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Rider fitness with Lillie Bailey

This week’s blog is about something a little different… Rider fitness is something that gets easily missed or not talked about, but I think that it is really important. A few years ago I kept on making silly mistakes towards the end of the cross country course, and it wasn’t until I had some PT sessions and noticed a huge difference, that I realised it was because I just wasn’t fit enough and was getting tired. Not only did I feel better, but my results improved too.

Lillie Bailey is just finishing her Level 3 in Personal Training but is also a rider herself and has evented for 10 years. This gives her a great understanding of what we need as riders. So, we’ve put together a little Q&A to give riders a bit of information as to why and how additional exercise could help as well as key areas to focus on. Also, attached to the bottom of this blog is a workout video Lillie has put together that is rider focused, for you to all have a go at – it’s definitely harder than it looks!

Lillie has a YouTube account (Lillie B Fit) and Instagram account (@lillie.b.fit) which she posts regular workouts on too, so if you find this helpful make sure you check those out too!

How important and beneficial do you think it is for all riders to do additional exercise?

So important! There are so many benefits from additional exercise – both mentally and physically. All riders, professional or not, can improve on their riding by adding in additional exercise. That could be running to increase cardiovascular endurance, resistance training to increase strength, or even yoga to increase flexibility.

How do you think exercising could benefit someone’s riding?

If a rider identifies a weakness; we can then take this away from the horse and into another form of exercise where we can then improve on that weakness.   

When Olympic sprinters are training to run the 100m, they don’t just run the 100m again and again – they have to spend time in the gym focussing attention on the explosive start and the muscles they’re using when they’re hitting full speed. It’s the same, in lots of ways, for a rider.

If we take Amelia’s example, where she would make silly mistakes at the end of the xc course. Resistance training that includes some cardio work would help stop this. It would increase your strength and endurance so that you don’t feel out of breath or tired by the end of the xc course. Which should hopefully keep you switched on, so you don’t make those silly mistakes.

What are the main areas to focus on for the rider when doing a workout?

For riders, the main area to focus on is the core. Having a strong core is fundamental to your stability in the saddle, it determines whether you can keep a well-balanced position, whether that be for dressage, show jumping or xc.

Another key area would be your legs. Everyone loves a good lower leg position don’t they! However, you’re not going to be able to use your legs effectively if you haven’t established your core first.

How often would you recommend doing a workout or additional exercise?

To start with I would suggest doing 3, 30-45 minute sessions per week. Ideally you would want to get in 4-5 sessions per week, especially to start seeing improvements quickly. It does just depend on the person and their individual needs as well as the amount of time they might have spare.

How much should a workout differ from person to person, as everyone has different strengths and weaknesses?

For riders the key building blocks are going to stay the same – that’s strength and endurance. However, the specific workout may differ from person to person, everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. This is why it’s a great idea to have a session with a personal trainer so you can explain to them what you feel like you need to work on, as well as them adding some input. A personalised programme could then be put together for you to make sure you are doing the best training suited to you!

A lot of people give their horses a break over the winter, do you think the riders should have a break as well? How much do you think an exercise routine should change?

Yes, I believe riders should have a rest too. But I also believe the winter is a great opportunity for you to work on those weaknesses you may have found so you can improve upon them for next season. You may find that you are not riding as many horses day to day which will leave you with more time to focus on a training programme for yourself. If you train specific areas during your break, you should be able to feel the difference when you come back, which can be a real confidence boost too.

I have noticed how inflexible I am, how important is it for riders to stretch?

Whether or not you are conscious of it, your mobility will affect how you ride and limit your ability to respond and react to unexpected situations. Stretching will make a big difference. If you have specific areas, such as your hips for example, you may want to stretch these before and after you ride. It is also a great idea to try and fit in a full body stretch a few times a week, this can be when you’re at home in the evening or after your days done at the yard. If you’re stuck on what stretches to do, check out my YouTube channel for walk through videos.

Do you have any tips to encourage motivation as I know this is something that most of us struggle with?

This is going to change a lot from person to person. Most people are going to find it hard to get motivated until they start to see the results and they trust that this training is actually going to result in improvements.

So, it might be a good ideal to set a goal. Say “Okay, I am going to do all I can, fully commit and take my training seriously for 3 months.” By then you should see and feel results and will probably find yourself wanting more. I suggest trying to get into a routine. Make a plan and try to stick with it, so Monday, Wednesday and Fridays are the days you are going to get some extra exercise in. That way, every week, you know which days you need to make adjustments to fit this in and you can prepare yourself for this.

Do you have any tips on finding time to exercise within a busy schedule?

I think it’s really a case of understanding that this is the next step to level up your riding, and if you want to fit in 3, 40 minute sessions per week, that is just 2 hours per week. You can find it; you just have to be smart and plan.

For example, if we go with the Monday, Wednesday, Friday idea as said before. Monday might be a day where a few horses are having their day off after a weekend competing, therefore you might have some extra time here. Wednesday might be a hacking day, where possibly you can get your groom or a friend to hack out with you so more than one horse can be ridden at once, therefore you may end your day a little earlier. And then Friday, maybe a few horses could be lunged on this day or have slightly shorter sessions if they are going out and competing at the weekend. These are just a few suggestions; you will be able to make time if you are determined enough and really plan ahead.

With riding being a physical sport it’s important to not get injured so, how do we make sure if we exercise it’s not going to risk injury?

This is a great reason to get a health professional involved, whether that be a personal trainer, a physio, etc. We can but measures in place to make sure you are starting slow and reducing the risk of injury. Also don’t forget, much like the horses, you as riders need rest days too. Rest helps your body recover and gives you the energy you need to keep going. Ultimately, if you are training right, and giving yourself time to recover, exercise is going to make your body more resilient to injury.

Is a healthy diet just as important as exercise? If so, do you have any tips on keeping a healthy diet/ what to include?

Yes! The food you eat everyday will determine your overall outcome.

Here are some key things to focus on:

  1. Make sure a decent part of your plate consists of protein. Some sources of this are chicken, beef, ham, beans and lentils. These allow your body to repair itself and build muscle.
  2. Try and get lots fruit and vegetables in. They are full of vitamins and minerals as well as being a good source of fibre which is great for your gut health.
  3. Everything in moderation. Don’t forget to have little treats along the way. If you have small treats reasonably often this is going to help prevent a big binging session where you eat everything you can in the kitchen.
  4. Drink enough water. It’s super easy to forget about this one. Keeping hydrated pretty much helps your body in every single way, from keeping your body cool to promoting heart health and helping your muscles and joints perform better.

Follow these steps and you will be well on your way to having a healthy and happy body.

Go and check out the workout video below, then let me know your thoughts and how you get on in the comments. Don’t forget to check out Lillie’s own YouTube channel (Lillie B Fit) and Instagram (@lillie.b.fit) for more workouts!

Thanks, and hope you enjoy xxxx

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