Strength Training for the Mongol Derby

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Ever wonder how Endurance riders train for such long, strenuous hours in the saddle? RW customer, Molly Pearson, is less than a month away from her 1,000km horse race across Mongolia. Tune in as she gives us some exercises she's been doing out of the saddle to build up her strength, which are great for any rider, too!


For the uninitiated, the Mongol Derby is a 1,000km horse race across Mongolia. It retraces Genghis Khan’s military route, pony express style on 25 different half feral horses. It’s a test of endurance, will, bravery, stupidity, patience, grit, and insanity.

In just 29 days, I’ll be taking off for the Steppe with 10lbs of gear to keep me safe and sane on the journey. I get asked a lot of questions about the derby, but I’m asked most often, "How do you train for that?!"

The fun thing is that since this race is SO wild and nuts, there isn’t one best way to train. The race is the great equalizer. However, there are a few things that I’ve been doing to prepare myself for the Mongol Derby, which are good exercises for any endurance rider, too.

Below is a simple sequence you can do that doesn't require any equipment.

Exercises For Core Endurance

Anyone can have core strength for a 5 second burst. But do you have core strength over time? That’s what you’re going to need if you want to do anything for long distance. While you could focus your core work on things like sit ups, crunches, and twists, that does nothing to hit your Transverse Abdominis.

The Transverse Abdominis is the most
important core muscle you have, as it
acts like a corset and supports both
your lower back and your posture.

Exercise 1: The Imprint

All you need to do is lay down, pick your feet up off the floor, and then imprint your entire back on the ground as aggressively as possible. This includes your tailbone, lower back, middle back and upper back.

Start with your knees right over your hips and pull your belly button down toward your spine. If you want to make it more challenging, press your thighs away from you a few inches, but do not let your back come off the floor. Work your way up to holding this for 2 minutes.


The Imprint exercise - make sure to keep your entire back on the floor!

Exercise 2: Alternating Leg Presses

The same physics here apply as above. This time, you’re pressing both hands onto your right thigh as hard as you can, while simultaneously reaching your left leg forward. Then, bend the knee and switch to the other leg. Work up to 10 on each side.

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The alternating leg presses - remember to keep your back imprinted onto the ground!

Exercise 3: The Lift

For this exercise, bring your hands behind your head and point both elbows up to the ceiling.

Exhale, then lift your shoulders and your tailbone as high off the floor as possible. Suck your belly button in and hold this lift.

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The Lift is very effective at working the Transverse Abdominis

Work your way up to 10 rounds of 10-20 seconds.

Exercises For Stability

When riding, it’s important to be able to separate the movement of your limbs from the movement of your hips and core. These 2 exercises will get you used to moving different parts of your body while keeping your center still and stable.

Exercise 1: The Diagonal Plank Reach

Start in a forearm plank. Then reach your right arm as wide as your can (think about trying to hit 3:00 on a clock). At the same time, reach your left leg as wide as you can (try to hit 7:00 or 8:00 on a clock). Then alternate!

Try not to let your butt stick up in the air or rock your hips side to side! Work your way up to 5 1-minute rounds.

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Diagonal Reach Plank

The ultimate victory for this pose is keeping everything still except the arm and leg that’s moving!

Exercise 2: The 3-Part Superwoman

Lay on your stomach and bring your hands behind your head, legs long on the floor.

First, exhale and raise your chest off the floor as high as you can. Keep looking down at the floor - this is not the time to check yourself out in the mirror! Looking down keeps your neck (cervical spine) nice and happy. Pause at the top for 3-5 seconds.

Then, lower your chest and pick up your legs. Pause at the top for 3-5 seconds.

Finally, lower your legs again and then lift your chest and your legs off the floor and pause at the top for 3-5 seconds.

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Parts 1, 2, and 3 of the 3-Part Superwoman

Work your way up to 3 rounds of 20 (1 round = chest, then legs, then both).

Exercises For Leg Strength

You need strong legs to ride. Duh. But what happens if you don’t have an adductor machine? Never fear, the Thigh Squeeze is here!

Exercise 1: The Thigh Squeeze

Lay on your back and put your feet on the floor. Start by crossing your left ankle over your right ankle. Now for the kicker...

With both feet planted on the floor,
squeeze your knees together like your
favorite horse's life depends on it!

Then, all you have to do is lift your hips off the floor into a bridge position, then lower them back to the floor. Do NOT let your knees come apart! This is how you hit those adductors.

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The Thigh Squeeze - great for hitting those adductors!

Work up to 3 rounds of 30 of these. If you’re looking for extra credit, after number 30, hold your hips off the floor for 20-30 seconds. Looking for some extra extra credit? After the hold, pulse your hips up 15-30 times.

Exercise 2: Squat Variations

This exercise is designed to strengthen your Gluteus Medius. This muscle is the #1 preventer of knee injury, so strengthening it will help keep your knees happy for long hours in the saddle.

Come into a squat position, and put your hands on your outer thighs, right above your knees. Then press your hands into your legs, like you’re trying to slam your legs shut with the powerful strength of your Herculean arms. Resisting that force with your legs is what turns on your glute med.

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The Squat Variation exercise is great for strengthening your Gluteus Medius!

Then, staying in your squat position, lift and lower your heels off the ground. This is really great for building stability and strength in your ankles, which every rider needs, too!

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Finish up this Squat Variation by lifting your heels off the ground.

Looking For Extra Credit?

Add some wall sits into your life. Make sure you press your heels firmly into the floor and press your lower back into the wall. In fact, don’t let any part of your back come off the wall! And do NOT push, rest, press, or touch your hands onto your thighs. Resist! You can do it!

Keep your arms by your sides or overhead.
This is the key to an effective wall sit.

Start at your baseline now. Then add 5 seconds every single day for the next month. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can build endurance muscle in your legs! This really helps with staying strong and balanced in 2-point position in the saddle.

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Wall sits are a highly effective exercise for building endurance muscles in your legs!

I hope this helps! If you have questions about strength training for riding, feel free to DM me on Instagram!
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