Are You Fit Enough?

When I started Ready to Ride, a large part of my ‘mission’ if you like, was to share my own experiences and also my learning. We are learning all the time, and certainly I am developing my approach to helping riders all the time too. Early on, I realised that I hadn’t ever thought about my cardiovascular fitness before, other than thinking ‘I need to be fitter’, especially back in my eventing days!

So a year ago, I bought a heart rate monitor. I have worn it for schooling, fast work rides and Pilates sessions and the results have been interesting. By far the best way to raise my heart rate (HR) is to be attempting to hold together a slightly ‘strong’ Lizzie out on the moor. More recently, doing more collected work when schooling has started to get near to this level of cardio activity. When it comes to Pilates however, even though I work hard and am much more aware of my HR, it takes a lot more intensity to get my HR up to levels matching those ridden. Of course, when I am teaching I am not doing the exercises for as long as my clients because I stop to observe, so this gives my HR a chance to drop again before I start the next exercise so it may not be a true reflection of the effects of sustained Pilates.

Comparing the data across the different disciplines, one thing that does seem consistent is the way my HR ‘behaves’ in terms of increasing and decreasing. Essentially, the more intensely I work with smaller but complex movements, the more the HR goes up, rather than working at ‘speed’ or doing ‘big’ movements.

What does this mean for me and how I integrate Pilates into my exercise regime and those of my clients? Well, this is actually something that I had been reflecting on already due to the impact of Lockdown. This might seem rather strange, but instead of teaching Pilates in term ‘blocks’ which roughly follow school terms, we have carried on almost non-stop since mid January for 2 groups, and early March for 2 more. I have also had to think laterally because not enough of my attendees have enough equipment to do the usual variety of exercises. Instead I have focused on increasing the intensity and complexity of the usual range of exercises. The result of this is that we have all increased our strength and stamina with the more complex exercises that involve multiple body parts, and these then increase the HR more. Long term, I know that this is how Pilates needs to be; more focused on stamina and complexity.

What does this mean for cross training, especially if dressage is your main discipline? Well, if you are working at lower levels, then you will be able to match your cardiovascular needs by working at a lower level in say Pilates. But if you compete in any of the jumping disciplines – especially cross country – you will need to work at a higher, more intense level. The same is true if you are working at higher levels of dressage where greater collection is required.

The obvious gap here is any form of specific cardio exercise such as running. In part this is because I haven’t run for years, and also because I just don’t have the opportunity with being a single parent. However, whilst of course any exercise that increase HR is going to be hugely beneficial, the more similar the nature of that training exercise is to the target exercise, the better. Running is not a complex activity, the arms and legs work in diagonals and momentum plays a role. Riding and Pilates have far more in common in terms of the complexity of movement, the need for control and the ability to multitask. It’s just that I/you/we probably need to ramp the intensity up a little more when it comes to Pilates.

So watch this space – and if you follow Ready to Ride on Social Media or subscribe to the YouTube channel, then you will find plenty of exercises and tips aimed at improving stamina and intensity during your off-horse training. I will also continue to use my HR monitor so will update my findings in a few months’ time, including seeing if I can wear it doing Pilates when not teaching.

Take care and thank you for reading,