The Plank: One Exercise Every Eventer Should Do

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. If she had to pick one exercise to help event riders, it's the plank! Read on to learn how to incorporate the plank into your exercise routine.

One exercise every eventer should do. Photo by Laura Crump.

Imagine if there was one exercise that could help improve your sitting trotting, galloping position and take you one step closer to mastering the ideal independent seat connection with your horse. The good news is this exercise does exist, and it is a timeless one that does not require any fancy equipment, magical device, or even your horse — just your own body and a lot of persistence and determination.

Not that kind of plank …

It is the plank!

The plank is excellent because you must engage your abdominals, lower back, shoulders, arms and glutes. By the end of a properly executed plank, you are begging for a well-deserved rest. The other great thing about the plank is one can easily modify the intensity by changing their body position.

While this exercise will not turn you into a whole new rider, it will improve your ability to engage your core, which is essential for everything you do on your horse.

Kaitlin Spurlock, Advanced level eventer, demonstrates the Beginner Novice plank. Photo by Laura Crump.

Beginner Novice Plank:

  • On your knees, place your hands directly under your shoulders.
  • Hold you head in a neutral position.
  • Maintain a straight line from your knee to your shoulders.
  • If you can hold this position comfortably for two minutes, go to the Preliminary plank.

Haley Carspecken, Intermediate level eventer, demonstrates Preliminary (The Classic) Plank. Photo by Laura Crump.

Preliminary (The Classic) Plank:

  • Place your elbows underneath your shoulders.
  • Squeeze your glutes to keep your back straight and strong.
  • Remember to breathe and “embrace the burn.”
  • If you feel a sharp pain in your lower back, work on improving the Beginner Novice plank for at least six weeks, then come back to this exercise.
  • When you start to shake, that is OK. Maintain this plank until you are no longer able to keep you back straight.
  • Time yourself. When you are holding this plank for over two minutes, move up to the Advanced plank.

Kaitlin Spurlock demonstrates the Advanced Plank. Photo by Laura Crump.

Advanced Plank:

  • First, master the Beginner Novice plank and Preliminary plank positions.
  • Keep your arms straight and hands under your shoulders.
  • Squeeze your glutes and keep your back straight.
  • Keep your feet planted.
  • Slowly and controlled, move your left hand to meet the right hand. Hold for three seconds.
  • Bring your left hand back to the start position.
  • Slowly and controlled, move your right to meet the left hand. Hold for three seconds.
  • Return to start position and continue switching back and forth. Make sure the motion is in control and with intent.
  • Push yourself to a point where you feel the burn.
  • When you can no longer maintain the correct position, lower yourself back down onto your stomach.

Advanced Plank Hints:

  • Try to touch the ground as softly as possible. Don’t slam your hands down.
  • Keep your back straight and try to keep your shoulders parallel with the ground.

Push To True Muscle Fatigue:

Hold every plank for as long as you can in good form. Keep a timer near you and keep a record of these times. This way you can see concrete evidence of your improvements. The goal is to hold the plank for at least two minutes. If you can do them for longer, well done. If you can only hold them for 10 seconds, that is a great starting point!

No matter which plank you are doing, it is important that you always push yourself to that absolute point when you can no longer maintain your form.

Riders can come up with a list of reasons why they do not have time to exercise. However, studies have shown that exercise outside of the saddle can improve the functional ability of an equestrian athlete significantly.

Whether you are a professional riding 12 horses each day or a weekend warrior with one horse, the plank will help improve your core strength. Riding is very physically demanding and strength is a necessary piece of the puzzle to continue in this sport safely and effectively.

How Often?

This is the part that you may need to take a leap of faith. You should only need to do the plank once or twice per week, leaving you with more time to spend in the saddle! Rest and recovery is an essential part of any exercise program, and I promise that you will start noticing a difference if you are consistent in doing the plank every four to seven days.

The easiest way to do this is pick a day once a week: “Every Wednesday We Plank.” Put it in your calendar and do it!