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Laura Crump Anderson

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Regain Your Training Focus with This Simple Exercise

Sharon White and Claus 63. Photo by Shelby Allen.

I don’t know what time warp January was in, but for me, it seemed like the longest month in current memory. I have a degree in exercise science, I’ve been a personal trainer for almost a decade, and I am a two-hundred-hour yoga teacher. I cannot stand the gym in January. I will almost avoid it like the plague. I think I went to the gym once in January and that was to catch up with my husband, who’s an avid four-day gym-goer, come hell or high water.

In Virginia, where I’m based, temperatures were miserable. I’m usually very active, and though I worked my barn job throughout January (which included trying to ride in these frigid temperatures!), I did not spend any more time outside than absolutely necessary. All this goes to say, somehow I survived January — but I lost some fitness in the process. But as the temperatures in February have been hovering around 50 and we’re asking our horses to do more, it’s important to bring some of the stillness we found earlier in the year. I do this through yin yoga.

What is Yin Yoga?

Yin Yoga isn’t new. Paul Grilley, the modern father of yin, explains it as such: “Yin Yoga is a natural healing practice that talented yoga teachers have always been rediscovering and integrating into their practice.”

Yin Yoga is categorized by long, static holds in which we use gravity to do the work of tractioning the fascia and connective tissue of the body. While this is a more subtle form of exercise, you are still working the body in a very specific and targeted way. This form of yoga is different from restorative yoga, where your goal is simply to relax. The two are commonly confused as the same thing, when in fact they are not.

Yin poses are held anywhere from three to twelve minutes. During a yin hold, you will typically feel a light sensation. Over time, that sensation will become more subtle and then will come back to you in waves. The goal is to remain centered during this rollercoaster ride of sensations.

Yin holds are a great way to cultivate a mindfulness practice in which you focus on your breath — and everything else that comes up, you try to let go of and regain your focus on your breath. The benefits a consistent practice like this can have on our riding or training are numerous; staying present in the saddle is not always easy, and this practice can help.

Start on you back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Keep your feet together and your knees out wide.

Set a timer and hold this position for 3-5 minutes.

Here’s a simple Yin Yoga hold to incorporate into your routine:

Reclined Butterfly

The Reclined Butterfly is a very good exercise for the inner thigh. This is a more passive exercise, so you might not feel too much sensation, but don’t worry if this is the case. This hold targets the inner thigh and groin, and you are also in a subtle back bend, making this useful for the lower back as well.

1. Start on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor.
2. Keep your feet together and bring your knees out wide.
3. Set a timer and hold this position for 3-5 minutes.

I recommend doing this hold at the end of the day, instead of at the beginning of the day. This is a great way to start a wind-down ritual in the evening.

Try this and feel the mental and physical benefits!

Want to get in even better saddle shape? Contact Laura Crump Anderson and Hidden Heights Fitness to get started on a customized program today! 

Click here to read more from Laura on EN.

One Simple Fitness Exercise to Help You Sit the Trot Like a Grand Prix Rider

Welcome to EN’s 2023 rewind! We’ll be resharing some of our most popular stories from the year throughout the last few days of 2023. This article first appeared on EN in March.

Want to sit the trot so well you start firing out sub-20 scores? Laura’s got the exercise for you. Photo by Shelby Allen.

A good friend of mine recently made the shift from mostly eventing to mostly dressage. The first questions she postulated for me were, ‘what does this mean for my exercise routine?’ and,  ‘do you think that there is an exercise that I should be doing more now that I’m a dressage rider?’ The answer to both of those questions, though, goes much deeper than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

My first question in response to something like this is always this: Are you exercising outside of the tack? If you are exercising, I’m proud of you: that’s half the battle, and one where a lot of equestrians fall short already. In my book Ultimate Exercise Routines for Riders there are event riders, jumper riders, and dressage riders as models. However, the routines aren’t specific for the discipline they represent. A dressage rider can get as much out of the Sharon White exercise routine as the showjumper can get from the routine with Lauren Sprieser.

I work with many event riders because, to be honest with you, this is the population I know best. However, I also train professional dressage rider JJ Tate, and have worked with many professional  and amateur dressage riders.  The exercises I have JJ doing aren’t all the same as the ones I prescribe to my event riders — however, there is also a lot of overlap, and very rarely will any rider get through of a week without doing squats or bird dogs.

Here’s something that’s totally universal for riders of all disciplines, though: the best muscle to target if you want to develop an independent seat is the glute medius. I will say, of course, that most strictly dressage riders are already pretty strong in area of the body — however, the event rider tends to be a lot stronger in the hip adductors or the inner thigh. This comes from establishing a strong galloping position.

But what about those eventers who want to develop their seat to emulate the strength of dressage riders? A great exercise for transitioning from eventing to dressage is the fire hydrant, but this is also a great exercise for the strictly event rider to do as well, because it’s main focus is developing your glute medius. This exercise will help you to wrap your leg around the horse in the sitting trot and canter transitions, and it’ll also help with applying your leg correctly — a win all round!

The Fire Hydrant

To begin the exercise, start on all fours. Photo by Tally Ho Creative.

1. Start on all fours, with your hands under your shoulders and you knees aligned under your hips.

Begin to lift your knee while keeping your spine straight. Photo by Tally Ho Creative.

2. Keeping your hands rooted into the ground, lift your knee off the ground.

Here’s an example of what it looks like when you let your spine rotate – don’t do this! Photo by Tally Ho Creative.

3. While staying strong in your spine (you don’t want too much rotation in your spine, so focus on staying straight), lift your leg to the side with your knee bent.

Instead, stay straight, move slowly and deliberately, and focus on your breathing, too, rather than quick fire reps. Photo by Tally Ho Creative.

