Two Exercises to Build Strength and Balance
by Theresa Rice
We’re now entering the cold, grey stretch of winter. No more holidays, just dreary weather and vitamin D deficiency. These are the months I find the hardest. I’ve gained weight from overindulging during the holiday parties and have no motivation to get to the gym.
But now is exactly when I should put myself on a training schedule. Show season and better riding weather are on the horizon. Here are two exercises for building both strength and balance.
Find a 2×4 board, at least 6 to10 feet long. Lay the 2×4 flat on the floor and step on with feet about two shoulder widths apart. Lower into a squat while balancing on the 2×4. (I used a wider piece of baseboard trim for the photos and that worked as well.) Once lowered into the squat position, shift your weight to your left leg, staying down in the squat, extend your right leg to the right, then shift your weight to that leg and bring your left leg over. The entire movement is maintained at the height of the squat.
Then repeat the entire movement. In the squat position, shift your weight to your right leg, extend your left leg out to the side, shift your weight to the left leg and then pull your right leg over into the squat position.
This exercise will work both your quad and hamstring muscles as well as the muscles in your buttocks. During the squat, make sure to keep your stomach muscles engaged, try to pull your belly button back toward your spine and simultaneously keep your back straight. You are better off doing these exercises slowly and correctly, instead of achieving a certain number of repetitions.
The second exercise is again focused on strengthening the large muscles of your legs: the quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteus muscles. Stand on the 2×4 with one foot in front of the other, about two shoulder widths apart, and lower into a lunge. Try to go as low as you can, then raise up, put your other leg in front, and lower back into the lunge. Keep your shoulders back, your chin up, back straight, and abdominal muscles engaged.
A good way to tell if your abdominal muscles are working is to say “shh.” The feeling you have in your abs when making that sound is what you’re aiming for. You might even try doing it while riding, to see how well you’re engaging your stomach muscles while on your horse (they should be engaged!).
If you struggle to stay upright while attempting either of these exercises on the 2×4, just take the 2×4 out of the equation and start to gain your strength and balance doing the exercises on a flat surface. Once you’re able to do the exercises and keep your balance (notice I didn’t say without difficulty, the exercises were designed to be difficult and to work your muscles) add the 2×4 back into the routine.
An exercise you can do to work on your balance without the added challenge of squats or lunges is to slowly walk forward on the 2×4, and then take backward steps as well. The point is not to rush across the 2×4 but to allow your body to correct any imbalances as you take steps.
Strength training using nothing more than the weight of our own bodies can be incredibly helpful in building muscle and burning fat. Maintaining a strong core can help to relieve and stave off back pain and is key for helping us maintain our balance atop our horses (and stay in the saddle!).
Strength training, in addition to walking, is also a way to help prevent osteoporosis. Strong bones help prevent fractures if we end up having an unexpected aerial dismount.
Fitness goals don’t have to be about losing weight or looking a certain way. The best changes to your fitness routine are the ones you’ll keep doing long after New Year’s Day. Small changes in your habits can help you reap big benefits over the long term. Best of luck for a prosperous and healthy new year!