Here's How a Real Bull Wrangler Gets In Shape
An angry and bucking 2,400 pound bull flies out of its cage with its cowboy rider seemingly precariously holding on: one hand is on the bull and the other is hand is high in the air. Nate Jestes - a bullfighter with Team Wyoming’s professional rodeo team- quickly and deftly steers the bull away from the rider when he falls to the ground after a few exciting seconds.
The American rodeo, started in 1869, is a competitive sport influenced by the working practices of cattle herding in Spain and Latin America. The American rodeo showcases many different events from calf roping, barrel racing, to steer riding, but one of the most recognizable rodeo events is bullfighting, a style first introduced by colorfully dressed rodeo clowns who protect bull riders from being trampled or gored by an angry bull. Instead of rodeo clowns, the cowboys who protect the bull riders are now known as "bullfighters", and work during bull-riding competitions to distract the bulls and help prevent injury to competitors. With around 25 U.S. states hosting rodeos every year - spanning the country from California to Maryland - cowboys have an opportunity to compete in bullfighting at dozens of events.
Bullfighters do their work in the rodeo arena, which means they are working in a loose dirt-filled arena with divots and holes. To help combat these conditions, Jestes focuses on explosive training, such as working with hydraulic-resisted squat machines to help him go from stationary to quick movements with maximum agility. This year, Nate was selected as one of the top five finalists in the country to be nominated as Bullfighter of the Year by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). With 200 eligible for voting, the best bullfighters are selected by the cowboys that trust them for their consistency in protecting them during the shows.
"We are dedicated to our workouts and making sure we are the better athletes out there. Our opponent - the 2,000 plus pound bull- is way bigger than us, way faster than us, and way stronger than us. If he gets us, it's gonna hurt,” he says. The rodeo is a year-round sport, and the top bullfighters, like Nate, who has been in the business for 10 years, are booked up full time at a rodeo every weekend January - April, and from June – November (usually 4-6 nights a week).
Does he get nervous? Sure. Nate says, “The nerves and fear doesn’t go away, but then I turn the energy into a positive to get into the zone”. If someone is going to be “hooked” (pinned under the bull) we want that to be us because we understand the risk.”
What can you learn about fitness from a bullfighter? “Beyond the physical ability, it’s about being in good mental shape,” says Jestes. “Bullfighting is 90% mental: I put myself in a position- inside the arena with a bull- where most people would want to run away. We swallow those instincts and put ourselves face to face with potential danger.”
Having a good team of trainers is vital. For example, Shawn Scott, D.C. is a sports medicine doctor who runs the Spine and Sport Central Texas clinic in Kingsland, Texas, and creates workouts for bullfighters like Nate on the road. Scott spends over 20 weekends traveling during the week to rodeos that are close to home.
Scott’s three main goals when training bullfighters are increasing strength, improving joint mobility, and recovery. "The workouts I create mainly consist of bodyweight and/or dumbbell exercises with high intensity and minimal rest," says Scott." "This allows strength and cardio to be combined into the workout. I prefer supersets or combination exercises. I like the workouts to be fast, aggressive, high intensity but short. Most of the workouts like jump squats, explosive pushups, planks, and high knees can be done anywhere, which is ideal for the lifestyle of bullfighters."
In the two months Jestes has off, Jestes is up in Montana training with Dane Fletcher-an ex-NFL player who played 7 years as a linebacker for the Buccaneers and Patriots and retired in 2015. Fletcher watches tapes of him fighting bulls and then develops workouts specifically to make Jestes a stronger bullfighter. Dane trains Jestes’ at his gym, The Pitt in Bozeman, Montana. My workouts emphasize coaching movement at Pitt with bullfighters, says Fletcher. “I also focus on maintenance and recovery techniques like squats, versa climbers, and physio dodge ball to bulk the guys up a couple months before bullfighting.”
Get Dane’s Bullfighter Workout:
EXERCISE 1: PHYSIO “DODGE” BALL
“The objective is to simulate bullfighting as much as possible with our Physio-Ball-Dodge drill.”
Set up two cones roughly 10 yards apart.
Start by running in a straight line from cone to cone.
After reaching the second cone, a coach instructs you to make a 45 degree cut either left or right.
Immediately after your cut, a partner throws a physioball at your torso at various speeds and timing (Not only is this an entertaining drill, but also prepares the you for the lateral movements as well as the uncertain movements a bull may bring into the arena).
Do 3 sets of 4 each direction
EXERCISE 2: SINGLE ARM KETTLEBELL SWING
“As Herb Brooks once said, “The legs feed the wolf.” Strong, powerful and flexible legs are pivotal as a bullfighter. Single arm kettlebell swings allow you to strengthen your hamstrings as well as your core.”
Place a kettlebell between your feet.
Push your butt back as you bend your knees to get into the starting position.
Looking straight ahead with a flat back, grab the kettlebell between your legs with one hand.
From this position, swing the kettlebell with force straight out by using your glutes to thrust the kettlebell to chin height.
Once kettlebell is at chin height, drive the kettlebell back down swinging between your legs allowing your hamstrings to control the reactive force.
Do 3 sets of 8 reps each arm
EXERCISE 3: DUMBELL GLUTE BRIDGE
“Strong glutes is not only essential for optimal performance in the arena, but can also significantly decrease risk to injury. By constantly strengthening glutes, you can take a lot of pressure off of your knees, hamstrings, groin and lower back.”
Lay with your shoulders up against a bench and your feet beat on the ground with knees bent at 90 degrees.
Extend one leg off of the ground as you raise your hips up to the ceiling.
Set a dumbbell on the hip of the downward leg (the leg with the foot on the ground).
Squeezing your core, you will lower and raise your butt from the ground to the ceiling as high as you can driving through your heel.
Do 4 sets of 12 reps each leg
EXERCISE 4: TRX Bodysaw
“Adding a suspension trainer to something simple like a bodysaw exercise allows more variable to turn on those small stabilizer muscles as well as force your major core muscles to keep your body stable.”
Lay face down on the ground
Reach back with your feel and loop them in the TRX loops roughly 3-5 inches off the ground.
In a plank position, drive your body back as far as you can toward your feet staying in that same plank position with your posture.
Once at your max range of motion that your core or shoulders can bare, return back to the neutral suspended plank position.
Do 4 sets of 20 reps superset with a hip flexor stretch