May 14, 2018

The Interesting Effects of CrossFit and Dressage

I had to take a little time off of blogging recently.  I'm just now really getting into the full swing of things at the new job, and it took me a couple weeks to adjust to the life of regular air travel and pretending to be an expert in things no one is an expert in 😄  But I've gotten settled into the groove now. 


I didn't ride a whole lot lately and Connor got a lot of trainer rides, but what was interesting was what happened in the saddle when I stopped working out temporarily.  I've now been back at CrossFit just 2-3 days a week for a few months now, and I took 10 days off recently due to life and travel.

Since I started back at CrossFit in February with my fitness level down to zero, I took the opportunity to do everything with very light weights and to focus on my form.  Not like I had much of a choice - I am WEAK now - but I chose to focus on form before focusing on ramping up the weight.

Using a selfie to explain to my husband that yes, I did need to shower before going to dinner at a friend's after my CrossFit workout

In focusing on form, I came to realize that I had never engaged my upper back muscles for anything in all the years I've done CrossFit - aka, the muscles that are very important to help you sit upright both on the ground and in the saddle.  I effectively isolated them with poor form and posture all those years. 

Looking back on where certain lifts stalled out back when I was really consistent (snatch, for example, I could never break the 85lb mark despite definitely being strong enough to go higher), things start to make a lot of sense.  At some point the rest of the muscles can't compensate for other muscle groups that aren't working and should be.

I didn't think my fitness had improved that much since February, but when I rode Connor in the middle of that 10 day stretch of not working out, I realized the new muscles had been making a huge difference in my ability to sit "with him" instead of "against him", and in my ability to sit up straight in the saddle. 

I was keenly aware that I wasn't sitting well after not working out for a while, but since I'd lost those baby ab and upper back muscles I'd developed, I couldn't do anything about it.

That was a good realization to come to - just like asking a horse to do something it hasn't developed the muscles for, people are the same way.  I can know I'm not doing something well, but if I don't have the muscles to do it, I can't do it. 

And now that I felt the night-and-day difference between riding with muscles and riding without those muscles, it's redoubled my commitment to keep doing CrossFit.  It's also surprised me that my "lazy" 2-3 day a week workout schedule (compared to the 4-5 I did years ago) has made such a difference in the saddle - all the more motivation to do whatever I can, whenever I can, even if it doesn't feel like a lot.


  1. This is SO true -- since I've started working out, my riding has changed so, so much.

  2. It's crazy how long it takes to build up fitness compared to how quickly it's lost! I also notice a huge difference in my riding when I'm consistently working out!

  3. Interesting self eval.

    I tend to be of the opinion that being very physically strong is not good for riding. If you are very strong, it is too easy to use muscle as a solution. I am not sure where that line is, but I dropped a lot of bad riding habits and braces after I no longer practiced resistance training. Of course, a strong torso is a must, but form definitely dominates in riding, too.

    1. Running is a double edged sword too as it can make your hips and hamstrings pretty tight. I try to do pilates and yoga each at least once a week (in addition to running, and a core conditioning class twice weekly)

    2. I dunno what kind of riding you're doing that being physically strong isn't good for, but for dressage it's really helpful.

      I did CrossFit for three years (and do TRX now) and can 100% say that it was the only reason why I was capable of getting my USDF Gold Medal.

      Having muscle on you doesn't mean you default to using them against the horse. It'd be like saying you don't want to be stronger or else you'll accidentally yank doors off the hinges when you walk into a room. Stronger riders are often more effective not because they can muscle the horse around (you see plenty of unfit riders do that) but because they have the body control to have better timing.

  4. For sure! I started pilates and it was crazy how much more comfortable I was just doing simple things while riding :)

  5. I also really need to start working out again. I had been good but took another break and I can really tell the difference.

  6. I'm excited for you to be doing CF again! I also am ramping back up into it after taking some time off in the winter and I'm trying to do the same- really break everything back down the basics and focus on form and body awareness. As long as the strength takes to come back it's exciting how easily some things like doing a squat snatch came right back.

  7. haha I feel like we are the opposite, I've always been super good at engaging my upper back but engaging the lower ab muscles meh not so much.