I recently started putting more effort into my fitness. I’d like to say it was primarily a decision to simply be healthier and a better version of myself, but really it’s because I signed up for a riding holiday this summer that involves 8 hour rides and I knew I needed to improve my endurance!
I was already a #CrossFit girl, and was working out approximately 2-3 times per week in addition to riding once a week in lessons. The whole “new year, new you” mentality and motivation from my planned summer fun inspired me to up my CrossFit game to 5-6 times per week. And, by luck of the draw, my instructor was now allowing me to come exercise her new hunter/jumper pony once a week so my riding increased by half (from 1 ride a week to 2…. hey, I’ll take it!).
Anyway, when I initially started CrossFit I was worried that all the strength training and olympic lifting was going to hurt my form in the saddle. I was worried I would lose flexibility with the addition of muscle mass, and having tight shoulders and hips was already something I was working through. However, my particular CrossFit gym hosts a once a week class on the fundamentals of olympic lifting, and it was here that I discovered I was all wrong.
In order to properly execute, let’s say, a “squat snatch“, you not only have to develop your strength but also the flexibility in your hips and… wait for it… your shoulders (and probably more)! Having good range of motion in your hips helps you come into your squat while flexibility in your shoulders and chest allows you to position the bar straight overhead to remain balanced.
You can always decrease the weight in an olympic lift if you don’t have the strength yet, but if you lack flexibility this will be a major limiting factor and can increase your risk of injury! Not only do these facts remain true through all CrossFit movements, from olympic lifts to muscle ups, but it made me think of my time in the saddle and how the same principles apply.
As riders we are expected to at least have strong cores and legs to remain balanced and steady in the saddle whether we’re galloping a turn around a barrel, executing a perfect piaffe and passage, or soaring over a fence. At the same time, we’re expected to be relaxed in our seat, hips, shoulders, core, legs, hands, fingers, ankles, neck…. I can go on. It’s not easy! Use your muscles, be strong, but look like you’re doing everything effortlessly. My time working out in “the box” as CrossFitters call it and my time in the saddle began to look more and more similar.
So I dare say to my fellow equestrians, give CrossFit a try! It’s a type of workout that can be modified to fit anybody. Just be sure your coach focuses on good form and safety and you’ll be good to go! Also, most CrossFit gyms offer a first time intro class to help you understand the basics, and sometimes the intros are even free!