4. Inhale as you bring it up, exhale as you bring it back down.

5. Repeat for two minutes or as long as you can, and then switch and do the other side.

 Laura Crump Anderson is a certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and is a Registered 200 Hour Teacher with the Yoga Alliance. She specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines through her business, Hidden Heights Fitness, and is also the author of Ultimate Exercise Routines for Riders. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science, and has evented through Training level. Read more of her EN fitness columns here.

One Simple Exercise to Help You Ride Better Corners

Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

I cannot believe that we are already midway through October! This fall has been a whirlwind for me; I had the opportunity this month to put my 4-year-old homebred (Still Stanley) in training with Team USA rider and 5* eventer Jan Byyny and the process has already exceeded my high expectations. Jan has really been pushing me to ride my horse better than I knew I could from day one.

This month’s exercise is based on a move she has me do in the saddle, which really activates my core, obliques, and pelvic floor. It started on the lunge line, but what it really helps with is riding into the corners.

The sensation is hard to describe but I will do my best! When you are on a green horse every movement you make in the saddle is exaggerated, because they are still learning how to carry the weight of the rider on their back.

Jan really wanted me to focus on turning my saddle toward the center of the ring each stride. This requires you to pull your belly button into your spine and shift your weight so that your inside hip is further back than your outside hip.

Each stride at the trot while posting your outside hip is leading a little bit in front of your inside hip. In the canter, you are almost doing a microscopic crunch to sit down and around with the inside seat bone. This is something that you can easily practice at the walk though. Every step the horse takes you think that you are trying to turn the saddle toward the center of the ring.

The exercise I do off the horse that comes the closest to helping me feel this sensation in my body is called a Supine Twist.

Here’s how to try it yourself. Doing this consistently as a part of your exercise or warm-up routine will help build that muscle memory and the finite strength needed to execute core movements in the saddle, which in turn will lead to a better ability to ride into and through your corners.

  • Lie on your back with your arms out in T position
  • First, engage through your core (think about pressing your low back into the ground and bringing your belly button to your spine). Lift your legs and bend your knees so they are at 90°
  • Keeping your nose pointed straight up today the ceiling, engage through your core, and as you exhale lower your knees to the left. Inhale bring your knees back up to the center and exhale lower your knees to the right.
  • Lower your knees as close to the ground as you can get them, but do not push through any sharp shooting sensations in your back.
  • Only work in a comfortable range of motion, whether that is two inches or almost to the ground this is a great exercise either way.
  • Focus on being slow, smooth, and controlled in the motion.
  • Continue twisting this back and forth for as long as you can, or two minutes, whichever comes first.

Want to get in even better saddle shape? Contact Laura Crump Anderson and Hidden Heights Fitness to get started on a customized program today! 

 

3 Ways to Squeeze Fitness into Your Busy Routine

With summer coming to a close and school going back into session, a lot of people’s schedules are getting ready to get a lot more fixed and less flexible. Though I don’t have kids and I’m not currently working on a degree, I feel the shift of school starting with clients beginning to pick more fixed times, vacation season coming to a close, and Stanley (my four-year-old event horse) starting a more consistent program to prepare the fall season. During the summertime my schedule is more a “habit tracker” approach, where I check off the things I need to get done in the day.

There are three things you can do to implement a new routine that focuses on rider fitness, even as things ramp up for the fall.

1. Have a schedule that you review every morning

My schedule gets a lot more rigid in the fall with set wake-up times, set client times, set ride times, set working times. I know what a typical day will look like and in the morning I will sit down with my electronic calendar and put pen to paper as part of my wake up process. This way, I have a clear map of where I need to be and when I need to be there. It helps me keep my day organized when I have a lot of moving parts. Every day may look very different from the previous day for me, so I take a picture on my schedule when I am done and use it as a reference throughout the day to make sure I am staying on track.

Practice this: Write down the time you plan to exercise and stick to it. No excuses or wavering here! If you intended to work out that day when you woke up, it is important to stick to it, and not let the business of the exertions of the day outweigh your morning intentions.

Photo courtesy of Hidden Heights Fitness.

2. Use a buddy system or Accountability Partner

This is something I really miss about working in a gym: I had someone that would notice if I had gone a week without exercising and they would call me out on it! I have recently started working out with a colleague again and it has made a huge difference in my consistency. I know that I’ll get a workout in. However, I also will book a yoga class if I’ve noticed it’s been more than five days since I’ve worked out. This way, someone is counting on me to show up and if I don’t, I’ll be out some money — which also helps me stick to a time.

Practice this: Meet up with a friend and go to your local community center to exercise. Have a friend that you text every time you work out and have them text you every time they work out. Try pairing up with your spouse to do workouts together (this does not work for everyone!). It can be worthwhile to have an accountability partner as studies have shown this increase your chances of sticking with a program. Consistency is the key to making any exercise program work.

Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

3. Write down your routine or workout plan before you start

If you’re exercising with a personal trainer or taking a class, this is already done for you. However, there’s nothing more likely to make you quit exercising then not having a plan for your work out before you start. Walking into a gym can be intimidating, and working out at your house means you can easily become distracted if you don’t know what you’ll be doing next.

Practice this: Think of this similarly to how you would plan out your ride for the day. Do you have goals or certain things you want to practice? Apply this logic to your own workout plan.

You’ll want know what part of the body you are going to be working. Is this a full body workout or are you targeting the hips? Write down the program you’ll be doing before you start, so know what you’ll be doing before you start. Read through your routine first so you have a rough idea what movements you’ll be doing before you start exercising. Make it as straight forward as possible. You can even take the extra step of choosing your Spotify playlist or podcast ahead of time, so when the time comes to begin you’ll be ready to hit the ground running (literally, in some cases!) with no distractions.

