How To Strengthen Your Seat: A Beginner Guide to Equestrian Fitness

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Picture - courtesy of Jamie Isaac

By Ifa Simmonds

Regardless of whether you are preparing for your upcoming season, have just completed one, or don’t follow a competition schedule, it is always beneficial to prioritize your progress and performance in the saddle. This is helpful and gets your body ready for saddle time and will lower your risk for injury. 

Today I’ll share five exercises to get you on the right ‘lead’ to better balance, core strength and position in the saddle. Do these exercises two to three times per week for two weeks and share your progress.

These basic exercises will energize your body, and help to strengthen your seat, particularly if you typically struggle with where to start in your workouts. “All you’ll need is a pair of dumbbells/weights and a yoga mat. You can do this workout at the barn or the comfort of your home.”

1. Dumbbell Goblet Squat

(12-15 repetitions – 3 sets)

Equestrian Benefits:

The Dumbbell Goblet Squat primarily focuses on strengthening the leg muscles, particularly the ‘quads’ and glutes. Strong, powerful legs are essential for maintaining balance and stability in the saddle. This exercise helps improve leg strength, stability, and endurance, enabling riders to maintain a secure position and communicate effectively with their horses.

Perform:

Perform the Dumbbell Goblet Squat by standing with feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell close to your chest. Engage your core, initiate a squat by bending your knees and pushing your hips back. Lower your body while keeping a straight back and chest up. Pause at the lowest point, then push through your heels to stand up. Repeat for the desired reps, focusing on controlled movements for strong leg and core engagement.

Notes:

  • Choose an appropriate dumbbell weight that challenges you but allows you to maintain proper form.
  • Keep your chest up, back straight, and gaze forward during the exercise.
  • Focus on your breathing, inhaling as you descend and exhaling as you ascend.
  • Maintain control throughout the squat to prevent injury and maximize its benefits.
  • Incorporating Dumbbell Goblet Squats into your training routine can help equestrians develop powerful leg muscles, enhancing their ability to maintain balance and control while riding. Strong legs contribute to a more confident and effective riding position.

2. Full Crunch

(15-20 repetitions – 3 sets)

Equestrian Benefits:

The Full Crunch is a core-strengthening exercise that targets both the upper and lower abdominal muscles. For equestrians, a strong core is vital for maintaining balance and stability in the saddle. This exercise helps improve core strength, stability, and endurance, enabling riders to stay centered and communicate effectively with their horses. A strong core also enhances overall riding performance.

Perform:

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands behind your head, interlocking your fingers. Engage your core muscles and lift your head, shoulders, and upper back off the ground. Simultaneously, bring your knees toward your chest, allowing your feet to lift off the ground. Continue the motion, aiming to bring your elbows toward your knees as you crunch. At the peak of the movement, your upper back and shoulder blades should be off the ground, and your knees should be close to your chest. Hold this position for a moment, feeling the contraction in your abdominal muscles. Slowly lower your upper body and legs back to the starting position, but do not let them rest on the ground. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Notes:

  • Maintain control throughout the exercise to avoid straining your neck or lower back.
  • Do not pull on your neck with your hands; instead, focus on using your abdomen to lift your upper body.
  • Start with a manageable number of repetitions and gradually increase as you become stronger.

3. Single Leg Balance

(15-45 seconds – 3 sets)

Equestrian Benefits:

For equestrians, maintaining balance in the saddle is a fundamental skill. The 1L Balance exercise helps riders develop better proprioception, the sense of understanding where one’s body is in space. By working on balance out of the saddle, riders can hone their ability to remain centered on their horse, particularly during intricate movements, transitions, or when riding uneven terrain. Improved balance also results in a more harmonious connection with the horse, leading to clearer communication and more effective aids.

Perform:

Begin by standing upright with feet hip-width apart and arms relaxed by your side. Slowly shift your weight onto one leg. Engage your core and lift the other foot off the ground, bending the knee until its parallel to the floor. You can keep your arms out to the sides or in front of you for balance. Maintain a straight posture with your head up, looking forward. Hold this balanced position for as long as you can, then lower the foot and repeat on the opposite leg.

Notes:

  • Keep your gaze forward for better balance.
  • Engage your core throughout the exercise. This not only helps with balance but also strengthens the transverse abdominals.
  • If balance is challenging, start near a wall or use a chair for support. As your balance improves, you can reduce your reliance on external support.
  • To increase the challenge, try closing your eyes or standing on a less stable surface like a balance pad.
  • Breathe steady and deep to help you maintain balance.

4. Swimmers


(20-30 seconds – 3 sets)


Equestrian Benefits:

The swimmers exercise that targets the upper, lower back, and glutes muscles. For riders, strong back muscles are crucial for maintaining proper posture and stability in the saddle. This exercise helps improve your ability to maintain a strong and controlled riding position, especially during long rides or challenging riding situations.

Perform:

Begin by lying face down on a mat with your arms extended overhead and your legs straight. Lift your head, chest, arm, and leg off the ground. As you lift your upper body and legs, begin alternating raising your right arm and left leg and then your left arm and right leg in a slower swimming motion. Keep your eyes directed toward the ground to avoid straining your neck. Continue this alternating motion for the desired duration or number of repetitions.

Notes:

  • Maintain a controlled and continuous motion during the exercise.
  • Focus on lifting your chest and legs off the ground as high as comfortably possible to engage your core muscles effectively.

5. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

(10-12 reps per side – 3 sets)

Equestrian Benefits: 

The Romanian Deadlift is particularly valuable for equestrians as it strengthens the posterior chain, which includes the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. A strong posterior chain contributes to better balance, stability, and posture in the saddle. Additionally, this exercise helps prevent injuries and improves riding endurance. This exercise also increases your ability to effectively absorb the forces of these movements and establish effective body position.

Perform: 

Hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of your thighs. Feet roughly shoulder width apart. Squeeze your shoulder blades back, then shift hips back. Push into the ground with your feet when you stand up to lift the dumbbells up to starting position, always keeping a slight bend in your knees.

Notes: 

  • Hinge and push hips backwards
  • Keep your back flat. 
  • Control the weight and tempo going up and down.

Ifa Simmonds is a passionate equestrian and expert fitness trainer dedicated to promoting optimal performance and well-being in the equestrian community with over 10 years of experience. He is also the creator of Equestrian Fitness Academy(EFA). With a deep understanding of the physical demands of riding, Ifa specializes in providing functional, practical, effective fitness and recovery solutions tailored specifically for equestrians. His expertise combines holistic fitness and wellness in the industry. Ifa is committed to helping riders take the reins and unlock their full potential to enjoy a balanced, healthy, and successful equestrian journey.