Fitness Fridays - Core like a Cable
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I once read a thread on a Facebook photo about a dressage rider - the original photo was about 60 years old, and the gentleman rider was a perfect display of elegance on a horse captured in a moment of the most classical, textbook piaffe you could imagine. The comment that struck me:
"That guy has a core like a steel cable."
I've thought about my riding with that phrase ever since. Every time I am in the ring I think to myself, "core like a steel cable". It's a wonderful analogy for riding: it's flexible, it keeps everything together, and it's undeniably strong. When we talk about fitness for horse riding, the most important aspect is always the core. That said, how do we get a core like a steel cable?!
Lets face it, crunches are outdated, and they are no fun at all. If you're doing barn chores on the regular, you might be getting a lot of core work in mucking stalls and chucking bales, but is it balanced? I know that I almost always muck out from the same side of my body; most days, I tell myself I'll do more tomorrow with my left side, but then 5:30 am the next morning rolls around and all that good planning goes right up on the muck heap.
So how do you train your core if you have limited time to go to the gym, you have no desire to do crunches, and you don't have the space and $$ for a whole bunch of fitness equipment because, you know, SADDLES....?!
Many riders that I know swear by pilates and yoga, as both focus heavily on deep core strength, balance, and flexibility. I have not been a fan of either myself, only because I like more high energy activities. I also have a few friends who have found personal trainers that specialize in rider fitness, and they often combine that with other gym or bootcamp memberships. Swimming also comes highly recommended, as it naturally encourages you to use your whole body evenly, and has the added benefit of taking pressure off of your joints. Those of us who have been knocked around a few times by their horses might particularly appreciate that!
Personally, I have found nothing as beneficial for my overall fitness performance, or my core in particular, as the Insanity workout. And, oddly, I find it fun! Shaun T is motivating and engaging, and most of all, I like that absolutely no equipment is involved. The workouts use your own body against you (and you WILL feel it), which I think works really well for us horse riders. The program encourages balance and flexibility, and even the stretches engage the core. We never use weights in the saddle, or at least I don't - we use our own strength to stay in the saddle and to learn to move in harmony with our equine partners. The workout sessions are relatively short, and because of the vast amount of physical activity that we have on the farm, I personally don't feel too guilty if I miss a few days. The convenience is key for me as well; rather than de-stinkifying myself of the barn smells and heading all the way to the gym, I can just pop a DVD into the player and get to making myself even more stinky.
Whichever path you take to creating or strengthening your steel cable, just keep these few things in mind:
- As always, talk to your doctor before you engage in any new physical activity regime!
- Try to always be mindful of using both sides of your body equally
- Give your core some thought periodically throughout the day! It's easy to forget it's there. How's your posture right now as you're reading this? Can you sit a little straighter and tighten it up a bit?
- Keep the image of a steel cable in mind during your next ride. That cable would be unbreakable, but it would still move with your horse fluidly.
Take care, and happy horse-ing!