The Importance of Continuing Education

I am a lifelong learner. I love auditing clinics and expanding my knowledge by reading books. If I ever get the opportunity to ride with a new trainer, the answer will always be ‘yes’. If you are thinking about hosting a rider fitness clinic, I will almost always trade your session for a lesson. I love getting as many eyes on my riding as possible and hearing different peoples perspectives.

There are cardinal voices I hear in my head from my trainers, and I always come back to them if I am feeling confused. But I love learning new things. I don’t like exercising, but I will do any exercise class at least once. I can always learn something to bring back to my clients. Continuing education is something I let lead my life.

You have to go through life looking to expand your knowledge base. You can always learn more about things you know a lot about. Look at most really good professional riders and emulate them. They are taking lessons from the best clinicians they can get. They are training with top dressage rider and top show jumping coaches and not just staying in the sport of eventing.

This year I started teaching clinics. I have taught lessons since I was a kid, literally, but now people are paying me real money to get my opinion on what they are doing with their body on a horse. I really wanted to up my game. I have audited clinics this year alone with JJ Tate, Lars Petersen, Erik Duvander, William Fox Pitt, Julia Krajewski and more. I am always looking for things I can bring back to riders at my clinics. But it wasn’t until I found Team Tate Academy that really felt like I was training my eye.

I love this platform so much. It is very interactive and I have learned some much from JJ. I feel like all the content she puts out, I just eat up, and want more. I talked with JJ and wanted to bring it to you. Click here to learn about the fundamentals mini-course.

It would not be a very good fitness column without an exercise for this month, so I wanted to bring you a balance postured that is grounded in what you know, while still reaching for the unknown and greater knowledge.

TRIANGLE

This is a yoga pose that is usually done in the middle of a flow when you are already warmed up. It is a great exercise to work into you at home workouts. This is a great balance posture in also works our tight hips and side body so is a great great exercise for the rider.

  • Start by taking a confident stance length wise on your mat
  • Point your front toe towards the front of your mat. Point your back to straight ahead.
  • Bring your arms out to T position and look over the arm that is pointing toward the front of your mat.
  • The first action in this pose is reach straight straight forward from your hips (Like there is something you want to grab right in front of you)
  • The next move is to pretend your forward arm is the spout of a tea pot and poor the tea out, land your had next to your shin
  • Look down to be kind to your neck
  • Or look up to challenge your balance
  • Hold this pose for about 30 seconds the build it to the other side

Want more tips from Laura and Hidden Heights Fitness? Click here to read more of her columns on EN.

Running Short on Time? Slow It Down with This Effective Exercise

Sick of time going by so fast? This’ll slow it down for ya! Photo by Tally Ho Creative.

How is it already May?! This is a theme that seems to be reoccurring in conversation with ALL my clients right now. With the reduced pace from the pandemic the last three years, this year seems like it has definitely returned to the ‘new normal’. In fact, just this month I was able to visit my grandmother in her Assisted Living facility without wearing a mask — a concept that would have been unimaginable just 365 days earlier. I thought masks were the new normal for that level of health care, but now, it looks like we’re beyond that.

And on the subject of time, which seems to go so much quicker these days? The great migration north from Aiken and Florida is now complete. Land Rover Kentucky has come and gone — and we had our first USA winner on the podium in fifteen years! Bromont is now just around the corner. The ‘new normal’ of going, going, going has become routine. Text messages are late to be responded to or even go unread. Emails are piling up again. The ‘new normal’ of not having enough time is real. Do not even get me started on the bane of my existence…laundry. Who has time?

Well, you do – if you give this great exercise a try, I swear it’ll actually slow time down for you. It’s called the dying bug or the dead bug — but I prefer dying, as if said bug was dead, it wouldn’t actually move, and this one’s going to get you moving! When you set a timer for two minutes and really commit to doing this exercise, I’m sure by the end of it you’ll be praying for that timer to go off. See? Slowing down time, as if by magic! I love the dying bug, because it gets you to coordinate your diagonal pairs and can actually serve as dementia prevention, too, by requiring you to focus on your movement. It’s surprisingly challenging at first, but most people settle into a good rhythm about a minute in.

Start with both arms and legs aloft. Photo by Tally Ho Creative.

Then, lower your arms and legs in diagonal pairs, moving slowly and deliberately. Photo by Tally Ho Creative.

How to: the dying bug

  • Start by lying on your back
  • Bring your arms and legs up towards the sky
  • Lower your left leg and your right arm toward the ground — the goal is getting your heel about six inches away from the ground (Modify to make this exercise easier by not bringing your leg and arm so far down!)
  • Engage through the core and bring your arm and leg back up
  • Lower your right leg and your left arm toward the ground
  • Repeat for two minutes or until you reach a point of fatigue that you can no longer continue with good form

 Watch me demonstrate it here:

In all seriousness, though, time management is really important. Whenever I feel like the clock is getting the better of me I rewatch this YouTube video. It takes a valuable hour of my life, but it helps me remember to prioritize what is really important in life — and getting enough exercise is one of those things that I have to prioritize, or the rest of my life suffers. Enough exercise for me is 20 to 30 minutes of focused exercise once or twice week in addition to riding regularly and going for walks — however, I count those as physical activity, not exercise, which is an important distinction to make.

Laura Crump Anderson is a certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and is a Registered 200 Hour Teacher with the Yoga Alliance. She specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines through her business, Hidden Heights Fitness, and is also the author of Ultimate Exercise Routines for Riders. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science, and has evented through Training level. Read more of her EN fitness columns here.

