The Athletic Rider Strength Series: Muscular Stabilization

Want to get stronger in the saddle? Personal trainer and equestrian Leah Hinnefeld explains that it starts on the ground.


Over the next several weeks, I am going to walk riders through the basics of strength training. It may sound like a little bit of a dry topic, BUT it is a pretty important one if you want to design a rider fitness program that keeps you safe while improving your performance in the saddle.

First, I will explain how to properly organize a strength training program to give the greatest rider fitness benefit. Then, I want to walk readers through the different muscle groups to show how each benefits riders. Finally I will give an example or two of exercises that will target each specific muscle group. So many riders focus on the core (and rightfully so!). Core strength is, however, only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to creating ultimate rider fitness that leads to the ultimate performance partnership with your horse.

Muscular Stabilization

Stabilize Before Strengthen:

The first level or phase of any rider fitness strength training program should always begin with muscular stabilization. Muscular stabilization is just a fancy way of saying that the fitness program should have a training phase (about 4 weeks long) that is all about

• the core, and
• stabilizing the joints (as opposed to a later phase that emphasizes strengthening arms and legs)

Too often, a rider gets enthusiastic to start a new program and jumps into a heavy lifting program only to be sidelined with an injury or lack of performance. Starting with the stabilization phase of training will reduce this risk of injury by preparing the body for the increased demands that will happen in the next phase of training.

The emphasis of stabilization training includes:

• Improving muscle imbalances (muscular imbalances are a primary reason for injury in both horses and riders),
• Improving stabilization of the core muscles (the powerhouse of not only riding but all movement),
• Preparing the soft tissue and joints for the workload of the next phase,
• Creating or Restoring correct movement patterns (correct form leads to correct function)

Think of the stabilization phase as the prep phase. Riders should revisit this phase of training periodically during the training calendar in order to rebalance and restore the body after a period of harder training.

There are two key ingredients to the stabilization phase of training:

• low-intensity/high-repetition strength training, and
• increasing the “proprioceptive demands” of the exercise

In other words, the program should focus on low weight/high rep training while asking the body to find balance. An example is doing any work on a stability ball, Bosu® ball or while standing on one leg. Check out the photos below for two examples of exercises that can be used in the stabilization phase of training.

Front Bride on a Ball is an example of a Core Stabilization Exercise

Front Bride on a Ball is an example of a Core Stabilization Exercise

The Bosu® Ball increases the proprioceptive demands placed on the body

The Bosu® Ball increases the proprioceptive demands placed on the body

The greatest benefit of the stabilization phase of training is that it leads to postural control. Now do I have your attention? I thought so!

If you want assistance in creating a rider fitness training program that is based on this proven model of performance training, please Contact The Athletic Rider to schedule a fitness consult and get you started on the trail to get fit to ride better.

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 Rider Fitness Boot Camps offered by The Athletic Rider.


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