Fitness in Rodeo
Why Is It Important & What Muscles Are Involved.
This is something I’ve wanted to write about for a while! Fitness has always had a place in the sport of rodeo and any equine sport for that matter, but until recently there really hasn’t been much attention paid to it. So, just as we are seeing the sport of rodeo grow as a whole, cowboys/cowgirls and spectators are seeing the importance of being a competitor who is strong, mobile, and durable. The days of not putting forth effort into the physical aspect of rodeo as a sport are gone if you want to make this your profession. Even if you are just a weekend warrior and love rodeo as a hobby, increasing your strength and mobility is going to make that hobby a whole lot more fun! I'm going to talk about the basics of what muscle groups/ligaments are used in rodeo and will follow up with part 2, where I will address warm ups and some basic exercises you can do to get started on strengthening these areas. These muscle groups will be split up into Upper Body, Lower Body and Core.
Scapula Stabilizers: These are the muscles that help you control your shoulder blade,and are responsible for maintaining proper posture. These muscles also aid the rotator cuff and deltoid muscles to upwardly or downwardly rotate the shoulder blade (scapula) while the shoulder joint/arm is moving overhead, behind the back or reaching away from your trunk. Strengthening these muscle groups will help prevent the rounding of the shoulders as well as provide strength when dealing with a strong horse. Roughstock riders use these muscles to maintain pressure when lifting on their riggin, reign or rope while maintaining a “square’ chest”.
Back and Spine Muscles: To be more specific we are talking about the Erector Spinae Group & Quadratus Lumborum. These muscles help create stabilization, rotation, and side flexion of the spine, which are extremely important when it comes to maintaining proper positioning in a saddle. In addition, if you are thrown off balance these muscles help you to recover quickly. Lastly, these muscles play an intricate role in coordinating movement between the upper body, core and lower body.
Chest Muscle Group: This group is scientifically known as Pectoralis Major & Minor. This muscle group is a little different than the others listed in the fact that strengthening them is important, but something that is equally as important is making sure you’re flexible throughout your chest. A phenomena we are seeing in today's world is due to so many people being at a desk most of the day or looking down at a phone, many people have strong chest muscles but this imbalance of strength causes poor posture making the back “round” or “slouch”. In addition, your spine and stabilizer muscles cannot work to maintain proper posture or stabilize if the chest muscles are too tight. For most of our clients the focus is increasing the mobility of the chest while also implementing exercises to help strengthen that area as well.
Abdominal Muscles: There are four major groups that make up our abdominal muscle group and they are known as rectus abdominis, internal & external oblique, and transversus abdominis. These muscles work together with the spine and back muscles to help create core STABILITY. We are about to piss some people off here, but core strength is not as important as core stability in the sport of rodeo. Why? Think about the very core fundamentals of riding… what does it require? I would say it requires our hip, pelvis, and lower back to move with the movement of our horse or pull. These muscles all need to coordinate with each other in order to produce stability, and many times athletes will focus on only strengthening causing them to be rigid or “stiff”. Being excessively rigid through your abdominal and spine/back muscles prevents any kind of shock absorption and can lead to things like lower back pain, which is very common in the rodeo and equine world!
Hip Adductors: These are your inner thigh muscles gracilis, obturator externus, adductor brevis, adductor longus and adductor magnus. These muscles should typically be the strongest muscles a rider of any kind has, due to the natural use of them while practicing or riding recreationally. Where we see a problem with these muscles is in our roughstock riders and mostly bareback riders and bull riders. I believe this is due to the fact that these athletes are generally not riding horses recreationally and also just don't know how or what to do, to strengthen them! This leads to a lot of injuries throughout the pelvic floor and hip if not strengthened properly. Also, in the same way a rider can be too weak in these muscles, they can also rely too much on them. This can lead to imbalances with the other important upper and lower body muscles. Lastly, too much use or “gripping” with the adductors can lead to over-rotation of the hip, which can result in that “toe out” walk, leading to problems down the road.
Hip Abductors: These are your outer thigh/hip muscles and are scientifically known as gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and tensor fasciae latae (TFL). They not only move the leg away from the body, they also help rotate the leg at the hip joint. The hip abductors are necessary for staying stable when walking or standing on one leg. They have an important function in helping with the stability of the hip and pelvis and with maintaining proper alignment of the leg, which will allow for technically correct leg aids without excessive shifting in the saddle. If you find you sit in the saddle with more pressure on one side or lean to one side when jumping, you likely have an imbalance in your hip abductors.
Hip Extensors: These are the posterior (backside) hip/thigh muscles and made up of gluteus maximus, and your hamstrings. These are the most powerful muscles in the human body. These muscles are important when riding because they are responsible for giving your horse the cues to perform what you need them to, with strong hamstrings and glutes you are able to give the appropriate pressure through legs to move your horse from walk to trot, lope, run, change direction, pick up your horses rib cage to adjust their posture to better perform their job as well. The “glute max” also plays an important role in acting as a buffer between your hamstrings and your lower back muscle, and another thing we see today is that the majority of people have really tight hamstrings,which is due to extended amounts of time sitting as well. Without a strong glute max, tight hamstrings can shift your pelvis, and begin pulling on your low back muscles. Building strength and mobility throughout your hip extensors is a great way to help prevent injury, not just in hamstrings or glutes, but your lower back as well.
Understanding which muscles are responsible for each part of the movements needed to compete in your sport at the highest level is essential to know when creating a training program. Without this knowledge, you're just kind of shooting in the dark, which is why many put in a ton of work but don't yield the results they should with the amount of work put in. In Part 2 of this I will include warm ups and basic exercises for these muscle groups. If you're wanting more help with your training feel free to click the program you're interested in on our website and you will be prompted to fill out a consultation form, and a coach will be in touch with you quickly! The bottom line here is no matter what event you're competing in the ability to control/stay on a 1,200-pound horse/bull requires a great deal of strength, endurance, mobility, and flexibility…. prepare yourself properly!