July 4, 2011

Fitness Matters, or How I Improved my Riding Without Riding

I had wanted to mention something about this in my last post about my first lesson back on Thursday, but that post was long enough already.  TL;DR: I changed my riding life by getting fit with Crossfit.  Read on for more.

During my instructor's two month hiatus, I moved and found a new gym, one that isn't an official Crossfit gym  but officially supports Crossfit and has Crossfit trainers and classes.  I've done Crossfit off and on for a few years, (in addition to being a lifelong runner) but was always discouraged by the amount of subbing I had to do at normal gyms.  That's not a problem at my new gym, and I've stuck with it for around six weeks.  I've lost around 5lbs and gained inches in my arm muscles.  I currently look like this after doing Crossfit (and eating low-carb as usual - you will not see results if your diet is poor!) while my trainer was out for six weeks:
Back muscles are hard to see here, but leg definition is not.

Things to note here:  I'm barely 100lbs, and have very strong core muscles just beginning to poke through, clearly defined deltoids and biceps.  Before, I was thin and ropey with no defined muscles.
The effect on my riding was so dramatic, you'll think I'm exaggerating.  My instructor remarked that I was riding stronger than ever and looking more in-sync with the horse than she'd ever seen. The sitting trot was dramatically easier than it had been the last time I rode two months ago.  Before, I could perform it fairly well, but it was difficult.  Now, with the addition of strong back/stomach muscles, it's like the sitting trot just happened. Months of lessons couldn't teach me what I accomplished in five minutes after getting fit.

My core muscles stabilized me so much that I felt confident even doing exercises in which I normally would have been unstable and nervous, like cantering on the lunge line and slowly twisting 180 degrees with my upper body. I rode less with my hands and more with my core, and just felt more stable in the saddle.  It was like I'd taken six months of daily lessons while she was gone, when in reality, I'd spent 10-30 minutes max at the gym a few days a week.  (Crossfit rarely requires more than a half-hour in the gym, and I'd say most workouts average 15 minutes.)

What I want to say with this post and my experience, especially after reading Stacey's blog today, is this:  RIDERS, FITNESS MATTERS.  IT MATTERS IN A BIG WAY.  We can say all we want that we get fit lifting hay bales, carrying water, and riding a couple horses a day, but in reality, that's not a workout.  It will keep you minimally fit for your job and you will be able to ride and not get winded, but it will not improve your overall fitness.

In the end, you get out of your body what you put into it, and the dividends that are paying off in my riding are well worth the effort at the gym.  We expect our horses to be athletes, and we need to be fit enough to keep up with them.  If you're not fit, you're holding yourself and your riding ability back.  How many lessons did I spend working on my sitting trot that could have been avoided if I just had a core strong enough to actually do the sitting trot?  How many times did I acknowledge but ignore my instructor's comment that I need to use my core more, and it all comes from my core?  I didn't fully believe her, because my core wasn't strong enough to do what I needed it to do in Dressage and I never saw results.  Now that it is, I regret not getting fit sooner.

I hope this inspires some of you to make some changes.  It doesn't have to be Crossfit, though I will admit it's the fastest way to see results in my riding I've found so far.  I want everyone to experience the type of dramatic change I experienced this week; what a rush to have so much confidence in your body as an aid and as a tool by which to improve!

1 comment:

  1. LIKE LIKE LIKE LIKE LIKE! Congrats! You look great!