Fitness for riders

Can Riders Run?

With pools and gyms closed again running is often the go-to activity for riders. With no membership subscriptions or additional kit to purchase. So when time isn’t in abundance throwing on a pair of trainers and stepping outside the front door really is an attractive option. With many riders having competed successfully in running events at school before horses took over!

But so often riders who have started a running programme come to me with knee pain. The story always the same with training starting well before a steep deterioration as knee pain increases. The pain is usually a result of muscular imbalances gained from years in the saddle. Often rectified with a good stretch routine. However explaining the importance of stretching often falls on deaf ears. But those who do take the advice on-board may well reap the benefits while keeping the cash in their wallets not mine!

Why is a return to running so problematic for seasoned riders?

So I touched on the fact that riding creates a series of muscular imbalances. Well this alters posture. Over time this stresses joints and causes permanent damage. It’s like driving a car when the tracking is out – the tyres go bald where there’s excess friction. Hips and knees work in a similar way although they are significantly trickier to replace than a worn tyre!

Riding is a non-weight bearing activity and rarely have riders adopted a habitual stretch routine like runners. So years of built up muscular imbalances causes poor tracking of the joints when running.  The stresses of weight-bearing activities can be 25 times greater than those gained in the saddle. So you can see how these rider’s bodies must be in shock when the boots come off and the trainers are donned!

Then you’ve got the cardiovascular aspect. Most untrained individuals would grind to a halt after running a few miles due to lack of fitness but not you riders, no! Because you riders have been honing your determined little cardiovascular systems since you first sat on a pony. The disparity between the efficient cardiovascular system alongside the muscular imbalances will undoubtedly increase injury risk. It’s like putting a Rolls Royce engine in a clapped out run around. The engine can go on indefinitely but the run around could have a bent axel with a bumper scraping the ground!  

What are the muscular imbalances that typically cause knee pain?

The muscles at the centre of the problem are the inner thighs which ‘switch on’ becoming tight and dominant, initiating a series of imbalances. When the inner thighs switch on the muscles in the bottom switch off or stop firing. The pocket muscle on the side of your hip also becomes dominant. Thigh muscles and hip flexors then tighten. This creates a forward tilt of the pelvis.

Now riders get away with these imbalances every day (to an extent) but give those same imbalances to a runner and you’ve got a problem.

Fixing the imbalances

Many of these imbalances can be rectified with a combination of foam rolling, stretching, activation and conditioning exercises. Try adding this section to your daily (yes daily!) stretch routine pre and post exercise if you’re a rider that wants to run. Ps stick with the order I’ve set out.

1. Foam roll – inner thighs, front of thighs and side and front of hip, 30 sec + holds on tender areas, roll slowly 5 times for each muscle group.

2. Stretch – inner thighs, front of thighs, bottom, hip flexors. Stretches should be static with 30 sec + holds.

3. Activate – bottom. Lie on your front, rest head on hands, legs out straight, point toes, lift legs alternately a few centimetres off the floor engaging bottom as you perform the activation exercise for 30 + sec.

4. Condition – pelvic tilts. Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat, place fingers just under the lower back, pull belly button towards the back for 2 secs. You should feel pressure on the fingers. Relax and repeat for 30 + sec.

So yes riders can run but it’s more complex a picture that just throwing on a pair of trainers. You’ll have to do some ongoing graft to fix those muscular imbalances that have imprinted on body and mind. For more help and advice on the subject drop me a line or book a session.

Pony Racing – drawing on the positives of being stuck out the back (again!)

Pony racing has gathered increasing support and status over the last few years. Rarely would you now find a champion apprentice or conditional that hasn’t ridden on the pony racing circuit. But some might say there is a growing divide between competitors or perhaps more so the ability of their ponies. I’ve heard of kids riding racing ponies bought for over £100k. So how do the rest compete? And what’s more if you want to make this your career could this mean it’s over before it has started?

So if you have notions of being the next Oisin Murphy or Bryony Frost but are constantly being left at the start don’t despair? There are ways of bridging the gap (or at least getting noticed) without resorting to robbing a bank to fund a faster pony!

One way of standing out is by being fitter than your competitors. And what better time to start focussing on fitness than now while pony racing fixtures have been halted. There need not be a heavy financial burden. Some basic kit, a little knowledge and you’re away. And there’s no better platform to demonstrate your superior lung capacity than on the back of a slow pony that needs driving from start to finish! Onlookers always admire a jockey with this type of resolute determination. After all it’s what top riders are made of.

A jockey that is physically strong in a finish can easily be taken off a slow pony, put on a mediocre one and be given a good chance of winning. A weak jockey on the other hand on a mediocre pony has at best a slim chance of winning, fact.

As a rider you may have been taught that a good squat technique is fundamental to the drive in a finish. Correct, but don’t over focus on quads (thigh muscles) and forget to train the muscles that help stabilise them.  Train smarter not harder. Learn to spread the workload between neighbouring muscles so you don’t fall in a heap a furlong out.

The glutes are the most under used muscle group in the squat. The majority of riders I see have a brutal squat (true story) and there are physiological reasons associated with riding that cause this. But the good news is that it’s fixable with training.

Try lateral walking (like a crab) with a mini band around your legs to strengthen glute medius (the side of your bottom). This will get glutes firing, help spread the workload and stop quads fatiguing as quickly. You’ll look more professional and be more fluent as you drive to the line.

If you want to find out more about how to train effectively for race riding contact me.

Are you fit to ride? What are your pony racing experiences? Comment, like, share.