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You won’t even notice it’s exercise

Ok, so last week we talked “Car aerobics”

This week I am continuing the theme of things you can do off horse to improve your alignment and body awareness on horse without really doing any “proper” exercise.

I think the easiest way to incorporate sneaky exercise in is to make it fun and easy to fit in.

For this I recommend some props though.

Most popular with riders is a gym ball.

I know it can be a bit cumbersome but having one all blown up and ready to go at home means you can hop on for 5 mins whenever the mood strikes you.

If you work from home using it as a desk chair is a super-efficient way to use it. I actually find it way more comfortable than an actual chair now, and it means I fidget constantly whilst I’m on it.

You can just sit on with your feet on the floor. This in itself makes you sit up straight and use your core muscles. You can try lifting one foot at a time or if you are really strong both feet!

I also like to sit astride it (as if sat on a horse in a dressage saddle) to stretch the front of my hips out-absolutely glorious when they feel tight.

You can of course do all of these things watching TV. So you can pop your favourite soap, drama whatever on and spend say half an hour watching it whilst sitting on a gym ball trying to lift your feet and stay balanced or, kneeling on all fours or kneeling up (carefully! You don’t want to explain your concussion injury was as a result of falling off a gym ball in your living room!)

All of this will massively improve your body awareness and over time your alignment (when it’s good you will stay on) and your core stability.

Slightly less cumbersome to have around the house is a wobble board. These can be bought fairly cheaply online and don’t take up much space. Just standing on one requires good alignment and stability. Try taking phone calls or sending texts/emails whilst stood on it, when you get really good try standing on one leg. Do squats on it during the ad breaks. Get your partner involved and throw a (soft) ball to each other stood on them.

These can all sound like kind of daft suggestions when you compare it to the strength and conditioning programmes you may see event riders doing, but unless heavy weight training is something you want to do then that kind of training isn’t going to work for you.

Just trust me on this one and try some of these out for yourself and watch your body awareness and core stability improve massively without you even noticing you’ve taken up an exercise programme!

 

Riding Life Hacks and Car Aerobics

Isn’t it frustrating when life, the weather, missing shoes or lameness get in the way of you regularly practicing that riding issue you’ve been determined to crack.

 

A while ago I read a book called ‘The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle. In it he talks about how people gain the skills to perform activities such as kick a ball or play an instrument. It is all down to something called Myelin. In simple terms Myelin is the fibres that attach to our nerves to make them send the messages to the muscles to make them do what we are asking. So in order to kick a ball like a premiership footballer you would need to repeatedly kick the ball with the aim being to gain the same power and accuracy in order to build up the necessary myelin fibres to be able to do it.

 

Now I can hear you thinking “well that’s the point, I was practicing every day and then I had to go away for work, or my horse lost a shoe….” well here comes a little life hack-Myelin doesn’t actually know if you are on your horse or not, it just knows what muscles you are trying to move where.

 

So inspired by my friend who is a regular at life hacking riding practice into driving the car and work meetings-(or she might just have worms) here are some things to think about that you can do whilst doing other every day activities.

 

Whilst driving the car or sat in a meeting

  • Can you feel both your seat bones equally?
  • Is your front and back equal length?
  • Are you equal left to right?
  • Are your upper shoulders relaxed?
  • Can you feel a slight retraction of your shoulder blades supporting your arms as they hold the wheel?

These are all postural requirements of riding that you can train your body to do when you are not on a horse, then when you are back on board it will be second nature!

 

Give it a go this week and see if you can feel the difference when you ride from all that extra practice!

 

Asymmetry

As riders symmetry is a huge deal for us. Any asymmetry in us will show up in and our (and of course vice versa). Now in reality no one is ever going to be 100% symmetrical but we should at least always be striving to be pretty darn close.

In order to do that we need to address how we got our asymmetry in the first place.

I often get asked by riders why certain muscles get tight, restricted or underused and the answer is simply “life”. That is our everyday actions and habits that we do over and over again usually in the same way each time.

Think about what some of those actions might be. You brush your teeth with your right hand, drink your coffee with your right hand, you carry your bag on your right shoulder, and then you muck out scooping to the right……..

