The Athletic Rider: Lower Body Strength

Equestrian personal trainer Leah Hinnefeld’s popular series on strength training for riders continues with this week’s topic: lower body strength.


Lower body strength is vital to a safe and effective ride. Ask anyone who has gone on a family vacation trail ride after years of neglecting the saddle. While exercises such as riding in two point can improve position and strength in the saddle, the best development of lower leg strength will come a targeted rider fitness training program. In addition to creating a stable leg (key for balance and safety), a thoughtful training program will address a rider’s need to have legs that can perform independent from each other and from the rest of the body. As we all well know, riders do not just sit there.

A correctly designed rider fitness program that focuses on lower body strength will follow the same phases as those used to develop upper body strength. The first phase of lower body strength will focus on muscular stabilization. This stabilization phases will rely on balance control to improve any lower body muscular imbalances as well as soft tissue and neuromuscular condition. The stabilization phase will also focus on correct range of motion-a necessity to protect hips, knees and ankles from injury when riding.

Squat Bosu

Once muscular stabilization has been achieved (in about four weeks) and lower leg muscular imbalances have been improved, the rider can move on to the muscular endurance/strength phase of training. Lower body exercises in this phase should look familiar to anyone who has spent any time in a gym or fitness environment.  During this phase careful attention should be paid to working all muscles in the legs to continue to develop lower leg muscular balance. Focusing only on the muscles used in riding — the calves, adductors (inner thigh) and quadriceps — will only put the rider at risk of slipping back into the muscular imbalances that were created by years of riding alone — years without investing in a rider fitness program.


The final four weeks of a high performance rider fitness program should include lower body power or jump training. Power training (a type of training that combines strength and speed) conditions the body to react quickly to a situation. The most obvious example of how power training can benefit the rider is when a horse spooks or stops and the rider is at risk of losing her balance and falling. Power training will help develop the nervous system, training it how to respond under the kind of pressure that requires an immediate and precise response. Not to mention lower body power training exercises are fun and just make you feel like a kid again!

Squat Jump

The correct rotation of exercises within each phase of training and well as the rotation of each phase is essential to correct rider fitness development, while reducing the risk of injury during training or while riding. The Athletic Rider works with riders virtually to create appropriate rider fitness programs or to implement programs that have been created and proven to help riders get fit to ride better. Please CONTACT The Athletic Rider for more information.

Be sure to check out Part 1 (Muscular Stabilization) and Part 2 (Upper Body Strength) of the Rider Fitness Strength Series.

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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