You guys know I'm pretty serious about my fitness work. I run somewhere between 15-20 miles a week, no matter the weather, I typically try to get into the gym a couple of days a week to lift heavy things, and I do a yoga routine 2-3 times a week.
|Lovely winter gym!|
My trainer, however, hates the fact that I run. See, running (and cycling and sitting!) acts to shorten your hip flexors. To get technical on you, the hip flexors are the long stringy bits of muscle around the hip and upper thighs that allow you to lift your knees up towards your face. When not regularly stretched out, or tight from overuse (read: sitting all day, or running all day), they easily overtake the abdominal or glutes. Tight flexors also act to change your posture, causing your butt to stick out and your lower back to overarch, also known as pelvic anterior tilt. A bad thing in riding. In dressage specifically, a shortened hip flexor can make riding with a long and relaxed leg impossible. Instead, every time your abs engage, the hip flexors will shorten and your leg will involuntarily come up. Hello immediate chair seat.
So running sounds pretty bad, but it alone doesn't contribute to riding issues. In fact, a lot of strength exercises end up working against dressage riding.
In dressage, you want a perfect relationship between a relaxed and allowing body and the stability needed for good contact, balance, and clear communication. In other words, you don't want to be just flopping around up there, but you can't be so rigid and stiff that you're squeezing the life out of your poor horse.
"I don't know how you do that! I wouldn't have the strength to ride like that. One horse, and I'd be exhausted for the rest of the day!" This from my trainer after watching me ride her training horses for the day. This was not a compliment. I was using my body against myself. Using all the strength in my legs to hold on to the horse while trying to use my ab strength to shove my upper body into position. I can't even describe to you how hard it was, but because I'm incredibly fit it seemed doable.
It turns out, relaxation is the name of the game. One day, my holding on muscles exhausted, I learned what it means to let my legs hang without holding. I noticed how I could now use my abs effectively, and easily communicate with my horse. Plus, Pig relaxed noticeably without me holding on so much. He started using his back a lot more. I joked with Nancy, "maybe I should stop working out and just get super flabby so I ride better." "Sounds like a good plan to me!" she shot back.
Another lesson learned.
|The view from a recent run...|
It's interesting to me how dressage takes such a flexible sort of fitness, compared to cross country/jumping. Has anyone else noticed this? Had to take action to make it work?