Then you perhaps drive your car hunched over the steering wheel, you sit at a desk hunched over the keyboard and then you push your wheel barrow hunching forward over it……………….

Do you see what’s happening here? You repeat the same action with the same muscles time and time again, even though the activities themselves maybe different the way in which you use your body is not.

Obviously for different people these repetitive actions will be different but they are essentially the same-repetitive actions.

This can then present itself in numerous ways in your body but most commonly.

· “Tightness in the overused side
· Soreness in the underused side
· Stronger aids on one side whilst riding
· Sitting crooked or tipped to one side.

There lots of other weird and wonderful ways that overuse can present itself in the body (the human continues to delight, surprise and baffle me!) but these are the most common issues I get from riders.

Depending on the severity of the imbalance depends on how much treatment in terms of physical therapy, rehabilitation exercise etc. is required but a really simple way to help yourself with this is to change up the way you do things.

So, let’s try over the next week or so to do things with your opposite hand! Try brushing your teeth with your non dominant hand.

I’m going to report back on my social media about how I get on so I’d love you to do the same!
Also, if you are struggling with issues potentially caused by asymmetry why not book in for a Biomechanics, Stability and Flexibility Assessment with me at the studio and receive feedback on where your issues lie along with a programme to help you correct them. Cost £50 for approx. 1 ½ hrs.

Just 1% at a Time

When we set goals or start new things they can often seem insurmountable.

Perhaps you have started learning a new movement with your horse and you can’t even do it at all at first and you just think you are never going to get it.

 

I have this a lot in my classes and with my one to one clients. Using the gym ball as an example, I have had loads of people who couldn’t even sit on the gym ball with their feet on the floor without wobbling never mind lifting their feet or kneeling on it.

 

However each time I saw them we would repeat the exercise. Just sitting on the ball trying to sit in balance, we might focus on what their hips were doing or perhaps their shoulders and eventually they would be able to sit balanced with their feet on the floor. Then we would start to lift the feet just one at a time and begin the process again. Before they know it they are sat on the ball feet lifted, talking, using bands etc.

 

These improvements didn’t happen overnight but each time they practiced they would make tiny 1% improvements that week by week added up to achieve their overall goal.

 

So if you are struggling with something don’t think you will never get there, just focus on achieving one small aspect of it at a time. Just aim to improve 1% each time you do it.

 

If it’s something with your riding you are struggling with ask yourself one day.

 

How could my hands be better at this? Then you just focus on improving your hands until they are more correct.

 

Then you move onto how could my legs be better at this? And so on until bit by bit you start to ride a little bit more like someone who can do that movement.

 

Just aim to improve 1% at a time and those 1%’s will soon add up to make 100%.

 

And hey I’m pretty sure 1% better has made some huge impacts on dressage competitions!

 

 

Staying Straight on Circles

I read an article this week that said research had shown that on their own as much as 98% of Adult horses will not fall in or out on turns and circles, this only happens with a rider on board. This of course leads us to believe that the cause of falling in or out is in fact the rider.

I for one am definitely inclined to agree. So often riders have told me that their horse falls in on one rein or out on another and no matter what they do they can’t fix it. However when we then assess the riders position even on a straight line we almost always find some sort of asymmetry and uneven weight distribution. This of course then transfers to the horse and then exacerbate further on a turn or circle, so whilst that rider thinks they are asking for a perfect right circle what they are actually asking for is too much in with the rein and then sending back out with the seat and many variables of this cause falling in or out with the shoulder, neck and haunches.

So if this is you it’s time to stop blaming your horse and have a really in depth look at Exactly what You do on turns and circles on both reins.

Starting straight on and from neutral-first we must establish neutral.

  • Can you feel both your seat bones equally? Are your feet equal weight in your stirrups?
  • Is your rib cage directly over your pelvis –or try sternum in line with pubic bone. That is front to back and left to right? Do you arch, hollow or tip to one side?
  • Is your head floating on top of your neck, central and looking ahead?
  • Are your hands equal weight, height and length on the reins?

It is really useful to have someone on the ground to help you with this as often what we think is happening is not necessarily the case. We wouldn’t be fluffing our circles if it was would we!

