Prelim ‘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 a new exercise for event riders.

I am in favor of No-Stirrups November, but it does not count as exercise! Photo by Lee Rouse.

It’s time to get real and tell you something that as a certified personal trainer is embarrassing to admit: I HATE TO EXERCISE.

Even in college while my friends were marching happily off to Longwood University’s state of the art facilities, I would find any excuse to get out of it … typically, my horse. Unless it was a course which absolutely, positively, no if’s-and’s-or-but’s required my presence, you would not find me in the gym. Intellectually I knew how important exercise was for my overall well-being, but I hated it!

Ever since elementary school I could be found in the barn, riding every possible moment, spending countless hours doing barn chores, and working at all things horse-related. In a strange twist of fate, I suffered from a chronic overuse injury from doing too much. Yes, it’s true: I ended up with overtraining injuries without ever doing any training!

What does that look like, you may ask?

Left: what a cervical spine should look like. Right: what my cervical spine looks like. X-rays courtesy of Advanced Corrective Chiropractic.

My back pain grew so severe by my sophomore year of high school that I quit riding for nearly a year. I only picked it up again because I had a 3-year-old homebred Connemara cross, with a lot of potential, hanging out in my parent’s field. I will forever be grateful to that wonderful horse for breathing a passion for riding back into my life. So I faced a dilemma: How do I do what I love, and remain injury-free?

The answer was simple: exercise.

Today I’m an “adult” and even now there are a myriad of things I would rather do than exercise. Ask my colleagues: I complain the entire time I exercise. If I am honest here, I humbly admit that if did not have them to hold me accountable it would be a challenge to ever work out.

None of my colleagues are strangers to exercise, conventional or otherwise. They even seem to ENJOY it. They say awful things like, “As soon as you get past the first exercise it gets easier,” or “Just do it!” That’s not me. I HATE EXERCISING. I hate the first exercise just as much as the last. The only thing which my colleagues and I agree on is this: It does feel great to be done. Yet I still intellectually know that exercise isn’t just good for me, it’s one of the most important things that I engage in.

How do I know?

I began studying exercise science because I learned firsthand how important fitness is for the equestrian. As eventers we tend to be more fit than most people, but are we fit enough for optimal performance on our horses? As eventers we have extremely demanding schedules. Between riding, caring for our horses, driving, going to work and/or school, and trying to put together something that resembles a life outside of the barn, we tend to exemplify what it means to be an overachiever.

Yet, there are still only 24 hours in the day for us … where can we possibly fit in exercise?

Contrary to conventional exercise philosophy, 20 minutes of high intensity, slow motion strength training done once or twice each week will make a profound difference in your riding. Some words of caution: rest and recovery are important. As it is with our horses, it’s critical to not undermine a sufficient period of rest.

Even when we cannot make it into a training studio like InForm Fitness, there are some simple things that we can do on our own, utilizing high intensity training principles, to develop greater strength, stamina and connection in the saddle.

The Prelim Lateral Work is the next step up from “Beginner Novice ‘Lateral Work’ Exercises for Rider Strength.” This works similar muscle groups, however, requires more focus and balance. If you struggle with this exercise, especially keeping your hips parallel to the ground, perfect this control at the Beginner Novice before attempting Prelim.

Haley Carspecken at Mara Depuy’s Willow Bend Farm.

Prelim Lateral Work

  • 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.
    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, and 10 seconds down

Haley Carspecken at Mara Depuy’s Willow Bend Farm.

  • At the top of each repetition
    • Finish the position strong through your fingertips keeping your arm straight
    • Perform a two-second squeeze at the top, flexing your toes back towards you, and engaging the muscles from your glutes to your heels

If failure does not occur within two minutes, consider adding weight to your ankles and hands the next time.

Remember: perfect repetition requires a smooth controlled pace, with no acceleration at the top or the bottom of the rep. Increase resistance two pounds at a time; it is much better to have too little weight and go longer, than too much weight and sacrifice form.

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