Finding fitness out of the saddle
I used to laugh at those other girls who were proud of their stringent gym routines and who posed in their active wear for a post-workout selfie, or even worse the ones who posted pictures of social media of their toned arms and ab’s with hashtags like ‘strong’ or ‘fitgirl’. I was baffled by the way they embraced the uniform of ‘active wear’. Up until recently my general approach to exercise was summed up perfectly by the phrase ‘Yeah, I’m into fitness, fitness whole pizza into my mouth’. While I have refrained from Instagraming or Facebooking these types of pictures, I am now the somewhat reluctant owner of active wear.
My previous forays into the world of fitness have resulted from enforced horse-free time. Times when my horse had an injury and I had no other horse to ride and guilt-induced runs following one too many nights of having cake for dinner. As an aside, as a dietitian, I now know that this way is a terrible reason to do exercise – the research overwhelmingly suggests that you have to have a motivation bigger than weight loss or burning off ‘excess’ calories to maintain momentum in the long run.
One particular attempt to get fit prior to this involved a combination of running, walking and jogging a few times a week, until my knee blew up like a balloon. More recently I got quite into tabata, a form of high intensity interval training.
My initial addiction to tabata started innocently enough when one of my friends invited me to a fitness class that she had recently discovered. I arrived at the at my first class feeling slightly awkward in my running shoes with three-quarters of my white, normally jodhpur-clad legs poking out of shorts. My friend’s husband greeted me with a laugh, “So you enjoy pain do you?”
It was at that point, that one of the trainers come over to me to introduce herself and to explain that most first timers don’t make it through the full session. At the point my stubbornness kicked in. I made it through that first class and went regularly two to three times per week for a period of about six months.
The benefits of Fitness
The importance of rider fitness and the recognition of riders as athletes is on the rise. The impact of rider position is well documented within scientific literature, and one effective way to impact position is through exercise off the horse.
I particularly liked Rebecca Ashton’s (Dressage Rider and Pilates instructors) description of the benefits of pilates as enabling the rider to arrange themselves on top of the horse.
Personally, I enjoyed the challenge of mastering new exercises, perfecting my technique and increasing the amount of weight I was lifting. I noticed positive changes in my mood and sleep pattern. And on the days I did tabata I had more energy to get through the day.
All those things aside it was the benefits to my riding that helped me drag myself out of bed at 5am at least two to three times a week. My increasing fitness and particularly core strength, resulted in my position being far more stable and secure. And I had much better stamina to get through my riding lessons.
When competition season kicked off, I had to admit to myself that I was becoming incredibly tired. I couldn’t continue to stretch myself across so many things, full time work, riding five to six days a week getting me home around 8pm and getting up at 5am to exercise 2-3 times per week. Oh and also trying to maintain a relationship with my partner.
So what do I do now?
At the start of 2018, I decided that I wanted to re-focus on improving my fitness out of the saddle. I signed up to a fitness passport through work and set myself the goal of ultimately getting to the gym three times per week.
I mostly do group circuit classes, as I find these to be the most motivating, but some days I do my own workouts on the weights machines. It was also recently suggested to me by a physiotherapist that I saw to start doing weights on a bosu ball (a half gym ball with a flat firm base) to help improve my dynamic stability.
Most weeks I get to the gym twice a week, but if I’m sick or going away competing then it might be less than that. For me over the last nine months the key has been consistency rather than wrecking myself trying to get to the gym five or six times per week – that would just be totally unsustainable. I want to establish positive habits that I can maintain in the long run.
This post is part of ‘The Other Equestrian Athlete’ Series.