As the director of Calgary’s Strong Cowboy, a strength, conditioning and personal training company, Mark Barrett knows what’s required to keep rodeo athletes, including bull riders, steer wrestlers and calf ropers, in tip-top shape.
In honour of Stampede, we asked Barrett what happens behind the scenes and how he helps rodeo stars train for the big event.
How many rodeo athletes do you work with during the year?
I work with anywhere between one to four rodeo athletes per year. I also speak at rodeo schools and 4-H groups during the year instructing them on exercise, flexibility training and basic nutrition.
What’s a normal workout program like?
Most rodeo athletes need a lot of core work so much of the focus is on that. Following some general strengthening, most of the training is geared towards speed and power as most rodeo events require this type of exercise.
What muscles are focused on and why?
Again, core strength (abdominals and lower back) is very important. There needs to be a very strong connection between the upper and lower body to allow the athletes to stay on and control their bodies as the animals move. In addition, groin strength and upper body strength (biceps, back, rotator cuff) are also very important.
Does the workout routine change closer to an event?
Yes. I try to prioritize their programs starting with basic strength and then moving to more speed and power-based movements closer to when they are getting ready for the season.
What athlete would you compare a rodeo athletes training regime to? For example, Professional Bull Rider Chad Besplug says he trains like a sprinter.
Yes, that’s a pretty good analogy. A 100-metre sprinter takes nine to 10 seconds to run that distance. Roughstock events are eight seconds long if they make it to the whistle. Of course, the nature of the sports is different, but they are using the same energy systems which require all-out effort. Some events such as roping and steer-wrestling can be even quicker (four to seven seconds), so you can see why speed and power would be important.
What common misconceptions do people have about rodeo athletes?
I asked a bull rider once if he was nuts and he said, ‘Do you ski? Do you go 40-50km/hr downhill on skis?’ I said, ‘Ya, all the time’. He said, ‘I think YOU’RE nuts. I would never do that’. So I think it’s just what you’re used to. If you grow up riding sheep, horses, cows, etc., that’s just what normal is for you. And if you like it, and can make money at it – make a living – then why not? I love working with rodeo athletes. They are great people and always so appreciative of the help I can give them.
What do you think would surprise people about how rodeo athletes train?
How unique some of the exercises are. We try to mimic or make the exercises as specific as possible to the event they compete in. They would look completely different than anything else you would see somebody doing in a gym. I’m sure they’d get some funny looks.