What strength do you need as a rider?

Depending on what book, article or blog you read, strength will be defined in different ways. In this blog I go over some of the approaches to strength training as we discuss what types of strength are important for the rider. I typically cycle types of strength training over a riders programme to create a holistic package specific to the discipline they compete or partake in.

We need to consider many variables such as symmetry and control of the riders muscles, the postural and alignment control a rider has and their ability to create a mind-muscle connection between the muscle the muscle they are trying to activate and really focussing on controlling their bodies effectively. This becomes very difficult to achieve when you have 500kg of animal sitting underneath you trying to do the same this and so in my opinion off horse strength based training for riders is essential!

The ‘type’ of strength needed really depends on many factors:

  • riders starting point, have they weight trained before?
  • injury or asymmetry. We need to have a good equal base before we progress.
  • How far along in the programme are they. Sports specificity comes ONCE the training base is stable e.g. when they have reduced asymmetric patterns, are more functional as a person with less postural implications and are strong both in body weight and strength endurance. Then we can include balance, isometrics, plyometric etc. Why would you want to do a single leg squat on a bosu if you cannot squat with two legs on the ground?!

So below we discuss some approaches to strength training the equestrian, this might help you to understand why I have programmed you what I have or how you can manipulate your training to reach your goals.

rider strength


Agile strength is a more daily, functional description of strength. The ability to decelerate, control and generate muscle force in a multi-planar environment. This may then progress to sports specific strength later in your programme. This might include strength and balance exercises, isometric exercises or exercises using gliders for riders for example.  Typically in the gym strength training focuses on producing a shortening muscle action to move a load in one plane, many tasks including horse riding require the ability to move in multiple planes of motion.

Examples: Rotating the trunk, whilst applying dynamic leg and hand aids and isometric control of the trunk upper arms and legs…

Training specifically off the horse will improve resiliency of muscle and connective tissue to reduce the risk of injuries such as sprains or muscle pulls and will enhance performance of  specific sports or activities of daily living

To train for agile and or sports specific strength multiplanar movements are best incorporated  using a variety of free weights and cable machines. The intensity is generally low-to-moderate, approximately 50-75% of the estimate 1 repetition maximum (1RM) for a particular exercise and the rep range usually 12-15 reps. The tempo will depend on the task for example a Dressage rider may use a slow tempo on the concentric and eccentric movements but the Show Jump rider may focus on controlled eccentric with explosive concentric or visa versa. The set range will be between 2-5 sets with short durations of rest 30-90 seconds.


Strength endurance is he ability to maintain muscular contractions or a consistent level of muscle force for extended periods of time. This is important for riders as generally riding is a continuous activity. This will be particularly important for riders that ride/compete multiple horses daily. This type of strength relies upon aerobic efficiency to supply oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles while removing metabolic waste. The benefit of this type of training for riders is that it will maintain good postural stabilization for an extended period of time and improve aerobic capacity of the working muscles.

Similar to agile strength, here a combination compound and single joint movements will be incorporated. The intensity will be around 40-80% of an individuals one rep maximum and reps are usually 10+ with set ranges of 2-5 and rest period of 30-90s.


Explosive strength is where you produce a maximal amount of force in a minimal amount of time; muscle lengthening followed by rapid acceleration through the shortening phase. Focus is on the speed of movement through a range of motion (ROM).  Explosive strength is based on the ability of the contractile element to rapidly generate tension, while power enhances the ability of elastic tissue to minimize the transition time from lengthening to shortening during the stretch-shorten cycle. Do riders need some explosive strength? Absolutely! Perhaps not so much a Dressage rider, but show jump and event riders will have to move their bodies quickly to adjust for the horses movement, and will have to be able to absorb large forces on the landing phase of a jump, much like after plyometric type jumping movements.


Training for explosive strength will Improve the speed of motor unit recruitment and enhance intramuscular coordination, and improve the resiliency of muscle and connective tissue, which will benefit riders. Typically you need a good base of agile and strength endurance before moving on to explosive strength. It will also depend on the equestrian discipline you partake in whether this type of training is necessary for you!

Here the intensity will be around 40-75% of your one repetition maximum. Reps are less, around 1-6 and sets are usually between 2-5+. The tempo is usually fast, and uses compound and single joint movements.




Maximum strength is the ability of a muscle or specific group of muscles to recruit and engage all motor units to generate maximal tension against an external resistance. Requires high levels of neuromuscular efficiency to enhance both intra- and inter-muscular coordination.

This type of training can be useful but not always necessary for riders, it does increase bone density and strength which riders do lack based on the non-loading on the limbs during equestrian activities so building a strength phase into a riders programme is while not 100% sports specific sometimes a useful thing to do. The intensity is high 90-100% of a riders one rep maximum, the rep ranges are 1-4, sets are high and tempo is variable. Rest is higher upwards of 2 minutes.


Training or programming to train someone isn’t as easy as having a set programme for all riders. We are all individual and we come from different disciplines, fitness levels and exposure to prior training.

Total Body Training

Typically I like to programme total body sessions, seeing that riders incorporates your entire body and is more sports specific and I will usual include multiple approaches to strength within that one programme.

For example I might include a total body exercise, lets say Romanian Deadlift with Row.  This works the posterior chain (weak in riders) both dynamically and isometrically (think about the components of take off and landing over a jump) it also engages the hip hinge mechanism. Makes the trunk work isometrically whilst the back works dynamically. I might choose to use an explosive strength  (if you jump and are ready in your training progression)/sports specific strength type approach here.

I might then include a single leg exercise, lets choose split squat – this works the trunk isometrically and causes some intra abdominal stability whilst activating the glutes and legs independently (think seated canter). I might use a strength endurance approach here.

I might then choose an upper body exercise such as, lets say wide grip lat pull down, as riders are typically weak in their backs – off-sets bad posture etc. Here I will likely use a strength endurance approach.

I will always include a core but I would probably include a sports specific type approach so limit the crunches and instead opt for something that activates the core isometrically but demands dynamic work elswehere (also known as quasi isometrics) so perhaps a plank with leg lift or a pallof press.

I also like to include something for scapula stability and glute med isolation, so maybe some blackburns or TYI. This will be a strength endurance approach.

I am making this seem more simple than it is! I might have 1-5 total body sessions over a week all with a specific focus and over that training week the strength programme would be balanced and wouldn’t isolate just one area of strength training!

Body Part Splits

Though a total body approach for riders is in my opinion a better route, a lot of riders are looking to improve the look of their bodies as well as improve riding and so for them working with a body part split might be better fit e.g. one day legs, next day shoulders etc and usually over time I will adjust that to a total body programme, unless the aesthetic remains the primary goal.

If you have any questions I would love to hear from you so as always please comment below or e mail info@eventingfit.com.

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