Watch and Learn: A Strong Lower Leg Starts at the Hip and Core

Laura Collett and London 52: a perfect example of the lofty heights that can be reached when a secure, stable position is maintained through correct training and exercise. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Applying a consistent leg aid comes from the strength and stability in the hip and core. In a dressage seat, you should let your leg hang around the horse like a wet towel — this comes from an internal rotation that starts at the hip joint. I had the opportunity last weekend to audit an Erik Duvander clinic, and a JJ Tate clinic, and across the disciplines and levels, the thing I consistently heard addressed was how to apply a correct leg aid — and how to keep that leg aid applied.

This got me thinking of an exercise called the Seated March. This exercise not only strengthens the core — by its very nature, it enables you to correctly fire in your hip flexors as well. A proviso, though: I would not do this exercise at the preliminary level listed below if you have arthritis in your hip joint, as it will probably aggravate it more than support it. You can feel free to do it at the two more basic levels, though.

The Seated March is a particularly great exercise because you won’t need any equipment and so you can do it anywhere. All you need is a timer and your determination.

(Author’s note: The levels in this exercise don’t actually correlate with the level you are competing! They are simply denominators in order from easiest to most advanced.)

The Beginner Novice modification of the Seated March exercise.

Beginner Novice: I want you to sit on your glutes on the ground with your legs out in front of you, and your feet on the floor.  You’re going to begin by bringing your hands under your thighs, and then you’re going to lean back, keeping your spine straight. Try to keep as little weight in your arms as possible. Set a timer and hold this position for two minutes.

The Novice iteration.

Novice: Start in a seated position with your feet on the ground. Maintaining a straight spine, lean back until your feel your abdominals really engage. Hold your arms straight out in front of you, and keep this position without allowing your spine to curl for two minutes. If you need to grab on to your legs with your hands that’s fine, but make sure you maintain a straight spine.

The Preliminary Seated March — where the marching actually begins!

Preliminary: Sit on the ground with your feet out in front of you, with your knees bent. Engage through your core and lean back. Straighten your arms so you are reaching forward, but keep your shoulders rolled down and back. Lift one leg and lower it, then lift the other leg and lower it. Keep going back and forth like you are marching. Do not allow your pelvis to tuck under — if you feel your spine starting to curl, grab on to the back of your thighs with your arms. Set a timer and ‘march’ for two minutes.

Here’s a video of me running through the exercise to help you get a feel for how it’s done:

Laura Crump Anderson is a certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and is a Registered 200 Hour Teacher with the Yoga Alliance. She specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines through her business, Hidden Heights Fitness, and is also the author of Ultimate Exercise Routines for Riders. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science, and has evented through Training level. Read more of her EN fitness columns here.

A Better You in 2023: The Four Horsemen of Stability

The four horsemen of stability: choose your fighter (and preferably, make it all of them). Illustration by Cameron Rouse.

There’s no denying that being an equestrian can often mean living a very unbalanced lifestyle: there are lots of demands on your time, and some of us live out of a gooseneck trailer for the better part of the year, spending more time on the road than at home.

But if you want to succeed, it’s so important to be present and as stable as you can be for your horse, which is why I came up with something I call ‘the four horsemen of stability’ — four areas of your life that you can focus on to help rein in the wild beast of your routine.

Illustration by Cameron Rouse.

Horseman #1: Rest

There’s no substitute for sleep. The US military and many private companies alike have spent a lot of time, energy, and money on studies of things that could replace sleep, and they keep coming up empty-handed. The vast majority of the adult population requires at least seven hours of sleep, and adolescents even more — and so the trick here is to assume you are part the of the population that needs eight hours of sleep. Remember: you are the rule, not the exception — I know I am! 

Illustration by Cameron Rouse.

Horseman #2: Hydration

I subscribe to the notion that you should drink half your bodyweight in ounces of water per day. To make that math simple: say you weigh 150lbs, half your body weight is 75lbs — and so, you should drink 75 ounces of water a day. Drinking water is not something I struggle with during the summer: I’m constantly drinking room temperature water and find it easy to do so. However, during the winter I struggle a lot more with drinking enough water, and that may well be an issue you have, too.

I used to track my intake with eight pint glasses of water a day, but once I found a water bottle I love, I changed to the half-your-body-weight-in-ounces program. I have found that drinking herbal teas helps me with increasing consumption, or just drinking warm water, with a touch of fresh lemon added for flavour as needed. If winter drinking is something you’re struggling with too, give that a go – and remember that your daily coffee intake doesn’t count towards your hydration goals. 

The moral of the story? If you’re not tracking the water you’re drinking, you’re probably not drinking enough water.

Illustration by Cameron Rouse.

Horseman #3: Nutrition

I’m not a registered dietician, and being a nutritionist requires a degree of its own for good reason. However, I can tell you the mantra that works for me.  It’s from the journalist and author Michael Pollan, who says: “Eat food — not too much; mostly plants”. The most important part of that is this: eat food. You must fuel your body. When I’m running around like a chicken with my head cut off, I’m more likely to skip a meal than eat too much, and especially on busy competition days, I think we’re all guilty of the same. 

Because I was working student from a very young age. I got in the habit early of skipping breakfast, drinking coffee and not eating until 12:00pm or 1:00pm. Even when I was in school, I remember the knock down, drag out fights I would have with my parents and nannies about eating breakfast. We finally got into the habit of eating instant breakfast, and that was the negotiation we settled on. The thing was, when I had breakfast it would jump start my metabolism, and I would be starving by 10am — which was painful in school, because I couldn’t eat until lunch time. That leads me to the second point of Michael’s point: not too much. Nowadays, I meal prep my lunches (and in reality, my husband helps a lot with this). This stops me from eating too much, because I know what I need to be full, and if I’m still hungry I drink a pint of water and that usually fills me up, while helping me hit those crucial hydration goals.

