5 Ways for The Equestrian Athlete to Achieve Excellence in Every Session
Stop chasing perfection! I want you to be Excellent!
I think the aforementioned is far too frequently used and the later more infrequently.
It’s important to understand the difference between the two frequently used terms.
‘Perfection is, broadly, a state of completeness and flawlessness’, whereas Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.
In my eyes, you can never achieve perfection, however, you can try to better yourself each time and by repeatedly doing this, your actions will not be infrequent acts, they will become a habit.
Remember we as Equestrian Athletes are what we frequently do!
So now we know what we are trying to achieve, we can focus on the processes that will get us there!
1. Focus In Warm Up And Cool Down
By entering the session with your day’s events clouding your mind, you will not be able maximise your session. As soon as you enter the training environment you should be 100% focused. This means;
- Phone off
- Focus on the first thing your trainer asks you to do and only that. Just because it is the warm up does not mean you can discuss the last night’s soaps with a friend.
- Be clear on what the session is going to entail before the warm up commences. This will ensure that the session is clear, concise and fluent. If you find it helpful, write them down and take them with you to your session.
- Stretching. This is vital to aid the recovery process on muscular and cellular level. Also at a psychological level, allowing yourself to relax and concentrate will enable you to engage with your body and speed up your recovery. This is so true for all my equestrian athletes with particular areas of the body in need of greater attention than the general population.
Basically, if you have had a crap day, leave your junk at work or at home, it is ruining your session!
2. Positive Mind Set for the Equestrian Athlete
You need to get yourself into a ‘can do’ mindset. It’s pointless training in any other state of mind. We all have exercises that we find difficult for different reasons, but you will never achieve excellence if you talk yourself out of it before beginning!
My hardest exercise is the ‘pull up’, this is all psychological, all I need to do is keep picturing myself finishing the set and the number of sets on my programme and I get it done every time. You have to visualise yourself being successful at every aspect of your training and making every rep count. This has a massive carry over to the horse.
3. Posture For A Strong, Safe Back
This is a so important. You might find that your trainer will emphasise key points. This isn’t for their benefit, it is for yours. One of the key points I emphasise with my clients is ‘Keep your head up or in line with your spine. By keeping your head in a neutral or extended position, you are engaging the extensors of the spine (the ones that keep you upright). The net effect of this is to activate the opposite muscles that are working when you are sat down. By rounding your upper back you are making those muscles long and weak, and increasing your chances of injury. Remember you can be doing the right exercise, using the wrong muscles, so get your posture right!
Many of us forget to breathe, especially when the going gets tough! We need to breathe in through our nose and out through the mouth. The reason for this is that, when performing exercises such as the plank or a squat, (or to be honest most of the exercises that I do with my clients, as I don’t use machines) you need to maintain intra- abdominal pressure to maximise the core strength, avoiding any muscular strain in the abdominal region. The reason many guys who do heavy lifting get hernia’s is due to a lack of core strength, exaggerated by a heavy load and poor breathing technique, resulting in low levels of intra abdominal pressure. What I encourage my equestrian athlete clients to do is to breathe in at the start of the eccentric phase and breathe out as they perform the concentric phase. Try to breathe out on the way up and in just before you go down. For example, on a press up, breath in as your chest goes towards the ground and out on the way up.
5. Quality before Quantity!
This is absolutely essential. Your training will never be excellent if your technique is detrimented by the fact you are purely focusing on repetitions. I absolutely love to see an exercise done at speed, as it leads to increased neurological adaptations, increased muscle activation and huge gains in power.
BUT.... if you are hell bent on doing 20 ‘half ass’ reps when you are only capable of 10 quality reps, somewhere your form must be suffering. I once read that 1 poor rep may take 100 quality ones to put right. Now, this may be a bit generic and exaggerated, but you can see the point!
This is especially true if you are new to an exercise, its key to get it right first time, as you are training your muscles and brain to link together to perform this movement pattern. Sure you may be wobbly and slightly less co-ordinated at first, but this is where you slow it down, relax and engage with the exercise. Once you have nailed the technique, now you can perform it at speed and add resistance or more complex progressions. If you are working with a trainer, they will be identifying when you should be doing this.
It doesn’t matter, whether you are working with your trainer or by yourself, do excellent things even when people are not watching.
Choose excellence rather perfection every time.
Have an awesome weekend.
I hope this helps you maximise your training and ultimately the cross over to your riding performance. I know it will!
p.s. For more information on riding fitness, please head to ‘equestrian fitness’ facebook fan page. Let’s see if we can get 150 members by Monday evening.