Barrel Racing Personal Training: Core Strength

The last Barrel Racer Personal Training blog post I did was about BALANCE. (Check Oct. 10… I know, it’s been a while.) This time I’ll be discussing another immensely important physical trait required to be a more competitive barrel racer: CORE STRENGTH. Now, if you’ve EVER been to the gym even once, stayed up late and saw one of 10,000 infomercials, or ever noticed one of the hundreds of fitness publications in the magazine rack you probably have an idea about what “core strength” is. What I’m going to discuss is how it pertains to barrel racing and how your personal training may differ when you’re using a more sport-specific training regimen.

First, let’s define “CORE.” Roughly, your core is your midsection. Lower torso to upper leg area. All the way around. Front and back. This includes your abdominal muscles, including your side or oblique abdominals and your lower back. Given the wide range of motions and muscles there are many different exercises you can do to strengthen these areas, as I’m sure you can imagine. I’ll focus on a couple for each area of the body below.

Before we get into exercises, let talk about training frequency. As in, how often should you train your core. The fact is, abs and core, like every other muscle, need time to recover if trained very intensely. If lightly trained, it can be trained more frequently. I’ve always liked the thought of training with what you’re comfortable with. Some people can tolerate more than others. You shouldn’t be walking around with sore abs all the time. That’s both miserable and ineffective. 2-3 times a week, I’d select at least 1 of each of the exercises from the different body parts below and train them. Meaning out of the 3 areas I discuss, pick 1 each. Do 3-5 sets each. That may be three 1-minute planks or 3 sets of 15 reps of Russian Twists or Hip Extensions. All in all, that’s 3 exercises with 3 sets or so each. That’s 9-15 sets. That’ll take you a good 15-20min. I personally recommend doing it on a day after a 20min walk or jog.

Now, on to the exercises…

The most obvious area you think of when you think “core” is your abs. The ol’ washboard. Yeah right. Most of us aren’t that genetically fortunate or diet that hard core to have an eight pack. That doesn’t mean there should be a ton of excess fat or that there can’t still be a lot of core strength there. There are so many devices and exercises that work here. Seriously, most of those crazy devices absolutely work. It’s just a matter of doing it. However, one very simple exercise can suffice, and if done correctly can be a staple of your core strengthening exercises without all the gadgets. THE PLANK. I know. A plank how hard is that. BUT, if you do it right and consistently, you will see results. The issue is that most folks cheat and don’t do it right… I COULD tell you how to do it… But just check out this video instead (CLICK HERE). A more advanced exercise for the front abs would be the L-SIT. This requires a couple of chairs, a couple of benches, a dip bar, parrellettes (my favorite) or something similar. Check out this video for info on how to perform progressions of this exercise.

The next core area will address is the side or oblique abdominal muscles. When barrel racing you turn and you rotate your body while pulling. This requires strength in a bit of a different position than you would normally use in other day to day activities. That means we should put a little bit of extra focus on this. A good exercises for this is the RUSSIAN TWIST. I prefer to use a kettle bell when I do it, like in this video. Another good exercise for this is a lunge with a STEP BACK LUNGE WITH A TWIST. Check out this video for a great rundown on this exercise.

The third core area we’ll want to address when barrel racing training is our lower back area. The lower back is an often neglected area during workouts with direct training, however it’s required for stabilization in most standing resistance exercises like overhead press. A strong core requires strength all the way through. From front to back. This means a strong lower back is necessary. A good exercise to hit this directly is the “Superman.” Check out this video for a good progression of this exercise. Another good exercise for the the lower back is BACK EXTENSIONS. This requires some gym equipment, but if you have it available, it really is the quickest way to build strength in this area. Here’s a good video for that.

It seems obvious that core strength is very important. However, it can not be overstated in regards to barrel racing and horse riding specific training. You use it every time you climb on a horse and much more when making a competitive barrel racing run. As this becomes stronger, you’ll find it easier to stay in the middle of your horse in a turn and find that you have more control when coming out of the turn and preparing for your next barrel. This will certainly help you cut off the clock!

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