The third point is mostly plants. The majority of your calories should be coming from plants. I truly believe this, and when I’m eating completely vegan is usually when I’m feeling my healthiest. I have upgraded from instant breakfast to THIS Garden of Life Protein Powder, with a banana for taste, and maybe some spinach. I like this brand because it’s plant-based, it’s made from real food, and it’s naturally low in sugar. Adding the banana kind of defeats the purpose of low sugar, but I’m ok with that — fruit is a preferable sugar source than a chocolate bar that you’ve grabbed at the gas station because you’re starving between rides. 

Illustration by Cameron Rouse.

Horseman #4: Activity

In all honesty, this is the section I am the most qualified to talk about — but paradoxically, it’s also the section I personally struggle with the most. I’ve always been someone who leans into things that I struggle with, which is why I was a working student for a Grand Prix dressage rider after regular scoring in the high 30s to low 40s in the dressage phase; why I’m a very dyslexic published writer; and why I HATE EXERCISING and hold a degree in kinesiology with a concentration in exercise science.

Activity is different from exercise. I define exercise very specifically as something you do with the intended purpose of adapting to positive physiological change in the body. I don’t ride to make my body stronger; I ride because I love it. Many runners are hitting the pavement to ‘get in shape’ but are actually doing more pounding and concussion to their joints than adapting positive physiological change. Then there’s barn work: you’re doing this to have a safe clean space for your horse, so pushing that wheelbarrow does not count as exercise — however, it does for sure count as physical activity. 

Being active is important because our bodies were not designed to sit at desk or on the couch. Riding horses definitely counts as physical activity; hand-walking horses definitely counts as activity. Walking is actually a very healthy way to be active, because it’s such a low-impact option. Activity is the last on my list of the four horsemen of stability, because when this one gets out of balances for most equestrian it’s generally to the extreme of too much activity — and although it’s not easy to lessen the activity you’re doing on a daily basis, being conscious of it and the effect it has on your body will help you use the other three ‘horsemen’ to find a balance. 

If you’re feeling like you need to strength certain areas of your body, or just want to be better in the tack, I’m happy to help you with personal training. All of my sessions are via Zoom so you don’t have to leave the barn or your house — depending on which has better WiFi! I’m running a promotion from Thursday, February 2nd to Sunday, February 5th wherein the first ten riders who sign up can get training for $55 a session — my lowest cost per session yet. You can get access to the deal here. https://www.hiddenheightsfitness.com/promo

 

Fitness is a Lifestyle – Not a Boot Camp

Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

One of the questions I frequently get is “how long is your program?” The answer is not an easy one. For some people, all that’s needed is one session to confirm that they’re headed in the correct direction. For others, they intend to work with me until I retire, and then I will transfer them to another highly-qualified exercise professional. I don’t offer 6-week programs or boot camps (which are great for learning a new skill, but that’s not what I do). I help riders discover and tend to their inner athlete. For some, I’m a highly qualified accountability partner that makes sure they’re exercising for a least 30 minutes once a week.

I’m all for a great six-week program or boot camp that jump starts change — I have participated in them and learned from them, and have even written some for the riders I know personally, trust, and believe they have good form and won’t end up injured. It’s a big bonus if I don’t have worry about them sticking with the program! I know they’ll do it and I’ll be able to check in with them when it’s done and see their progress.

The Reason I Exercise

The number one reason I exercise is because I love to ride. If I’m not exercising, I’m in pain. Doing my barn every day is not targeted enough exercise to create the physiological adaptations that keep me pain-free, and so to be riding and not be in pain I must exercise — end of story.

I am not a gym rat; I didn’t get my degree in kinesiology with a concentration in exercise science because I love it. I did it because Physical Therapy and exercise made the biggest difference in my muscular skeletal pain.

The second biggest reason I exercise is for my mental health. I have bipolar disorder, and have recently been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). I don’t want to be around the version of myself who is not exercising at least once week. Usually for me, though, I’m exercising twice a week because I only have one horse. I need to be doing something more physically intense once every three days, to release the neurotransmitters that keep my anxiety at bay. However, when I was a working student and riding 4-10 horses a day, High Intensity Exercise once a week was enough.

For me, exercising is like brushing my teeth. I do it to be healthy, not to be entertained.

Start the New Year with Motivation — Consistency Makes Habits

I’m not opposed to New Year’s resolutions, and I have gotten into the habit of setting themes for each year. My theme for 2022 was “Put Things Away”, and my theme for 2023 is “Create”.

However, there are some real and concrete ways to usher in the new year that get people going with a lot of motivation. This is exciting, but the key to success is consistency — not the Big Bang of action when you first get inspired to start. When you fall off the wagon (Not IF), get back on as quickly as you can — this is where you will see the most success. Unpacking the way to set a goal properly is a book, not a blog post, but my personal favorite book for setting goals is Girl, Stop Apologizing By Rachel Hollis. You don’t have to be a woman to appreciate the content.

One Exercise To Jump Start Your 2023

THE SQUAT

  • Keep your feet flat (even pressure heel to toe)
  • Squat down as low as you can without pain in your knees or hips
  • When you come up try and keep your knees aligned with your pinky toes (do not let your knees buckle in or bow out)

Laura Crump Anderson is a certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and is a Registered 200 Hour Teacher with the Yoga Alliance. She specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines through her business, Hidden Heights Fitness, and is also the author of Ultimate Exercise Routines for Riders. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science, and has evented through Training level. Read more of her EN fitness columns here.

Rest and Recovery: The Secret Weapon You Need to Utilize

Rest is crucial – and a good dog or two helps, too! Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

When I was writing my book, I wanted to make rest and recovery the first pillar of any rider fitness program. I was talked out of this by more than one person, so eventually, I caved — but it’s still one of the four pillars of a successful exercise program. (Those pillars, in all, are Riding, Strength Training, Flexibility, and, finally Rest and Recovery).

