Beginner Tips for the Equestrian's First Trip to the Gym

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Emma Miller
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What pops into your head when you think of powerlifting? Or bodybuilding? How about the gym in general?

Is it big, burly men picking up bent barbells, and guys with arms as big around as their heads drinking protein shakes? Those are definitely the stereotypes I associated with the two sports before I really got into them. I’ve found that women especially seem to be the most skeptical or hesitant about getting into them because of the age-old stigma that lifting is a purely masculine activity. And, considering that the female population of equestrians is quite large, the number of female riders who lift is incredibly small. I hope to play a part in changing this!

Playing with reverse-banded deadlifts

Playing with reverse-banded deadlifts

Stepping in the weight room, let alone picking up a dumbbell or barbell, can be intimidating if you’re new to lifting. Not to worry! Everyone else in that room has been there. If you decide to set foot in the gym with intentions of becoming a better rider, just make sure you go in equipped with some fundamental knowledge first.

Here are some of my tips for those equestrians new to the gym looking to get the most out of their sweat sessions:

  • Go in with a plan- It can be easy to feel unsure of yourself if you go in the gym and start looking around frantically for something to do. Set yourself up for a good, productive session by creating a list of exercises you feel the most confident doing, and some you want to improve or learn. Research proper form if you need to, and don’t be ashamed to stick with weight you can handle.
  • Form over weight, always- This is probably the most important piece of advice I can offer new lifters. Even though I have been lifting for over 3 years now, I am still constantly working on improving my form and getting the most out of every exercise. I want each exercise, rep and set, to be productive to my training. From both a physique and strength standpoint, form is vital to progressing in the gym.
  • Ease into it- If you have never been on a regular lifting routine before, start out slow. Stick with just a few times per week, and increase sessions from there gradually. It is counterproductive to start out immediately with six lifting sessions per week, being incredibly sore afterwards, then skipping a week to rest. A huge key to seeing results in the gym, and resulting progress in the saddle, is consistency. Make lifting a part of your weekly routine.
  • Focus on YOUR goals- Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that what others have done to build strength or change their physiques will be optimal for you. While it is a good idea to gather information and advice from knowledgeable lifters or trainers, you may have to try various things to decide what will best serve you. If some of your main goals are to strengthen your stabilizer muscles and improve balance, focus most of your energy on exercises that require you to use your stabilizers and challenge your balance (barbell squats, front squats, walking lunges, pistol squats, etc.). The same principle applies if you want to focus completely on building power or building muscle. You will just need to alter your exercises accordingly.

Your first time in the gym shouldn’t be nerve-wracking, so having an idea of what it will be like and what you will work on will help set you up for success. Equestrians, don’t be afraid to touch those weights!

The exercises that I have utilized to increase my strength and gain muscle are some of the most enjoyable, yet technical, lifts that I have learned. Next week, I will begin discussing how barbell squats and deadlifts have impacted my strength and core stability, especially in riding.

Talk soon!