Get Fit or Get Bucked: How Fit Is a Bull Rider?

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For many people the biggest hurdle to overcome when it comes to exercise is finding the motivation to do so. However, for professional bull riders like Reid Barker, 23, the motivation is very clear. Stay fit, or be prepared to go flying. Coach is always on the lookout for interesting approaches to exercise that might inspire, so we enlisted Reid to give us the lowdown on rodeo fitness.

Why do you need to be so fit to ride bulls?

It’s a sport that’s physically demanding, and if you’re a pound or two overweight, it can affect your mind frame, it can affect the way the main balance is distributed on the back of the bull. You’re not going to perform the best you can.

What do you focus on with your exercise?

I try to do everything. I usually work my core more. I do three or four exercises as fast as I can for as long as I can do them, then I’ll repeat it all over again. I do crunches, I do push-ups… anything that builds, but I do it at a fast tempo, to build my endurance as well as muscle. I do about two hours. It’s rigorous. If you want to be the best, you’ve gotta do what it takes.

So core strength is key?

Core is the most important part of rodeo, because the way a bull will manoeuvre it’s not the same every time. I’ll get on at least 130 bulls and every single bull, every single jump, will be different, so it’ll take a core to stay in control, not of the animal, but in control of yourself, to maintain balance, to stay on top and get to the eight-second whistle.

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Is there anything you can compare rodeo to?

There really isn’t. I’d say it’s as tough and dangerous as rugby but it requires a finesse like figure skating.

What do you eat to support your training?

Well right now I’m not able to eat much protein, I got a bull last weekend jerk me down and pin me right underneath my chin, and it cut my lip all the way through. I just pulled my stitches out this morning. I have to do protein shakes. A lot of carbohydrates as well as fruits and vegetables.

How often do you get injured?

There’s a saying about bull riding: it’s not if you get hurt, it’s when, and how bad. The when for me is a lot more often than other people. Back in December at the National Finals Rodeo, a bull stepped on my shoulder, and broke my shoulder blade in half. That took me out for two months. The year before that I had facial reconstructive surgery – a bull’s horn hit me right in my eye and broke my socket. That took me out a month, and a month to the day after that happened, I broke my sternum. The cartilage that keeps your ribs together in the front, I broke it smooth in half.

Given the risks, how much training do you do with a bull?

I will get on a – I wouldn’t say a more gentle bull – but they aren’t bucking so hard, so they’re just practice bulls. So I get on those bulls and I can practice. About once a week I’ll get on five or six bulls.

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.