competitive Holsteiner gelding, and the pair is currently competing at Preliminary/CCI* level.

Haley Carspecken and True Grace. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

I’ve thought at length as to the best prescription for Haley’s exercise program while she winters in Ocala, FL. Her travels down south will therefore be your gain, as I create an exercise program that will work for her, even without InForm Fitness’ specialized equipment. The solution: Haley will need 20 minutes of high intensity exercise every 4-7 days, to ensure that she gets the results we desire.

My first consideration when building an exercise program will be Haley’s planned competition schedule. It is very important that the exercise program does not interfere with her ability to perform. It is imperative when scheduling your personal fitness workouts to schedule at least one full day of rest before the competition and a full day after a competition or a very intense schooling day. Remember plans can be changed, but if there is no plan you are planning to fail.

With the typical Saturday and or Sunday competition schedule in mind, the ideal day to exercise may be Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. During the weeks when you are not competing, consider adding an additional routine that focuses on core strength on Saturday or Sunday. With some of the winter season horse trials like Full Gallop and Sporting Days being held on a weekday, resort back to ensuring a full day of rest before
and after each competition. You would not dare make your horse go a whole month without a day off. So, listen to your body if you are not feeling strong.

Overtraining is very real and will be detrimental to your improvement. We tend to come out of the gate strong, with a more-is-better mentality. If you are training twice a week, consider trying the once a week routine. I know as event riders and horse owners, we tend to work hard every day, and making time for rest and recover is a challenge. That rest, however, is an essential piece of building muscle.

The Advanced Lateral Work

One reason I love this exercise it is such a great way to work and stabilize your glutes, while engaging through your core. At the same time working on balance and finding a rhythm in the movement, this exercise also applies direct resistance a rider’s chest muscles, which tend to be particularly underdeveloped in equestrians, compared to our trapezius muscles. Note, I would much rather someone do Beginner Novice lateral work with perfect form and control, than even attempt this exercise in the Advanced version. The real challenge is maintaining perfect form for the whole time.

Haley Carspecken at Mara Depuy’s Willow Bend Farm. Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

 Start on all fours
 Lift in your core
 At the same time, lift your left hand and right leg, keeping your shoulders and hips parallel to the floor
o Be careful not to rock back in your hips — keep your hips poised over top of your planted knee

 Move at a smooth controlled pace (think Tai Chi) of 10 seconds up

Haley Carspecken at Mara Depuy’s Willow Bend Farm. Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

 At the top of each movement
o Finish the movement through your fingertips keeping your arm straight
o Flex your toes back towards you, engaging the muscles from your glutes to your heels

Haley Carspecken at Mara Depuy’s Willow Bend Farm. Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

 Slowly at a pace of one inch per second, bring your knee to meet your elbow (typically about 7-8 seconds in)
 Move back up to the top with the same controlled pace
o At the top squeeze and contract all the down the back of your leg, finish the exercise through your fingers like you are reaching out straight ahead

Haley Carspecken at Mara Depuy’s Willow Bend Farm. Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

 Then lower yourself down to starting position
 Switch so you are doing the same exercise right hand and left leg
 Perform this continued movement until you can no longer maintain good form. If you struggle with form, make sure you are maintaining the perfect Prelim Lateral for at least two minutes on each side, prior to trying this exercise.

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