THE ISOMETRIC SQUAT
As well as the plank, the isometric squat is another favourite! This exercise has multiple progression routes and will get you rider strong legs so you can enhance your endurance, position and communication to the horse.
I conducted some research as part of my PhD which proved Event riders at higher levels perform better than their novice counterparts in this thigh endurance test. You can find the full abstract here if you are interested, Its Douglas 2012 page 109!
It is one of the exercises I include as a test for my riders when they start a programme and to track their progress throughout also.
So what do we mean by isometric? Isometric is a type of muscle contraction, it is where there is tension going through a muscle but the length of the muscle does not change as it would with a dynamic contraction. Examples would be pushing against a wall, for example.
When you perform isometric exercise, you can recruit nearly all motor units within the muscle. Another benefit is also the amount of time spending doing an exercise, generally speaking you hold the contraction far longer than you would during dynamic reps.
HOW TO DO AN ISOMETRIC SQUAT
When you are first starting I would recommend you do this with your back against a flat wall. This will provide some stability for you. As you progress you can work one leg at a time and eventually you can do a freestanding isometric squat.
- Start by getting into a squat position. If you are using the wall stand with feet ~20inches away, feet shoulder width apart, toes very slightly pointing outwards.
- Bend your knees and push the weight into your heels and keep your knees tracking over the toes and pointing outwards.
- Start with a partial range squat and as you become more proficient at the exercise deepen the range.
- Engage your core by thinking about bringing your belly button towards your spine.
- Hold this position for the prescribed time, or for as long as you can to test your isometric squat fatigue time.
HOW DOES THIS EXERCISE TRANSFER TO MY RIDING?
My PhD research shows that the two most activated muscles are 1) the rectus femoris (thigh) and rectus abdominis (trunk). When you are riding there is a large amount of isometric activity but the blood is flushed because every so often there is partial oxygenation of the thighs because the movement isn’t solely isometric, there are always small movements involved.
- Blood pressure increases, This happens more dramatically with isometric exercise more so than dynamic exercise. This then;
- Dramatically increases heart rate to cope with the rise in blood pressure.
- As you need to stabilise your spine you increase Intra abdominal pressure which makes it more difficult to breathe,
- Which as a result further increases heart rate.
This is exactly the same physiological responses we see from riding horses, particularly when in the light seat or where jumping efforts are involved.
In short: this exercise and the plank of course are the best exercises you can do, in my opinion!
HOW SHOULD I INCORPORATE IT INTO MY PROGRAMME?
First, test how long you can hold a double leg squat for as a one off. Then work around 70-80% of that time and repeat for 3-4 sets. For example, if you held a squat for 100s, do 3-4 sets of 70s squats. Work from there, if that was too easy increase by 5-10 s. Once you are holding a squat for 120s + each time, you need to start thinking about exercise progressions to make this exercise more challenging for you!
Once you start to be able to hold a double leg squat well, consider introducing single leg squats. Then move away from the wall and try free isometric squats and then loaded isometric squats.
A very sports specific progression would be partial reps with long pauses at the bottom of the squat 10-20s pauses and pulse so you do not return to full range, just enough to allow some blood flow to the working muscle to replicate the demands involved from riding a horse. Again this can be progressed by adding load or duration of the pauses.
Please try this exercise and let me know if you have any questions about how to incorporate it into your programme.
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