There are only 24 hours in a day and 365 days in a year — and so you’d better be making time for rest and recovery, or injury will sneak up on you. However, most equestrians wear the number of days they have gone without a day off like a badge of honor. That’s especially true currently, when the season in the United States only seems to slow down in November and December, rather than giving way to a true off-season like it used to, and as we still see in other countries. But even with that constant pull to get out and perform, it’s important to incorporate proper rest and recovery techniques through out the year. Down time is when the most growth happens: it is not the strength training session that builds muscle; it actually causes micro tears to the muscle tissue, and through rest and recovery, these micro tears are rebuilt stronger.

 

Rest and Recovery technique #1: Sleep

You need eight hours of sleep at night, and the more active you are, the more sleep you actually need. There are so many physiological processes that are directly impacted by sleep that in this article, I’m going to only scratch the service. Sleep has an impact on muscle growth but also your cardiovascular system, your hormones, your respiratory and immune system, your metabolism, and the way you think and form memories. (Looking for more information? Check out this NIH article!) Your mind and body need to sleep in order to function properly, and there are a couple of simple ways you can improve sleep hygiene: limit screen time one hour before bed, and try to fall asleep and wake up at the same time every day.

Rest and Recovery technique #2: Stop Scrolling Mindlessly

I would rather you sit down and watch a tv show, play a board game, bake a loaf of bread, go for a walk, do a workout, clean tack, clean a stall, journal — anything other than the doom scroll. Do something mindless that gets your brain into the present moment. Using social media as a decompression technique is not only not helpful; it can be quite harmful for your overall wellbeing. That negative impact goes further than the widely maligned mental health issues it can cause — it’s also probably affecting your body, too. Let’s just talk about the impact that “tech neck” is having on the workforce: it comes from bad posture looking at your phone. Your spine has a natural S curve that you want to support with good posture. Since 2020 physical therapy practices across the country have seen a great increase of this issue. If you are going to scroll, set a timer and don’t get lost for more than 20 minutes. There are so many better uses for your time.

Rest and Recovery technique #3: Take Time Off

I am all for a good vacation — but that said, I haven’t taken one since my honeymoon in 2017! It’s important to schedule time off throughout the year and not just save the rest and recovery for a vacation. If you haven’t had a day off in more than ten days, you seriously need to consider rearranging your priorities. Don’t you want to be riding into your 90s like the Queen did? You won’t be if you suffer a major overtraining injury that keeps you out of the tack. This is not just solid advice for those eventers who are 30+, like me. I was actually told by an orthopaedic surgeon that I had the spine of a 90-year-old at the age of 14: this was from heavy wheel barrows, lifting waterbuckets and not respecting the importance of rest and recovery as a working student. It took months to reduce the pain and tingling I was experiencing, and after three months out of the tack and with a lot of physical therapy, I was able to get safely back in the saddle — but I have done damage to my body that I will live with for the rest of my life.

So, when you are sitting around a fire contemplating what you want for your year in 2023, seriously consider making rest and recovery a priority — it’s the most achievable, and probably the most beneficial, resolution you’ll make.

A Balancing Act: Two Simple Ways to Improve Proprioception in the Saddle

I have always been taught in the school of thought that the best way to improve your balance is to build the muscle mass you have on your body. By building muscle mass, you actually improve your body’s proprioception — it’s ability to tell where it is in space. An upper level rider who I have A LOT of the respect for told me I should do a blog post on improving balance, so here it is.

The best way to improve your balance on a horse…is to ride as much as you can.

There is no exercise that you can do on the ground that will work your balance in the tack as well as being on a horse. It is sport-specific skill, and standing on an bosu ball is not going to improve your balance on the horse, unfortunately. However, having a good idea where your body is in space and being able to coordinate your aids while balancing is important part of riding.

There are a few exercises that you can do that get you working on your balance outside of the tack. I am a fan of working on a bosu ball but if you do not have one, no worries! I will show you some great exercises that get you balancing without any special equipment.

The first is a great warm-up exercise called high knees, where you are marching in place and bringing your diagonal elbow and knee together. Any exercise where you are standing on one leg will work on your balance. This is great exercise to do at the beginning of an exercise routine because it helps you with coordinating your movement and stabilizing through your core.

The next exercise is one of my favorite balance postures in yoga. This is the tree pose, a very good, grounding exercise that gets you thinking about being still. I find a lot of riders have a lot easier time doing balancing exercises that involves movement, but still balance postures are really good for stabilizer muscles and teaching your to quiet your mind. It is important to pick a “dristi” or a spot that is unmoving to focus your attention.

Tree Pose

  1. Pick a spot that is unmoving to focus your attention
  2. Stabilize through your core, think of an inward upward lift that starts at your pelvic floor and zips up through your belly button
  3. Bend your knee and bring your foot forward like you are dipping you toe in the water (this is a great starting point that works your balance feel free to hold here if this feel challenging to you)
  4. Bend your knee and place your foot on your straight leg between your knee and your ankle, press the foot of the bent leg into your straight leg to create positive tension if these feels like a good challenge stop here and hold anywhere for 30 seconds to a minute
  5. If you want to create more challenge, bring the bent food above your knee but make sure you are not putting any pressure on your knee
  6. Do what you want with your hands: they can be on your hips, out to the side or reaching up toward the sky

Laura Crump Anderson is an avid equestrian who realized from a young age the importance of taking care of our bodies like the athlete we expect our horses to be. Laura has competed up to Training Level in eventing on a horse she bred and started herself, and has the goal to get back out competing again on her 2019 homebred Still Stanley. She holds her degree in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science from Longwood University, is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and has her 200-hour yoga teacher certificate. Laura’s goal is to help riders be connected with their horse and be fit sound and ready to ride. Laura works with riders across disciplines from weekend warriors to Olympic athletes. She is the Owner and Founder of Hidden Heights Fitness, where clients can participate in one-on-one Virtual Personal Training via a virtual platform for which all that’s necessary is an internet connection, the space the size of a yoga mat, and a dash of determination.

