Thursday, January 24, 2019

Riding Fit (The Body) Part 2

It's not new information that getting fit enough to effectively ride your horse is important. For each rider that level of fitness is completely unique. For me, my depression plays a large role in making my body hurt and sometimes it's hard for me to distinguish between mental health associated pain and actual I'm-getting-old pain. I've always been a pretty athletic person, and part of my aches and pains now have to do with a lifetime of putting my body through a lot of wear and tear. I did competitive gymnastics as a child and as a result all my joints are pretty janky with some limitations on range of motion. Being a working student (again) at age 37, was a really good way for me to whip my body back into shape... and once that ended hot damn if I didn't gain the weight back and then some. I was happy yes, but I was not happy at the person in the mirror. Then, over the summer I herniated a disk in my back which really, really sucked. My doctor cautioned me to rest and once I was ready to start working on building up the surrounding muscles surrounding the injury to help support it going forward.

I cringe looking at these, at least Scout is cute
The first couple of months after injuring my back were very frustrating as the thing that bothered my back the most was being in the saddle. But I adapted to it and worked through the pain adding more and more time each ride. And by the end of October I felt like I was ready to ramp up the physical activity again. So at the beginning of November I ran a 5k (because that's a totally normal way to jump back into exercise) and I didn't die. I was excited that I actually had the wind and stamina to actually run the whole thing! My back hurt a LOT from running, but I was determined. So we joined the local Y so I could start swimming and eventually work up to more serious exercise.

If you don't take a gym selfie, did you even work out? (*I took all of these pics for the sole purpose of the blog)

There is just one problem with all of that... I HATE THE GYM. Like, really and truly do not like being there at all. But I am also extremely stubborn and so I started going anyway. I struggled to find a routine that I liked and was just overwhelmed with all of the choices and equipment and classes. My SO encouraged me to sign up for a few different apps that helped give me some guidance and before I knew it was in a regular program (a mix of cardio and strength training). And it didn't take long for me to see and feel just how much it was improving my riding.

Running
Despite the fact that I hate the gym, I DO enjoy running. But running outside proved to be entirely too concussive on my back so I started on the treadmill and found it to be much easier on my back and my joints. It wasn't long until I was up to running 15+ miles a week over three runs and I was really loving it. As an added benefit, I was developing some real mental fortitude. Running for an hour is a real testimony in mental stamina and I already appreciate how that helps me push through on those more boring times in the saddle. In addition, I've got my wind back again which feels amazing. Not being out of breath and being able to push through tough moments when I'm riding feels awesome. Scout on the other hand does not really appreciate my new found stamina and was legit shocked when I was able to continue on without taking breaks to catch my breath!

In a normal week, I try to do weight training 3 days a week (alternating days) and cardio of some sort on the days in between. Usually I give myself a day of to rest but not always. When I first started out I was running on all my cardio days because I really loved it, but I really needed to mix things up because my body was telling me I was running a bit too much too soon. So I gave several options a try until I found a routine that I really enjoy (I still hate being at the gym).

Stairclimber

Elliptical

Jacobs Ladder - this is an actual torture device
The stairclimber I really like because it works your upper legs and glutes which obviously has direct benefit for riding. While my legs are strong, my thighs are easily the least toned part of my body and this machine pinpoints that area while also providing some good cardio. I hate the elliptical machine and think it's completely bogus, while it burns calories I don't feel like I ever get a real workout on it. I have since switched to an Arc Trainer which is a bit of a variation on an elliptical and I really enjoy the kind of workout it gives me. One thing that's pretty interesting about using any of these machines is that I have really uneven legs (my right stirrup is always at least a full hole longer than me left) and when you're working out on an elliptical machine (for example) that small difference becomes quite dramatic. So I'm trying to use these machines to work on creating more evenness on both sides of my body. I sure hope it works because I think Scout would appreciate a much more even rider! The Jacobs Ladder machine is just a torture device and I don't recommend it unless you want to feel like dying after a minute. The longest I've been able to consecutively use it for is 7 minutes... SEVEN. I also use the row machine at least once a week and I love thinking about how the motion of using the rower mimics an exaggerated jump position. It's really helping me create muscle memory for hinging at the hip and the pull of the row bar feels very similar to galloping with a bridged rein (okay, maybe these are a bit of a stretch but it helps me tolerate the gym if I just pretend it has applications for riding).

It's just an X Scout, jeepers

One of the reasons that I wanted to start strength training is because Scout is a big, athletic and powerful ride. He was so easy to ride when I first got him, I never really thought about how much different he would feel after several hundred pounds and consistent training. That probably sounds naive, but it's remarkable. Emily came to ride him recently and was stunned, she said she couldn't believe what a physical ride he was now! Even when he's being light in the bridle he requires a ton of core/leg power to stay with him and I owe it to him to be able to hold up my part of the equation and not just sit there like a lump.

Why am I so insecure in workout leggings but totally fine in riding pants?

The program that I'm doing is alternating days with a combination of upper and lower body work. Each time you complete a series at a certain weight you incrementally go up in weight the next time you do that activity. Currently I'm doing the following: Bench Press, Barbell Rows, Incline Bench, Squat, Back Extension (these have been amazing for my lower back muscles), Overhead Press, Chin Ups, Deadlift and Curls. Usually, each day is a combination of 5 of these items and takes around an hour with warm ups.

