Four years ago, Mexican show jumper Eugenio Garza Pérez suffered a bad fall, landing on his back and compressing his spine. The pain became so severe that the staple Team Mexico rider wasn't able to ride every day. But with the expertise of fitness trainer Mike Barthélemy at Limitless Performance, LLC, Eugenio is back in the saddle and feeling better than ever.
Based in Wellington, Florida, at his family’s barn, El Milagro, Eugenio makes the quick drive over to Mike's gym four or five times a week.
“He’s a good trainer, but what I love about him is he’s kind of like a life coach for me,” Eugenio says of Mike. “He really cares for his clients, he motivates you even when you come in some days and don’t want to workout. He knows what to say, when to say it, and it’s changed everything for me. It’s definitely changed my riding. I can ride six to seven horses a day and feel like the seventh horse was the same as the first one.”
Between his busy show schedule and studies at the University of Miami, Mike and Eugenio work on maintaining strength by incorporating exercises that focus on core and balance. Since November, Eugenio has gained 15 pounds of muscle by keeping “the weight moderate, nothing too crazy heavy,” Mike explains. “It’s high repetition and isolation. Working out is creative. No one trains with a trainer that’s boring or basic. Then you’re not getting what you really need. Everything has to be very specific and based on exactly what he feels.”
So what does a typical workout with Mike look like for Mexico’s rising star? Try it at your own risk!
1. Physical therapy session with Dr. Jamal Alian, DPT
Eugenio stays limber with the help of Dr. Alian, who is a firm believer that manual massage promotes muscle recovery and prevents injury. During their 30-minute session before his workout with Mike, Dr. Alian performs manual therapy on Eugenio’s back using the Graston Technique. This method of massage with a specialized instrument gently breaks up scar tissue and warms up Eugenio’s back before he hits the weights.
2. Pull-ups (4x15, 20 second rest between sets)
“We always do pull-ups to begin with and warmup because it stretches your whole back and it loosens you up. Since Eugenio has more flexibility and he’s strong enough, I let him do muscle-ups [CrossFit style],” Mike says. After he’s finished with his sets, beads of sweat are dripping down Eugenio’s face. “Look at him, he’s already out of breath and he’s ready to go!”
3. Diagonal dumbbell row (4x15 each arm, 20 second rest between sets)
Warning: this exercise requires extreme focus and balance. Equipped with a flat bench, begin in a straight-arm plank position. In one hand, row a dumbbell into your ribs to create a 90-degree angle while your opposite back leg is lifted in the air. This fun exercise not only improves diagonal strength, but also works your balance and core — two must-haves in the saddle!
4. Bent-over row with resistance band (4x15, 20 second rest between sets)
Using a long resistance band, tie the band around a bar and step on the loose ends with both feet to create a triangle shape. Hinging from the hips, engage your core and back as you pull the bar upwards into the body to form a 90-degree angle with your elbows. Don’t be intimidated by incorporating resistance bands into your workout — they simply add an extra challenge!
5. Inverted TRX row (4x15, 20 second rest between sets)
Invented by a former Navy SEAL, TRX ropes are a versatile staple in the gym. Before beginning, make sure the TRX straps are secured to a sturdy mount or squat rack. Holding the straps in each hand, gently lower your body towards the ground, then using your arms, pull your body upwards. Make sure your core is engaged and your body straight as a board every time you pull up!
6. ISO bent-over row (4x15, 20 second rest between sets)
Start with two feet planted squarely on the ground. Hinging from your hips, bend your torso over until your back is flat and parallel to the floor (you can rest your head on the top of an incline bench if handy.) Holding a dumbbell in each hand, create a rowing motion into your body until the shoulder blades feel engaged. Pro tip: remember to keep your back flat and your core working!
7. Rotational bicycle kicks (4x15 each side, 20 second rest between sets)
This one is a doozy. Begin in the same starting position as #4 and pretend you’re riding an imaginary bicycle. As one leg extends out, pull the opposite knee to opposite elbow with a twisting motion. Remember to exhale out the pain! It helps, I promise.
8. Cross-fire crunch with Inertia Wave (4x30 seconds, 20 second rest between sets)
It’s called fire for a reason — this exercise burns the core! Beginning in a seated position (on a squishy pad, if preferred), lean back until your core is engaged with your feet off the ground. Holding the ropes in both hands, create an even, consistent wave side-to-side while keeping your core working and your feet hovering above the floor. Ouch.
9. Straight leg raises to bar (4x15 each leg, 20 second rest between sets)
By this point, your core should feel the burn! But Mike isn’t the type of trainer to ease up when his client is tired. There’s still work to be done! Hanging from a pull-up bar, begin with both legs straight. Alternating between the left and right leg, bring one leg up to form a 90-degree angle. Make sure both legs are completely straight — no cheating!
10. 20-minute cooldown
Whew, that was hard! But before Eugenio runs out of the gym to take a prescribed nap by Mike, he walks it out on the SkillMill or pedals on the Assault bike. Who doesn’t love to steal some extra cardio after a solid workout?
All photos by Leslie Threlkeld for NoelleFloyd.com