How to Fail in Order to Be a More Successful Rider

In this excerpt from her new book Ultimate Exercise Routines for Riders, certified personal trainer and horsewoman Laura Crump Anderson explains why strength is important for equestrians and what we must push through to get it.

Sharon White demonstrates peak plank position. Photo courtesy of Horse & Rider Books.

No matter how much muscle you build, you will never be strong enough to overpower your horse. The success of your partnership depends on your aptitude when it comes to nonverbal communication, and improving your strength can make you a more effective communicator, enabling more precise application and timing of the aids needed to make clear your commands. And the stronger you are, the easier it will be to lock into a methodical, independent seat, which is in constant communication with your horse about the correct rhythm, suppleness, connection, and impulsion.

Strength training out of the tack will also help you overcome two of the most common barriers to a healthy body and crystal-clear connection with your horse: pain and muscular asymmetry. When muscles are allowed to atrophy, the body becomes weaker, stiffer, and more likely to experience pain in general. And when we’re in pain, we tend to compensate, often without knowing that we’re doing it. Even seemingly minor adjustments made because you’re hurting can scramble the signals between you and your horse.

Muscular asymmetry, whether due to pain or another cause, is a problem that crops up in a lot of riders. Both pain and muscular imbalances can interrupt your ability to communicate effectively with your horse and can even cause problems from efforts to compensate or work around deficiencies or discomfort. But building a stronger, more balanced body is within your reach. A big bonus is that increased muscular strength means you’re less likely to experience pain in general.

Increased muscular strength also improves your metabolism and insulin sensitivity. High insulin sensitivity allows for the cells in your body to use blood glucose more effectively, reducing blood sugar. This leads to a healthier metabolism that is more able to fuel your body with the energy that it needs to be successful in the saddle.

Armor Up
Working to strengthen your body is a great way to defend yourself from injury in the first place. Muscle protects you in several ways. First, stronger bodies can react more quickly to dangerous circumstances—an unexpected spook or a stop at a fence, for example—in some cases averting disaster or at least minimizing the damage. We rarely know when danger is coming in our sport, so this is an important line of defense. More importantly, increased muscle mass actually acts as “armor,” making your body more adept at withstanding the forces that cause injury.

Thankfully, falls are fairly rare, but in the unfortunate case that you do part ways with your horse, a strong, fit body will fare better than a weaker one. (Learning how to fall correctly is a skill all its own, but that’s a discussion for another book.) That’s because muscle is much more resilient to trauma.

Strength training also improves bone density. This is because more muscle increases the amount of force placed on your bones every time you move. This triggers an increase in osteoblast activity, or the building up of new bone cells, and a decrease in osteoclast activity, or the process by which cells break down bone density. Increased bone density means stronger bones that are less prone to breaking, making the likelihood of walking away from an accident with minimal damage much greater.

Finally, building muscle tends to reduce recovery time when you do get injured. There is no way to avoid the atrophy or muscle loss that comes with an extended period of recuperation. But when you are stronger prior to an accident, the body has a greater ability to supply oxygen to the areas that need to recover, and improved circulation means healing faster and getting back in the saddle sooner. I have known riders who have sustained some pretty serious falls. The ones who were incredibly strong before their falls were in much better shape afterward. The road back from a significant injury will always be long and arduous, but many riders at the highest level of the sport find their way back onto a horse, and many return to competitive sport successfully—because they are strong.

While it is incredibly rare, there is always the scenario of finding yourself in the hospital, fighting for your life. Should such a thing come to pass, you want as much muscular strength on your body as possible. This enables the doctors to give you every chance—going into major surgery as strong as possible ensures they can use all the tools in their tool belt.

The benefits of strength training for riders are clear and compelling. Stronger muscles translate to less pain, reduced muscular asymmetry, improved communication with your horse, stronger
bones, greater protection against injury, and the resilience to bounce back if an accident does occur. Think of building muscle as preparing you for battle: You want to make sure your body is as strong as possible to defend against negative outcomes. But you will only realize these benefits under the right conditions.

Working to Failure
Momentary muscle failure sounds scary but reaching this point—the place at which you can no longer perform an exercise because you have fatigued your muscle so deeply—is actually the goal of strength training and a key feature of this exercise program. This state gives your body the opportunity to adapt and build more muscle in response to hitting its limit.

Momentary muscle failure is a simple concept to grasp. However, it is hard to achieve. In practice, it requires working through the burning sensation of muscle fatigue and really pushing yourself to the point at which you hit true failure, when your body is unable to continue. Plank is a great exercise for introducing yourself to this sensation:

  1. Start on your hands and knees, then bend your arms and come down to rest on your elbows.
  2. Extend both legs back so you are on your toes, maintaining a straight line from your head to your heels
  3. Hold the position for as long as you can. Your body will begin to shake but keep holding.
  4. When you feel yourself reaching your limit and are just about to stop, count down from 10, holding the plank for just a little longer until you
  5. Release the pose and allow your body to drop to the floor.

This sensation, when you are holding the position despite your body telling you to stop, is what I want you to push for when doing exercise routines. Although it sounds (and is) intense, momentary muscle failure can be achieved safely through extremely focused exercises. Think of failure as a stepping stone on the way to success — you need to fail in order to get stronger.

This excerpt from Ultimate Exercise Routines for Riders by Laura Crump Anderson is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books (www.HorseandRiderBooks.com).

Build Your Galloping Position with the Lunge (No, Not the Lunge Line!)

Lexi Scovil and Chico’s Man VDF. Photo by Abby Powell.

