Fitness for Polo
Polo is an extreme sport. Between steering the horse (which is done with your legs), pushing an opponent away and setting up a swing to then hit the ball and make it go far, a polo player uses just about every muscle in his or her body. Twisting and turning in ways you hardly thought possible.
I have been a gym rat since my late teens and would dare to say that I am in pretty good shape. I do my cardio and my squats and my crunches etc. and my muscles were not too sore after my first general practice riding lessons, I was just banged up from bouncing around like a sack of potatoes, but my muscles felt fine.
When I had my first real polo lesson, with mallet and all, it was a completely different story, I could definitely feel it the next 3 days. My back, arms, abs, shoulders, legs basically every muscle in my body was aching. At first I was happy as this meant that I must have done something right during my lesson, but I must also have done something terribly wrong with my body.
I just did what most polo players probably do, I suppressed the pain in my body and got back on the horse and swung my mallet even though it hurt and my arm was tired. I had a lesson two days after the first one and Juan looked at me with disappointment in his eyes and said: “Diana, were you out partying last night? Why so slow? You miss all the balls!” (keep in mind I was attempting to hit balls from a stand-still or at the most walking and I missed them or if I did hit them it was with only enough power to make them go a few meters). I was tired before even starting, my muscles were aching and I couldn’t get them to do what I wanted them to, especially my right arm was just like an overcooked string of spaghetti.
After my vacation in Florida I was back at home-base in Bahrain for a month without polo, only riding lessons. I started focusing on my upper body strength at the gym and started working on my arms, so that next time I had a polo lesson I could hold a mallet without getting tired after 5 minutes. I have always gone to the gym for my looks, but now I am focusing more on strength.
I found FitnessForPolo (Martin Perez) on Instagram and he has helped me a lot. I asked him how I could improve my arm strength to hold a mallet for more than 20 minutes without getting tired. He explained to me that actually it’s my wrist that needed strengthening and he told me 4 exercises to do with a tennis ball, basically just squeezing the ball 15 times, then another 15 and another 15 at different paces changing my grip slightly. So now I keep a tennis ball near my sofa in the living room, when I watch TV I do my squeezing exercises.
So a month went by and I was heading to London to attend Polo in the Park and watch some great high-goal polo at The Berkshire and Guards Polo Club. I had arranged a polo lesson with Royston Prisk at The Berkshire and coincidently that was also where Martin worked most of the time, so he came out to teach me some great warm-up exercises before my lesson.
First he made me run, I really hate running, but I will do it for the greater good of polo. So we ran down the field and it was a slow jog, so it was ok, but got my blood flowing. On the way back we did a few different things: every three steps I had to touch the ground (bending my knees! very important), then we ran sideways for a bit, then backwards, then twisting. The weather was incredibly nice and sunny, so I was quite warm at this point.
Then we did mobility exercises, swinging my arms and upper body around, then touching the ground by the sides of my feet and bending my knees.
And some core-work.
Martin also had some weighted balls, I think they were maybe 1 kg, if even that, which I had to throw to him and catch them again while twisting and turning from one side to the other. I had been doing his hand-eye-coordination contest before, so I was prepared, but it was still a little difficult. The whole point of those exercises were to warm up your body, while also starting to get your eyes and mind in the game-mode and keeping the eyes on the ball at all times.
We were also imitating the movements I would be making during the polo lesson, so setting up and swinging the mallet, nearside and offside, his mallet was a little heavier than a normal one.
And some nice long stretches at the end, which I also did after the lesson.
The whole routine took just under 15 minutes and besides from actually being a workout on it’s own I felt ready to jump up on a horse and hit some balls, after a quick posing session with Martin.
My swing was better this time than the last and because of my tennis ball exercises during the month before I was fine with holding and swinging the mallet for a full hour (my polo lessons before were only 30 min). The next day my muscles were sore, no doubt about it, but in a good way, in the way they are supposed to be sore, not in an aching way.
Now I am back in Bahrain for a month, so no polo. So for this month I am focusing on what I can do away from a polo field; at the gym I am working on my core, back and shoulder muscles. My leg muscles, or shall I say riding muscles I am working on with general practice riding 2-3 times per week and doing lots of balance work. I only started riding at the end or March, so I still have a lot to learn and to be a good polo player I need to be good at riding.
I look forward to my next polo lesson, well I always do, but this time I also look forward to seeing the work I am doing off the saddle help me in the saddle. Fitness for Polo is very important, I knew this before and Martin really made me understand it. Working out and stretching will not only prevent injuries, but also improve your game and your recovery time! So don’t neglect it.