And for someone that HATES being at the gym, I am loving lifting weights. I actually look forward to particular exercises (deadlift and squats I'm looking at you) and struggle with others (overhead press is just so hard) -- but it's also revealing the parts of my body that are truly strong and the parts that need work. Not shockingly, my lower body is quite strong, while my upper body is a bit on the weak side and it's time to get the rest of body in shape!


Learning to get deeper in my squats

My back continues to improve strength wise and I've noticed that when I skip days of strength training due to schedule conflicts, my back feels awful. So I'm going to try to stick to this plan and see where it takes me. Turns out that maybe doctors actually know what they're talking about, even if it's a slower road to recovery.

My arms look better than they did when I was a working student!

Ultimately, I don't have a particular strength goal or fitness milestone to achieve, but I'd like to continue progressing incrementally. I've made some loose goals for mileage for running, but that is all contingent upon my body holding up. I've finally reached the point in my life where I am listening much more closely to what my body is telling me and adjusting my plan accordingly. Funny, since that's my entire approach to Scout's training and it's taken me forever to figure it out for myself! My super vague goal is to be MUCH stronger than I was when the spring season rolls around. And now with my horse off getting super fit and schooled I better be in tip top shape when he returns!

So after about 2.5 months, I still hate the gym, but I like the folks that go there (they do all kinds of really cool programs for seniors and special needs) -- I'm less intimidated working out in the weight room and I'm starting to like the person looking back at me in the mirror. Getting old is tough, but I can influence how old I feel both mentally and physically. Self care is crucial and it starts one step at a time. Here's to everyone going out and doing what makes them feel strong inside and out and making themselves the best possible partner for their horse.













14 comments:

  1. I wish I could make fitness more of a priority outside of riding but I'm struggling to fit everything in as it is. I even did the thing where you write down what you do and try to remove things and there really wasn't anything to give up besides sleep! I truly believe if you really want to do something you make time for it but in my case I'm not willing to give up the other things. I won't always have 3 horses though and horses at home is often a decent workout in it's own right, lol. I do run when I can which I really enjoy.
    Sounds like you have a great program going!

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    1. Omg, trying to fit everything in is SO tough. But give yourself some credit -- having 3 horses at home is like a full time job by itself! My SO has been really good at giving me a break from co-parenting on days when he knows I NEED to get to the gym (even if I don't think I need to go).

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  2. To echo what Kristen said, it's so hard to try and fit everything in but the me-exercise is so important mentally and I really missed running the last year. I'm trying to also get back into the swing of things!

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    1. The struggle to fit it all in is SO real! My gym is open very early and very late so that sometimes helps in sneaking in a workout when I'm strapped for time (it's also just a few miles down the road which helps).

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  3. That's really awesome. I was on some ordered time off after kiddo, but am now struggling to find a new routine with my workouts. Any favorite apps to recommend? I'm boring and used to follow an old program my Dad wrote for me in school (long time ago).

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    1. I use a couple... My fitness Pal (which I don't really like very much), GreySkull LP is the name of the program I use for lifting and Fitplan is a really neat app that allows you to customized a 2-3 month workout program and you can choose gym or home dependent work out programs. I've heard really good things about Bodyboss too, and it's geared toward people that don't have time to get to a gym.

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  4. Well done, lady! I've never seen one of those Jacob's Ladder machines. Now I'm going to keep an eye out and try the first one I come across.

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    1. OMG, you have to. It's seriously the craziest machine. I need to revisit it and see if I can sustain a longer tome on it, but I think it's better used as an interval training device rather than for long periods of time.

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  5. I hate running. But the thing about wind/stamina with running and riding really strikes a chord with me. I swam competitively in highschool, and I can outswim so many runners. But running? For some reason, I cannot bring my swimming cardio capacity and stamina to running. Something about the impact, maybe? I want to think that my riding stamina is more similar to my swimming stamina, but it's really not -- it's somewhere between running and swimming. So I continue to run, to push that bottom limit up.

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    1. OMG, I have the exact same issue the other way around. I truly do not understand why I cannot get my breathing under control when I swim laps! I'm really excited to see how all of this increased stamina will help for riding!

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  6. It's a huge mental/confidence leap to go into a gym and workout and I'm super proud of you for doing it and keeping your body as healthy as it can be.

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    1. Thank you! I'm so pleased with the changes and how it's helping me feel good inside and out!

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  7. I went from endurance riding to bodybuilding to powerlifting, so it's really cool to read this from another equestrian blogger. The strength + stamina gains for riding are undeniable: I started riding my mare mostly bareback because it suddenly became so easy.

    Re: Jacob's Ladder: it is the invention of the devil but it was my favorite form of cardio when I was bodybuilding because it works *everything.* I was THRILLED the first time I was able to survive through 5 minutes on that contraption. My current record is 35 minutes. :)

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    1. I'm so grateful for the changes I've felt in the saddle so far. With Scout currently getting fit and schooled in Florida I'm doubling down on getting myself in shape too! BTW, you are a complete badass for being able to withstand the Jacob's Ladder for 35 minutes!!!!

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