Now in a walk start a 20m circle and run through the check list again. You see the idea is not to lean to the inside and motor bike around the corners. It is perhaps useful to imagine you are on train tracks and as they run around a circle they still stay equal distance apart and you remain equally attached to them.

As you turn; your body will turn with your horse so in fact you stay in neutral together around the circle.

  • Are your seat bones still equally weighted?
  • Are your feet equal weights in the stirrups?
  • Is your rib cage directly over your pelvis?
  • Are you still looking straight ahead?
  • Are your hands level?

Again it is really useful to get someone to watch this. If that’s not possible I often set my phone up in the corner of the arena and video myself to watch back afterwards-it’s brutally useful!

If you can keep everything in balance throughout the circle on both reins I guarantee there will be an improvement in how your horse performs them.

Top to Toe & Back to Front

As riders our aim is to be equal balance and strength front to back and side to side. This gives us the best foundation for absorbing and working with the force of the horse underneath us.

We also want an equal connection and reaction time from the top to the bottom of our body.

You see if we give aids we want them to be instant, clear and concise and of course to get the desired reaction.

If you need to give an aid for say Shoulder in. You put your inside rein on and  your inside leg on to create the bend at the shoulders and then the outside rein and outside leg then also act at the same time to support the movement and stop the horse falling in at the shoulder or turning and the hind from swinging out.

Now when done well this all happens simultaneously, but if we do not have equal strength and reaction time what may actually happen is this: Inside rein comes on and creates bend at neck, inside leg kicks in and has to try and create bend from the rest of the horse. The horse starts to turn before the outside rein kicks in so in fact it has to now try to turn the horse back whilst the outside leg is basically a lost cause! You see what happened here was not one aid of bend at the shoulder, stay on the track moving forward but in fact a series of smaller aids one after the other-I know the scenario will sound familiar to many of you!

This is why equality and harmony from top to toe and side to side is vital! We very rarely give an aid with just one part of our body, with a right hand aid the right leg, left hand and leg support and vice versa etc. If the support act doesn’t kick in at the same time as the aid your horse will do exactly what that aid asked him to do-in the above example turn his neck………as your leg didn’t support and tell him shoulder.

This of course doesn’t just apply to shoulder in, it applies to any aid in fact. It applies to your ability to ride straight lines – what if the left side asked for forward first before the right side came too?

Then of course circles, lateral work and so on.

Then back to front and back equality.  This is a big area in the ways it presents and causes problems so I may write about it in more detail another time as it is commonly misunderstood, however the basic premise is that your should be equally working the front and back of your body the entire time you are riding. This not only creates a good neutral alignment but it also enables you to absorb the movement of your horse more effectively and therefore give better aids and in many cases prevent the many cases of back pain, shoulder pain, hip pain etc.

Let’s try this really simple exercise to see whether your top and bottom, front and back, left and right can fire at the same time.

Starting on your back. Try lifting your left arm and leg up at the same time-does one lift quicker than the other? Now try the right side? Now try opposite sides so left arm right leg. Notice if it is consistently say your arms that lift first, can you make arms and legs lift at the same time?

Now try the same exercise on your front. Notice if this feels easier or harder than on your back. If it feels harder you perhaps favour your muscles on the front of your body and of course vice versa if it was easier on your front you favour your back muscles. Again can you lift top and bottom and left and right at the same time or does one always fire first?

 

This will give you an idea as to how you give aids on your horse.

I always lift a leg first, my left side was much easier and more equal and I favour my front muscles. How about you?

 

The Final Breakdown

Ok, here goes the last of this run of nutrition blogs.

After taking a look at the different macro nutrients, then how many calories we should be eating over all, we will now look at how much of each macro nutrient that should break down to.

Now I’m going to put a bit of a plot spoiler in right now-there is no magic number break down that suits everyone.

There are however a couple of things to focus on and then the rest can be adapted to suit your preferences, lifestyle etc.

Firstly Protein and Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram and Fat has 9 calories per gram.

As busy people who tend to take a few bumps and tumbles, Protein should be high on our priority list to repair muscles and keep us strong. It is also very satiating (keeps you full) so a great choice is you do not eat regularly or are trying to lose weight.

A rough guide to protein consumption should be around 1.5g-2g per kg of bodyweight. I weigh around 64kg so at 2g that would be 128g of Protein per day.

