The Athletic Rider: Strong Heart, Strong Body, Strong Mind

If riding takes your breath away — literally — your cardiorespiratory fitness may need some work. Personal trainer Leah Hinnefeld explains.

From Leah:

Cardiorespiratory fitness is a vital foundation focus to not only rider fitness but to general health and well being. The immediate benefit to the rider, particularly any rider who engages in activities like eventing, endurance riding or even a long day of showing or trail riding, is that cardiorespiratory fitness prevents fatigue.  It also reduces risk of injury, improves performance in the saddle and permits faster recovery. A significant benefit to riders includes improved mental alertness — and that means increased safety while riding or when spending any time around a horse.

The bad news? No matter how long you are on the horse, riding alone does not provide adequate cardio-fitness training. Certainly riding requires athleticism and will burn a moderate amount of calories, but it is not an activity that will develop your cardiorespiratory fitness.

What is cardiorespiratory fitness (cardio-fitness)? 

It is the ability of the circulatory and respiratory systems to supply oxygen-rich blood to the skeletal muscles during sustained physical activity.†  In other words, it is the ability of your heart, blood and lungs to provide oxygen to your muscles so they can operate properly when you are riding.

How often should a rider include cardio-fitness training into her weekly training rotation?

The general recommendation for basic health and well-being (published by the US Department of Health and Human Services) is to engage in at least 150 minutes a week of daily moderate activity or 75 minutes a week of daily vigorous activity. A brisk walk 5 days a week or a more intense jog 3 days a week are two example of activities that will get the job done. Other activities include riding a stationary bike or an elliptical trainer.

The benefits of cardiorespiratory fitness go well beyond the saddle. Investing in your heart health is one of the leading factors in reducing the risk of chronic disease. Other general health benefits include reduced cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, reduced tendency for depression and anxiety, increased metabolic rate, and a reduced risk for obesity and diabetes.

If a rider is pressed for time to invest in both cardio-fitness training and strength training (I don’t know a rider who isn’t!), a circuit style workout can achieve both goals in the same routine. Better yet, hop off your horse during a long hilly trail ride and walk or jog with him. He might appreciate your company by his side!

If you are interested in improving not only your cardio-fitness but all elements of your fitness so you can get fit to ride better, check out the 30 Day Rider Fitness Boot Camp offered by the Athletic Rider.

Invest in your health and your fitness. Your heart and your horse will thank you.

† Clark, Lucett and Sutton, NASM Essentials of Fitness Training, 4th Edition, Revised. ©2014, Jones&Bartlett Learning, p. 201

Leah Hinnefeld is a lifelong equestrian who spent over a decade studying hoof health and metabolism in horses before turning her attention to rider fitness. Leah is a personal trainer certified by the National Academy of Sports Fitness and offers Virtual Fitness Training for riders and horse lovers. You can learn more about how to get fit to ride at Please contact Leah if you are interested in learning more about the virtual posture assessment offered by The Athletic Rider.


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