Equestrian Fitness: Perks and Pains of Plyometrics

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I have never been springy or fast. I was never bouncy enough to be a good gymnast and I had to work very hard to improve my leaps for dance. I’m not one to win a foot race, dunk a basketball or spike a volleyball. My fast twitch muscles were never developed enough. Despite the look of my long limbs, “I’m just not designed for that,” I would say. For years, I accepted that this was my weakness rather than addressing it. Let’s face it, no one likes to do things that they are bad at… until they start improving!

Insert my personal trainer: Once a week, I work with her to specifically focus on legs. This was an area where I never pushed myself hard enough. I would claim that if I lifted too heavy or intensely, I wouldn’t be able to ride well the next day. This was in part true, but the long term benefits as an athlete supersede the short term fatigue. In every superset, she includes a plyometric exercise, also known as “jump training”. In the beginning, I begrudgingly struggled through the “plyo” exercises, but now I embrace them because I see how much it has benefited my body.

Plyos “are exercises in which muscles exert maximum force in short intervals of time, with the goal of increasing power.” Most plyometric exercises primarily utilize your legs and glutes to explode into the air. These sort of motions will increase your power and speed. Overtime, it will strength your muscles and the elasticity of your tendons which will decrease your chance of injuries. Your neuromuscular system will react quicker as it adapts to these types of workouts and you will strengthen your fast twitch muscle fibers. I find these exercises to be most beneficial when done when done at high intensity, as it keeps my heart rate up, improving my cardio, stamina and increasing caloric expenditure. Incorporating plyos into my training has helped to become stronger, jump higher, improve my coordination and agility; great benefits for any type of athlete!

Despite all of the pros, one must still take caution when adding plyometrics to their exercise regimen. This is an intense, high impact workout. It may take some time for your body to adapt. Be especially aware that you land softly and with good form to preserve your tendons and joints. Take into consideration your currently level of fitness and any previous injuries when choosing the best workouts for your body. Also, be certain to stretch, warm-up and cool-down properly with any training program.

Below you will find video demonstrations and a list of exercises, with more challenging alternatives for you to try in the intermediate and advanced columns as you improve. You may be comfortable doing all of the beginner exercises in one session, but I DO NOT recommend doing all of the intermediate or advanced exercises in succession, as this may be an unnecessary amount of stress on your joints. You can either set a stopwatch and do an exercises for 30-45 seconds or you can set a specific number of reps to achieve. You can choose to repeat the same exercises for multiples rounds or try a new one each set. The point is to challenge yourself with a new type of training, work those legs and get your heart rate up!


Laura Killian

Grand Prix dressage rider who has earned her USDF Bronze, Silver and Gold medals. She operates her business, Laura Ashey Dressage, in Wellington Florida year-round. In addition to riding, Laura enjoys staying active lifting weights, running, training judo and jiu-jitsu, dancing, twirling baton and trying new and adventurous outdoor activities.

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