What is 'Fitness' - Part 2

In the first part of the Understanding ‘Fitness’ blog we discussed what the definition of ‘fitness’ was and how a Sport Scientist would go about establishing the needs of the environment or the characteristics of the discipline for an equestrian athlete.


Fitness is an umbrella term that comprises of two strands; skill related and health related components of fitness. Skill related is made up of reaction time, coordination, power, speed and agility. Health-related components are muscular strength, cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, body composition and muscular endurance.


The importance of each component will vary depending on the discipline you compete in.

The importance of each component will vary depending on the discipline you compete in. For example, for a jockey, cardiovascular fitness (having a big strong heart), muscular endurance (the ability of your muscles to contact complete repeat contractions without becoming fatigued) and body composition (the ratio of lean mass to fat mass) are the three most important components of fitness. Jockeys must maintain a dynamic squat position in the saddle for the duration of the race and being light or having a lower body weight is of great advantage to help them and their horse go faster. Therefore, when working to improve a jockey’s fitness you would look to predominantly target these three areas. In understanding the discipline demands and the components of fitness, practitioners can target and tailor support to the equestrian athlete through a bespoke training programme.


In understanding the discipline demands and the components of fitness, practitioners can target and tailor support to the equestrian athlete through a bespoke training programme.

Take the sport of eventing as another example, athletes must be able to complete three phases usually over one day with limited rest periods. Therefore, the three most important components of fitness for event rider athletes are; cardiovascular fitness, muscular endurance and reaction time. This is because athletes must complete repeated efforts of exercise during the dressage, show jumping and cross-country without becoming tired or fatigued. They also must be able to recover in-between these efforts; a developed cardiovascular system will help this greatly. In all these phases event rider athletes must demonstrate muscular endurance to be able to complete repeated muscular contractions in order to guide their horses without becoming tired or fatigued. Fatigue can inhibit the ability of the muscle to contract and therefore impede performance. Finally, reaction time is essential for event rider athletes, especially cross-country. Event rider athletes must be able to react quickly to the horse and environment to safely guide them around the course.


Again, in understanding the discipline demands for eventing and therefore deciding on the most important components of fitness, training can be targeted. This will then allow the athlete to be fit or ‘able to meet the demands of the environment.’


So, whether is be eventing, dressage, or polo have a think about which components are most applicable to your sport. This will help guide your physical preparation out of the saddle.


But should you only prioritise a couple of components of fitness and forget the rest?

For a rounded level of fitness you should acknowledge each component of fitness. For example, (muscular) power may not be something a rider athlete may feel like they need. However, the definition of muscular power is 'the ability to exert a maximal force in as short time as possible', a rider athlete may be required to demonstrate muscular power in their upper body, controlling a strong horse, or more simply in their leg muscles whilst mounting from the ground. Power may not be the first thing you think of when considering equestrian athletes however it does have a role to play in equestrian fitness, just to a smaller degree in comparison to other components of fitness.


Therefore, do not discount a component of fitness, have a think about how it may be used in your discipline to create a rounded level of fitness.

About the Author

Hi, my name is Rosa. I am a Sport Scientist and work with elite athletes in an University setting. I have an MSc from Loughborough University in Exercise Physiology and have researched equestrian athletes. I use scientific research to help produce my content so you can be sure that what I am producing is factually and scientifically correct! If you want to know about me and my journey to this point please have a look at my About page.

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