This works out in calories as 128g x 4 calories per gram = 512 calories of Protein.

If I were eating 1800 calories per day this leaves 1288 calories.

For Fat a good starting point is 1g per kg of body weight so for me 64g x 9 calories per gram = 576 calories of Fat.

This then leaves 712 calories for carbohydrates which at 4 calories per gram = 178g.

This works fairly well for me, although I do find I would naturally favour carbohydrate foods over Protein and I therefore have to be more careful in ensuring I hit that Protein number. Otherwise I suffer with energy highs and crashes quite dramatically through the day if I exist on a high carb diet. Equestrian cannot survive on pizza and dougnuts alone!

Now for you this may not be the case. You may find you do better with slightly less Fat and more Carbs.

Or perhaps you prefer a much higher Fat and Protein intake and lower carbs.

If you want to really nail your weight, energy and health goals I suggest first monitoring your current intake just eating as you currently do. Then log alongside it your energy levels, mood etc. along with any weight implications of necessary. Then use the above guidelines as just that-a guide. If you are finding your current eating habits are leaving you over weight, underweight or tired and sluggish try working towards the above guidelines and then monitor how your weight and energy changes. Once you start to see some improvement you can use that information to tweak according to your own needs.

As always I love to hear your feedback and comments-and your recipes of new things you have tried as a result of reading this blog!

If you need help with your nutrition my regular Personal Training (muggles) Business offers Online/Remote Nutrition Personal Nutrition Coaching at £50 per month so hit reply if you want to sign up.

It All Adds Up

Following on from the explanation of each of the three food groups we will now look at how much of each macro we should be eating. The actual macros I divided I will look at next week, first I want to look at overall calorie intake.

The first thing to consider is how many calories overall per day you are eating. This will depend on your height, weight, activity levels and also whether you want to lose, gain or maintain weight.

If you want to work this out use this calculator. This will give you your Base Metabolic rate, which the amount of calories you roughly burn throughout the day just powering your organs and breathing. It will also give you an overall daily estimated calorie burned based on your level of activity. This is the number you need calculate according to your goals. https://www.thecalculatorsite.com/health/bmr-calculator.php

You can then use this number to work out how many calories you should be eating based on your goal. If it is maintenance then obviously it is the number given dependant on your activity.  If it is weight loss you are after subtract 15-20% and eat around this many calories and if it is weight gain, add 15-20% more calories to your intake.

 

For example I am 5ft7” and around 64kg. My BMR is around 1400 calories and based my activity I should burn 2100 calories. So for maintenance I would eat 2100 calories, for weight loss I would eat around 1700-1800 calories and for weight gain it would be 2400-2500 calories.

Calories are relevant not just as a weight loss tool, but also as a monitor of energy levels and performance. Particularly as I see many professional equestrians who eat very little throughout the day, mucking out, riding several horses and generally being very active and then find themselves extremely tired, aching muscles and perhaps prone to constant colds and infections. This can be caused by a lack of adequate nutrition, as their bodies do not have the fuel required for energy as well as muscle and immune repair.

And again, those that say they eat very little and are very active yet still carry extra weight-if they accurately monitored their total intake I would almost guarantee they are overeating.

In order to make yourself aware of how much or how little you are eating, I recommend my clients use MyFitnessPal. It is a great app you can get on your phone and basically you record EVERYTHING you eat and drink and it will calculate your calories-it will also calculate your macros hence why it is so useful for next week’s blog when we look at how much of each we should be eating.

So I want you to do that this week, whether you are looking for a change in weight or not, download the app and get used to recording your food and then you will have an idea of how many carbs, fats and proteins you eat already and monitor how those current numbers make you feel energy and health wise.

 

We have 2 spaces available in our Tuesday evening 7.30pm class at the studio based WN8 9QP. Let me know if you would like to join us!

Chewing The Fat

Ok, so last Macro Nutrient this week’s Fats.

Fats have definitely had plenty of bad press over the years, and it is not warranted. We shouldn’t avoid eating fats at all, they are vital for a healthy body it’s just about eating the right kind of fats.

Fats are made up of chains of Hydrogen and Carbon called Hydrocarbons. The arrangement of these Hydrocarbons determines the type of fat, which are broken down into 3 categories.

