HN Interview: Martin Perez from Fitness for Polo

Martin Perez is a leading expert on fitness training specifically tailored for polo. We catch up with him to talk Bosu, reaction times and next day soreness.

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Hi, Martin! Welcome to Horse Nation! Tell us a little about your background in fitness and nutrition and how that led to founding FITNESS FOR POLO in 2014.

Hi guys, my fitness background started when I was a kid. I was always an enthusiast of all sports. I trained, competed and loved every sport I ever practiced. That passion took me on the road of health and fitness. I went to university in Argentina at the Romero Brest Institute of Physical Education, where I got my first degree. During the second year of Uni I started training a bunch of friends of mine, and that was the first step to personal training and becoming a fitness coach. I trained people for many years for general and aesthetic health and fitness, working with people from all walks of life; models, athletes, etc. In 2008, I started working exclusively with polo players. I have always loved the sport and it was great to learn more about it and study it from a fitness point of view. I have had the pleasure to work with some of the top athletes in the sport: Nachi Heguy, Agustin Merlos, J-P Clarkin, to name a few, and in 2014 I decided to start my own company “Fitness for Polo” to help promote fitness to the whole polo community and not just to the top tier of players and patrons. My aim with Fitness for Polo is to help as many people as possible to feel the benefits of specific polo training, to help them not only improve their polo but also their lifestyle.

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What services do you offer?

As well as personal training for individuals and teams I also run seminars and clinics around the world to teach players the basics of my fitness for polo techniques. Earlier this year I toured around Southeast Asia, visiting various different clubs and talking to groups of players interested in improving their polo. I also run an online resource for people interested in learning more about the work I do. My website, blog, weekly articles on PoloLine and quarterly articles on PQ International, give people a store of helpful information and tips on health and fitness specific to the polo player. These alongside my eBooks, available on Amazon, are a great source of reference for people all over the world. I travel a huge amount so it isn’t always easy to reach clients so I also offer online training programs for people who want personalized training programs throughout the year.

And you also offer free challenges online!

My online challenges and interactive workouts are a new thing and they’re really growing in popularity. The idea is to get my online community both active and interactive. I offer members something new every month such as a workout that they can do at home, free chapters from my eBooks or online challenges. The challenges are great because people get really involved. When a new challenge is ready I let everyone know by email and then I post a new challenge online each day for a week. These mini challenges get progressively harder as the week goes on. All that members need to do is sign up on my website to get the password and then just follow the steps and enjoy. We have new challenges and workouts coming out every month so keep an eye out!

Right now there are several hand-eye coordination exercises listed on your website. Why are those skills so crucial for polo?

All our challenges are designed to help improve specific areas in people’s polo and teach people different exercises that they can do to build up key skills. The hand-eye coordination challenge is great because it’s good fun but also really helps players to hone a skill that is so vital to polo and can easily be improved off the horse. Playing polo requires you to hit a tiny ball at high speed off a wild animal with a bamboo stick which makes hand-eye coordination, crucial to the sport. These simple exercises can help you to improve this skill with a hugely positive effect on your overall game.

My two favorite challenges so far have been the “Double Catch” and the “Reaction Ball.” Tell us a little about the science behind those exercises.

These are both exercises that look so simple but are amazing for forcing you to engage your brain and react with speed. They work your reaction times, coordination and concentration all at the same time. They are really helpful in increasing the speed with which you react to objects flying in different directions. While you are doing the exercises with a partner, it’s advisable to talk to the other one, distracting them, so you can increase the level of difficulty. This mimics being in a game situation in which many stimulus are in play at the same time, and you still have to react quickly to the fast paced game with sudden changes of directions without losing your concentration.

I also love your Lower Back Exercise Guide. How prevalent is back pain in the sport of polo and what should the average rider do to prevent and/or alleviate the problem?

