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Jockey fitness can be crucial for performance, with early fatigue and low strength presenting an increased likelihood of falls, mistake and injury.
Jockeys need to be strong as they maintain prolonged positions throughout training and racing. In addition, adding load to bones through strength training further prevents risk of bone fractures, as it simultaneously strengthens the bone.
Areas that need particular strengthening work include;
Quadriceps muscles spend a long time under tension. These muscles switch on during straightening of the knee; a key position jockeys hold throughout riding. Therefore, muscular stamina in essential to maintain optimal position and reduce the effect of rider influence on the horse’s performance.
Abdominal muscles are also in play during riding. The obliques keep riders’ bodies straight on the horse. This helps to maintain balance at speed and prevents falls. Meanwhile, the transverse abdominus muscle helps to stabilise the mid-line, preventing excessive bending of the spine which can cause back pain.
Calf muscles work to keep the heels down in the stirrups. This provides support and security for the rider, maintaining a balanced centre of gravity.
Hip flexors work to keep the folded position, also aiding in maintaining centre of gravity. They also help with shock absorption by following the movement of the horse beneath.
Discussing the importance of jockey’s fitness, Hayley Turner, flat-jockey who rode over 750 winners, explained;
"(Jockeys) need to be strong to be able to control the horse ... you need the strength to hold them together”
"You need strong legs, particularly when you're pushing them. A strong core is also quite important as then you've got your spine and your pelvis to keep everything in line and in balance.”
"And when you're running out of breath you need the endurance as well. There's so much to it that people don't realise."
To become a registered jockey, riders must gain a jockey licence from the British Racing School. This qualification incorporates a ‘jockey fitness test’, pushing riders to their max to ensure they are fit to ride.
The test consists of;
To become jockey fit, riders must push themselves outside of the ridden environment. Whether this is at the gym or at home, jockeys always look to increase muscle stamina and aerobic capacity in order to cope with the demands of horse racing.
Isometric exercises are key in jockey’s exercise regimes. Isometric exercises consist of holding muscle-fatiguing positions for prolonged periods, such as squats and planks. This prepares jockeys for races by simulating the ridden demands, where excessive movement my hinder horse performance. Isometric exercises will have large focus on exercising the core and quads.
However, jockeys will also be working on their aerobic capacity too. Aerobic exercise is any exercise that gets the heart rate up and respiratory rate up above normal. Although horse riding can be a form of cardio, jockeys go the extra mile. This helps to develop the body’s ability to cope with the final push needed during a race. With already fatigued muscles from sustained isometric work, the push to the line will need increased effort as muscles are already low on energy.
Working to anaerobic limits can help to develop aerobic ability. Anaerobic exercise is exercise which is powered without oxygen. It cannot be sustained for long periods, but is a sign that aerobic capacity has been pushed to it’s limits. Pushing aerobic limits triggers the development of heart, lung and muscle function.
Plyometric exercises could also be key for developing performance in the saddle. Plyometric exercises are those which are quick and explosive, such as squat jumps. They develop strength and aerobic capacity simultaneously, therefore helping with functional capacity of the body in regards to racing. They may also help with reaction time and efficacy, as well as balance.
Jockeys will follow an intense fitness program, conditioning the body to the extremes of racing. However, recreational riders and riders involved within other disciplines will also massively benefit from similar exercise routines. Therefore, all riders should look to incorporate jockey fitness into their regime.
Great British Racing has developed a free, Jockey Fit resource, incorporating key elements that jockeys need to train in order to keep their body in shape for performing. Launching the resource in 2019, it is a high intensity interval training (HIIT) concept, targeting four key areas relied on in horse racing; quadricep muscle strength, cardio, balance, and core strength.
The programme requires no equipment, and consists of five stations, each targeting a key area. Exercises include jumping lunges, flutter kicks, burpees, and single-leg deadlifts.
The workout has been built to be time-effective, and to allow people to conduct it in their own home, with reliance on bodyweight only.
Jockey Fit has further prided itself to be suitable for everyone, with exercises being appropriate for scaling up or down, according to fitness levels.
Whether you’re looking to maintain activity whilst away from the saddle, or develop strength for improved ridden performance, Jockey Fit is a must-try.