Saturated Fat

Monosaturated Fat

Polyunsaturated Fat. (Further broken down into Omega 3 and Omega 6).

Fat of all 3 types are important to our overall health.

  • It is the most energy dense macronutrient (i.e. provides the most energy)
  • It aids manufacture and balance of hormones
  • Builds and repairs organ cells, the brain and nervous system
  • Transport Vitamins namely Fat the soluble Vitamins ADE & K
  • It provides the aforementioned Omega 3 and 6 Fatty Acids that the body cannot make itself.

Most of the bad rap for fats has been aimed at Saturated Fats. However this is slightly unfair and where common sense should apply. In reality people will quite often consume Saturated Fat alongside high sugar intake and refined carbohydrates –think takeaway and doughnuts….

Suddenly Eggs and Steak are getting the blame for health issues such as high cholesterol associated with a high level if saturated fat. In fact foods such as red meat and eggs contain as much and often more monosaturated fats than saturated fats.

As with any part of the diet the devil is in the dose and all 3 kinds of Fats should be consumed but none should be over consumed. If you are eating fresh, whole unprocessed foods as 80% of your diet you probably don’t have anything to worry about with regards to your fat intake.

To ensure you are getting enough healthy fat sources try including these sources into your diet regularly.

  • Oily Fish such as Salmon, Mackerel. Try and eat at least one portion a week.
  • Nuts & Seeds
  • Eggs-particularly the yolks
  • Avocado
  • Olives
  • Meat
  • Dairy
  • Coconut-Coconut Oil has become popular to cook with and add to smoothies and porridge as an easy way to add healthy fat to your diet.

As Equestrians we need high energy levels and good cognitive function –that’s brain power to remember your Dressage Test; a healthy Fat intake can help you with that.

Your homework this week then is to have a look at your Fat intake. If you don’t already try adding one healthy fat portion to your diet every day next week maybe just an egg, some fish or a handful of nuts and see that brain power rocket!

 

Protein Power

Thanks to everyone that replied last week to let me know about the new carb sources they have been adding to their diet and to those that weighed their suggested serving of pasta-Carbs aren’t the devil we just find it too easy to over eat them!

On to this week, we move on to Protein. When I say Protein most people picture meat heads at the gym downing shakes but protein is found in many everyday foods.

Protein is vital for repair of the body, not just repair from injury or after heavy exercise but also the day to day constant regeneration of organ tissue, muscles, tendons and ligaments; and every other part of your body down to hair, skin and nails.

As equestrians the daily dealing with horses means we generally take a bit of a battering. Whether that is mucking out, carrying feed, riding or being dragged through mud by a wayward horse we are usually subject to some manual labour and some general pushing and shoving-all the unexplained bruises????

So, in short we need protein, and if you do lead a fairly active lifestyle then you need a little more protein to enable your body to adequately recover.

I’m going to talk more in detail about how of each macro nutrient we require in a few emails time so don’t worry about that too much for now. However I do want you to be more mindful of how much or how little protein you do eat.

Protein is found in

  • Meat
  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Fish/Seafood
  • Meat alternatives and Soya products
  • Legumes – beans, peanuts (this includes peanut butter-yay!)
  • Lentils
  • Seeds

To make sure you are eating enough aim to have a serving at every meal. Maybe if you switched to porridge at breakfast you would be adding milk (plant based milks have a little less but Soy is your best option of you are Vegan/Vegetarian). Or perhaps you could have eggs for breakfast? If you do  rush out the door without eating why not make a protein shake (you can buy any brand it doesn’t have to be over priced with “magic” properties) and add some milk, a banana or other fruit, a spoonful of peanut butter and maybe even some cacao powder.

Lunch and Dinner time the options are many and varied; add Meat or Fish/Seafood to salads and veg, make a bean or lentil chilli, casserole etc. It’s really easy to get some decent protein into your lunch and evening meal.

If you think you might need a bit more, then having yoghurt, cottage cheese or boiled eggs as snacks work well, as do aforementioned protein shakes.

So, we nailed carbs last week, this week I want you to start looking at your protein intake. Do you eat a serving at every meal? Make it your mission this week to start now.