As all polo movements involve the core, lower back pain is really common among polo players. The power behind every swing comes from the core and it is our lower back muscles that are working all the time in polo to create this power, keep us on the horse and helping us to rotate effectively. They are under a great amount of strain as we play and therefore are vulnerable to injury, especially if not trained and warmed up correctly. Good core workouts can be a great help in preventing back pain. This isn’t just sit ups and crunches but exercises that utilise the whole core as a unit. Our free Lower Back Exercise Guide provides you with a whole list of great exercises that are easy to do at home and will really help to strengthen back muscles and prevent injuries.

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I know a lot of beginner polo players suffer from balance issues. What are a few exercises the beginner rider could do to strengthen their core and “two-point” polo position?

I work a lot with the Bosu (available in most gyms), an inflated half sphere with one flat surface that can be used in exercises to help promote the balance and core strength key to polo.

For a sample of exercises check out these links to three issues of PQ International: (pages 102-103), (pages 98-99) and (pages 116-117).

If people don’t have easy access to this element, other good exercises are to stand on one leg or to use a fitball (or yoga ball) to mimic the horse and throwing a tennis ball to a partner or against a wall, mimicking the different polo swings. These force players to balance well, utilising the core. The fitball is a great trick as well, as it really imitates the horse and is therefore a great way for players to practice their balance, positioning and swing technique whilst also strengthening those riding muscles.

What is the best way to prevent next day soreness?

The absolute best way to not get sore the next day (or at least lessen stiffness) is to stretch. Even just a 5 minute stretching session after any polo stimulus can make all the difference and can go a long way in preventing DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Make sure to stretch out all the muscles that you have just used, concentrating on the muscles of the inner thighs and lower back. This not only stops muscles soreness but it will also promote better flexibility, another skill that is necessary for a polo player.

I, personally, have a lot of tenderness at the base of my right thumb after a match. What is something I could do to alleviate that pain?

A lot of players, especially those new to the game, struggle with pains in their hands and wrists. It is really easy to build up strength in the wrists and grip with a few simple exercises such as gripping and continually squeezing a tennis ball, first using all your fingers and then between thumb and each finger respectively. I also use a great piece of equipment called the wrist roller which can really help players to build wrist strength quickly before the season.

Check out this wrist specific article on Pololine.

The other thing you should be doing is to gently stretch your thumb, by pulling it backwards towards your forearm, holding the stretch for 20 seconds.

TIP: Make sure that you are holding the mallet correctly. Incorrect grips can lead to pain and aches in your hands and fingers. If unsure, check with your teacher.

I also tend to hold my breath when I play. What can I do to break the habit?

Controlling breathing can be difficult as our minds, when playing, are on so many different things. The trick is to really try and concentrate. Take a second before each action to think about your breath and relaxing to allow your body to breathe calmly and in its natural rhythm. This will help you to get focused, recover faster and perform better.

Last but not least, let’s talk about your book Fitness for Polo. Tell us about the research behind the writing and what we can expect from the exercises.

The research behind all the content involved myself as a guinea pig. I have ridden since I was a kid, but I started playing polo about 7 years ago. I went through all the different types of pain, soreness and aches, and as I know how the body works, I started to develop solutions to get rid of that pain. I found myself creating alternative ways of recovery using different methods, combinations and new exercises that helped me a lot. I did many different courses on recovery, nutrition and performance enhancement for athletes, that have been very useful to the ultimate goal. Nowadays I know that all the work that I’ve done with myself can be shared with the polo community, helping everyone to get fitter for the sport no matter how old you are or your handicap level. The exercises in the book reflect this learning process and the exercises will help any player to learn how to train themselves and avoid unnecessary pain and injuries, plus allow them to get stronger and better at the same time.

In closing, what’s the #1 tip you would offer any beginner polo player?

My number 1 tip to beginner polo players would be to taking training off the horse as seriously as training on. There are so many different ways to improve your polo and doing it all together will mean you improve much faster and more effectively and not be a victim to muscular imbalances or incorrect techniques. This will also mean if you’re not lucky enough to have your own horses or easy access to ponies you can still build up your riding muscles which will have a positive impact on your polo when you do come to play again.

Thanks for talking with us, Martin!

Check out Fitness for Polo’s Facebook and Twitter for more information.

Go Riding.

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