Five-part fitness guide for humans based on thoroughbred training regimes released today by SAS Who Dares Wins' instructor and Epsom Downs Racecourse.
- Ant Middleton identified routine, balance and a calm training environment - integral to producing an Investec Derby winning racehorse – as hugely beneficial to human performance
- Fitness guide trialled on fitness fanatic Vogue Williams and psychological insight from Frankie Dettori at the world-famous racecourse
Epsom Downs Racecourse, home of The Investec Derby, has teamed up with SAS: Who Dares Win’s chief instructor and ex-special forces soldier, Ant Middleton, to create a unique health & fitness guides for humans, based on thoroughbred training regimes.
Fitzroy House stables in Newmarket, run by 2005’s Derby winning trainer, Michael Bell, opened its doors to let Ant investigate what it takes to train a racehorse and ultimately win the World’s Greatest Flat Race.
Calmness, routine & consistency
A huge horseracing fan himself, Ant unpicked both the physical and psychological training that go into creating the best Flat racing thoroughbreds, exploring a variety of elements including; cardio fitness, nutrition, physiotherapy, veterinary support and breeding. Ant compared and contrasted his own fitness experience to develop key five guidelines for humans to learn from. These include: calmness, routine, consistency, adaptability and physical training.
Ant Middleton said: “Understanding what makes horses race ready and ultimately Derby winners has been fascinating. The overwhelming learning from my time with Michael Bell, his team and his elite horses, is that routine, balance and a calm environment are integral to producing a winner”.
Train easy, fight hard
Ant also identified some clear differences between the way horses are trained versus those in the military. In the military the mantra is ‘train hard, fight easy’; soldiers are pushed to their limit everyday so they are ready to perform at a moment’s notice. Racehorses on the other hand are not over-trained; if they were, they would not perform as well or be as happy and content as they are. Racehorses are eased into training and are taught to remain cool, calm, collected, saving adrenalin for the raceday: ‘train easy, fight hard’.
Ant’s key findings:
Be calm, mindful and apply less stress on your body to benefit all areas of your life. Horses are trained so they don’t know it’s work, with minimal stress in a serene environment. Use your fitness time to also unwind, de-stress and relax. Learn what works for you to achieve a calm mind and more relaxed state and try different options like pilates or yoga. Respect your body and only push it so hard in training to ensure it is event day-ready. Injuries, strains and fatigue will not help you achieve your goal, whatever it may be.
Whether it’s just for general fitness improvement or a specific event and challenge, create a structured disciplined training plan. Build this into your home and work day so it’s not insurmountable and consider short bursts - 30 minutes at lunchtime, for example. Racehorses are trained with clear routine and rhythm from their meal times, to cardio work to schooling and they thrive on keeping their routine the same. On racedays this is also important. We can learn from this by sticking to similar wake-up times to reduce tiredness and improve productivity.
Training consistently and eating well will undoubtedly lead to better performance and wellbeing. My recommendation would be to aim to stick to your meal and activity plans 90% of the time and allow 10% room for a day off. Like racehorses, include plenty of water and nutritious food in your diet. When it comes to event days - ‘racedays’ - it’s even more important to keep the nutrition routine that works for you consistent so that you perform at your best.
Health consistency should also be monitored. Racehorses have regular check-ups with a vet and undergo physio work, including treadmill time for those who may be not gallops-ready, or swimming time to help renew and repair. There is also a large set chunk of time each day specifically for rest and recovery in their stables. This is something we are generally not as good at, remembering to take care of our bodies from a rest and recovery perspective. I’d love to have a daily medical check!
Remember you are not the same as anyone else and this relates to your training. Like us, no two racehorses are the same and after speaking to Tattersalls, Europe’s largest bloodstock auctioneer, in The Jockey Club Rooms in Newmarket, it became clear a huge part is played by genetics and breeding. It’s key to know how to finely tune your engine and play to its strengths. I would recommend an all-round fitness program to get to know your body and then focus on those forms of exercise more suited to you than others, to improve your wellbeing.
The psychological side is also key, trainers spend time ‘reading’ the horse, observing when it is calm and ensuring their routine keeps this equilibrium perfectly balanced. Physiologically some horses need more schooling to help with their technique and others more treadmill time. Michael treats each horse as an individual helping to prepare them in advance and on the day to be as comfortable and ready as possible.
5. Physical training
You may not realise but there are numerous elements to a racehorse’s training regime which we already do. Adhere to the seven guidelines below for a balanced training framework:
- Gallops HIIT
- Schooling arena Plyometrics, alignment
- Horse treadmill Stamina, 30-minute running
- Horse walker: Park walk, 10,000 steps
- Sauna and swim: Swimming, pilates, yoga
- Rest time: At home watching TV, sat at work
- Raceday: Competition 10k, triathlon
From the home of horseracing
Michael Bell, who trains horses for Her Majesty The Queen said: “It was such a pleasure welcoming Ant to Newmarket, the home of horseracing, and incredible listening to him compare his experiences to how I train horses. The findings Ant has developed are incredibly valuable and I believe can really aid human performance.”
For the second part of the activity at Epsom Downs Racecourse, Ant put Ladies Day ambassador and fitness fanatic Vogue Williams to the test with the physical training part of his guide, showcasing how bursts of HIIT, plyometrics, and stamina work can support your regime.
He then discussed the psychological side of riding a thoroughbred with two-time Derby winner, Frankie Dettori, delving into how the jockey can transfer a sense of calm to the horse, and highlighting the unique psychological differences between individual thoroughbreds.
Vogue, who is training to take part in a charity horserace said: “It’s so interesting. I do a lot of training and also am currently learning to jockey, so it’s fascinating to hear about the racehorse’s physical regime. I am definitely someone who likes HIIT but I will now be introducing more yoga and pilates into my program to balance my day with a calm activity.”
Frankie, who hopes to be riding in the 2019 Investec Derby on Saturday 1 June, said: “Everyone thinks about the physical side of being a jockey and a racehorse, but in fact the psychological side is just as important when it comes to winning a race as monumental as the Investec Derby. That sense of calm, routine and adaptability all come into play on raceday. The trainers are incredible and the horses are in such fantastic condition so we should definitely be taking a leaf out of their book.”
Ant concluded: “It’s been great putting my guide to the test with Vogue and Frankie at Epsom. It helps that they approach everything with such a positive outlook which is replicated in their regimes; whilst they have very different schedules and roles, they both demonstrate balance, consistency and discipline. It has been such an honour to step behind the scenes of an elite training yard and to see first-hand the process of nurturing top thoroughbreds. I now have far greater respect of the sport and the equine athletes - I think training yards should be called Loughborough Universities for horses!”
The 2019 Investec Derby Festival takes place at The Jockey Club’s Epsom Downs Racecourse on Friday 31st May and Saturday 1st June.