Focus On Fitness February: Out of the Saddle

I am dedicating this whole month to fitness.  Some of you might have set resolutions and by now you might need a boost.  I personally haven’t set resolutions but I do have goals for this year (See Past, Present, and Future).

Fitness has always been an important part of my life.  Though I’m overweight I am surprisingly strong and decently fit.  That said, I can ALWAYS be better and I’m always working to BE better.

If you’re here on The Green Horseman chances are you don’t subscribe to the mindset that “the horse does all the work.”  If you truly want to become a better horseback rider you need to be in shape.

Not everyone has the opportunity to ride daily, but there are plenty of things you can do out of the saddle that will help to make you a more effective rider.

The following are some of my FAVORITE exercises that help me become a better rider.  When I’m routinely performing these exercises I notice a vast improvement in my equitation.


These two exercises may not be quite the same but they have similar outcomes.  I find both yoga and Pilates to help me focus on my flexibility, core, and balance.  While many people spot train their body parts on those fancy machines yoga/pilates can give you coordinated strength.  That is, these exercises focus on how you move functionally, coordinating all of the muscle groups and using your WHOLE body.  When we ride horses we use our WHOLE body.

Yoga/Pilates also helps you to stretch your muscles; opening up tight areas and becoming more supple overall.  It’s easy to get tight and rigid.  As more tension is introduced throughout the body we begin to lose that suppleness; we overcompensate for sore muscles and stiff joints.  As equestrians, we want to be soft and our body should flow with the horse.  Being too tense will cause our bodies to work against the horse (and the horse will eventually become tense from this!).

I also get a level of inner peace from these exercises.  My body thanks me as I finish a sun salutation.  My mind is quiet.  A quiet mind helps us focus on our horse’s body and movements.  Horses pick up on a busy mind and it deteriorates equitation.  If I had a nickel for every time a riding coach has told me to stop overthinking I’d own a much larger farm and a horse for every day of the week.

Photo courtesy of Burst at


Spinning is one of my new favorite exercises for staying in shape when I can’t be in the saddle.  For years I was intimidated by it…even when I was in my best shape.  I finally took a class last winter and kicked myself for not having done it sooner.


Not only is spinning an excellent workout, but it’s FUN.  If you have a good instructor the music will be loud and motivating.  The room will be dimly lit so you won’t have to worry about the others around you.

What’s more, is what it does for the equestrian…

Proper form on the bike is to push DOWN THROUGH YOUR HEELS.  Sound Familiar?

My spin instructor also mentioned that we should never rely on the handlebars for stability.  If you find yourself leaning on the handlebars you aren’t balanced…and you aren’t using your core enough.  This coincides with the concept of 2-point where you should be balanced and NEVER lean on the horse’s neck.

A spin class increases your aerobic fitness, stamina, strength, AND power.  In one class you might do some interval training, sprints, or even some steep hills.



Easily one of my favorites and one of the most challenging…but it is 100% what you make of it.   High-Intensity Interval Training has been proven to be among the most effective exercises you can partake in.

In high-intensity interval training, you will do a moment as fast and hard as you can for only 15-20 seconds.  The break between intervals is short…10-15 seconds.  You repeat the intervals for no more than 2-4 minutes (depending on the program you are doing).  A 1-minute break between rounds will help you recover in time for another round.

…In one study it was also noted more abdominal fat was lost while in a HIIT program.

The biggest reason I love HIIT training so much is the metabolic benefits.  Since your body uses all of it’s stored energy reserves it takes a longer time to regenerate it’s energy stores (More on that in the “Nerd Alert” section).  That means you’re body is at an elevated rate of burning calories long after you’ve finished the workout.

For horse people who are often crunched for time, HIIT is a great choice.  It is recommended that HIIT doesn’t exceed 30 minutes per session and 3-4 days per week.  That said, HIIT will get you sweating, breathing hard, and you will see incredible changes with consistency.

The secret to success in HIIT training lies with the first two letters of it’s anagram….HIGH INTENSITY.  The movements don’t need to be complicated, but for the 15-20 seconds of work, you should be going ALL OUT and pushing as hard as you possibly can.

You can even do them in 4 minutes segments if you’re really cramped for time.  Have 5 minutes?  Try it.

  • 20 seconds work
  • 10 seconds rest
  • Repeat 8 times (4 minutes)

What move you choose doesn’t matter that much.  A couple ideas…

  • Jumping jacks
  • Burpees
  • High knees
  • Stair steps
  • Mountain Climbers
  • Sprints


[Nerd Alert]

Adenosine TriPhosphate (ATP) is the fuel that our cells use to perform work.  It’s our energy.   Since it is vital to our existence our body utilizes several energy systems to supply ATP. At the start of exercise each system might kick on, but each takes different paths to provide that energy.  Some of the systems are quick and short-lived while the slower systems can sustain production.

Our muscles store a very small amount of ATP.  Enough for you to react to something.  Touch a hot stove?  Your reaction…that split second…is thanks to your stored muscle ATP.  The stored ATP can account for up to 3 seconds of movement so it doesn’t do much for you as far as exercise is concerned.

Our muscles also store a compound called creatine phosphate.  The phosphate group from this compound can quickly and easily be donated to adenosine DIphosphate (ADP) to make ATP.  ADP contains TWO phosphate groups (DI), while ATP contains THREE (TRI).  This reaction is fast and efficient but can still only provide enough energy for 8-10 seconds.

At this point during our exercise, we might begin to start breathing heavier.  Our bodies tell us we need oxygen for aerobic ATP production but that’s still going to take a bit longer.  When the energy from creatine phosphate has been used up our bodies are now using ATP generated from glycolysis.  In about twelve chemical reactions our body will create ATP using glucose.  This is an anaerobic (no oxygen) system and as a byproduct, we are left with lactic acid causing our blood pH to drop.  This system can provide us up to about three minutes of energy.

Finally, after a couple minutes of work, we get to aerobic oxidation.  The oxygen we have been consuming has made it into our lungs, been distributed through our bodies.  After a series of reactions, we convert glucose to ATP.  This energy source may not be great for explosive power but it can be sustained for longer periods of time.  It’s the system we use when we go biking, running, hiking, riding.

Think about lighting a bonfire.  You might pile up a few logs.  Under those logs you stash some twigs, crumpled paper,etc….kindling.  Finally, when you really want to ignite the fire quickly you douse it with some lighter fluid.  The lighter fluid catches immediately but doesn’t last long..maybe a few seconds (creatine phosphate).  By the time the lighter fluid burns off the kindling has taken off.  The kindling is quicker to light than the logs but slower than the lighter fluid.  It lasts for a few minutes (glycolysis).  By the time the kindling starts to dwindle the logs have finally caught fire.  They are longer to get started but they will burn for hours (aerobic oxidation).


Some Excellent Links to Further Reading


  1. Interesting post. I did not know about chemical reactions in our bodies when we exercise. I go to the gym at least 4 times a week. Treadmill, various machines for resistance, some free weights and then stretching and the dreaded planks! As I am now 70 I have to keep fit enough to ride. Fitness just does not stay with you as you get older and if I am not fit enough I make mistakes with my aides and that just confuses my horse. It’s not his fault so I try to do my best to stay fit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally agree with your sentiment. The first thing we begin to lose as we age is our flexibility but we also have to work harder and eat more protein to keep up with the demand.
      My degree is in biochemistry so I can be a bit of a geek about this stuff!

      Liked by 1 person

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