You might think that this is a blog post on how to ride. If you’re looking for that, please check out anything written by Jimmy Wofford — he is the master of the galloping position.

There is so much great content on how to improve your galloping position, and what it should look like. This is not that article. Rather, this article focuses on a lunge done off the horse that will improve your muscular strength — and your galloping position along with it — on the horse.

The galloping position executed correctly is not just important, it’s essential for the health of your horse. While nothing compares to getting your stirrups short enough and really dedicating the time in the tack to stop posting in the gallop, this is nonetheless a great exercise for strengthening your lower body and your core. In particular, your glute medius and glute minimus — which are also, as an added bonus, really important for the sitting trot — will see benefits from this exercise, if it’s done correctly and regularly. It is rare that a client of mine will go a week without doing the lunge.

Are you a righty or lefty?

Do you know what your dominant leg is? You might be surprised that it does not always match your dominant hand. Whichever leg you would most likely kick a soccer ball with is usually your dominant leg. Start this exercise with your non-dominant leg forward and finish with your dominant leg forward.

The Lunge

  1. Start in standing position with your feet hip-width apart
  2. Step forward with your non-dominant leg; your feet should be about as far apart as if you are measuring strides (about 3 feet). One leg should be in front of your torso, one leg behind
  3. Keep your trunk upright and bend your knees until the back knee practically touches the ground. Keep your front foot firmly on the ground, driving through your heel to properly engage your hamstrings and glutes, but raise the back heel
  4. Straighten both legs until you’re standing back up again with your feet apart
  5. Try to do this slow and controlled for two minutes. Focus on using your strength, not momentum, to go through the range of motion
  6. Switch to the other leg forward, repeat

How long should you lunge for?

The trick for a successful training session is to do the lunge longer than when your brain is telling you should quit. Set a timer and just do it for as long as you can, then push yourself to do a little bit more (about ten seconds longer than you think you can do).

Most riders can do the lunge on one leg for a minute. This is a great starting point, and you can then work up to doing each leg for two minutes. If you are able to do the lunge on one leg for longer than two minutes, great! But beware: the wear and tear is not worth the additional gains you will get, so feel free to stop at the two minute mark.

Try this out in your regular exercise routine (or use this as kindling to start a fresh one!) and pay attention to the after-effects of this added strength and muscle awareness in the saddle!

Laura Crump Anderson is an avid equestrian who realized from a young age the importance of taking care of our bodies like the athlete we expect our horses to be. Laura has competed up to Training Level in eventing on a horse she bred and started herself, and has the goal to get back out competing again on her 2019 homebred Still Stanley. She holds her degree in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science from Longwood University, is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and has her 200-hour yoga teacher certificate. Laura’s goal is to help riders be connected with their horse and be fit sound and ready to ride. Laura works with riders across disciplines from weekend warriors to Olympic athletes. She is the Owner and Founder of Hidden Heights Fitness, where clients can participate in one-on-one Virtual Personal Training via a virtual platform for which all that’s necessary is an internet connection, the space the size of a yoga mat, and a dash of determination.

Identifying Your Body’s Weaknesses in the Saddle: A Clinic with Mary Wanless

They say you should never meet your idols and while I have been to a Paul McCartney concert, meeting Mary Wanless was about as amazing as a rock concert. In May I attended a Mary Wanless Clinic. I have had her books on my shelf since before I can remember; in fact, Ride With Your Mind is one of the first horse book that I ever read. The moment I discovered I could audit her clinic literally right up the road, I immediately jumped on the opportunity.

It was an incredibly hot day in May — one of those days where the breeze almost felt hotter than the ambient air. I pulled into the other side of Loch Moy Farms (who knew they had an indoor over there) and walked into an arena not knowing my mind was about to be rocked.

I am not going to lie when I say I had high expectations for this clinic. I had read cover-to-cover many books before but none of them had it me as hard as The New Anatomy of Rider Connection. This book came out at a time when I was deeply immersed in anatomy trains and the importance of facia through my yoga teacher training. When I saw that Mary Wanless had applied the anatomy trains not only to the rider but to the horse I was hooked. I have read this book at least three times and every time I pick it up, I am learning something new.

If you are a total nerd for anatomy and physiology like me, this book is for you. However, if you are just looking to ride better, this book is also for you. That was one of the things that amazed me about Mary’s teaching style: she could meet the rider at the level they are at.

Whether that was a young girl just taking her first canter steps or a professional dressage rider, Mary’s knowledge of the rider’s body could talk circles around me, and I consider myself pretty well versed in the body (I have a four year degree in Kinesiology with a concentration in exercise science, have been a personal trainer for close to ten years and spent the last two years working for a physical therapy practice). That said I have dedicated my life to learning about the body, and it excites me when I find somebody who is truly a master of their craft.

AND she signed the book!

I missed the first day of the clinic because I had to work (damn mortgages). If I could go back in time, I would have rearranged to be there all three days, preferably with a horse but that was not meant to be at this time. I walked into the second day thinking I have read this book I can catch on and I did but I would have loved to see the transformation in the riders way of going across all three days.

The biggest take away and what I am bringing back to you is the kneel exercise she taught on the second days lecture portion. This is a great way to determine if you are relying more heavily on your Superficial Back Line or your Superficial Front Line — these lines are the fascia trains that make up everyone’s body.

So what is fascia? According to Google, “Fascia is a thin casing of connective tissue that surrounds and holds every organ, blood vessel, bone, nerve fiber and muscle in place. The tissue does more than provide internal structure; fascia has nerves that make it almost as sensitive as skin.” It has been said that if you were to take everything else out of the body and only leave the fascia you would still be able to recognize the person in front of you. It was thought for many years in western medicine that fascia was mostly inert. But how could something so pervasive be useless? The simple is answer is: it is not!

If you haven’t heard of this, read the book! If you have heard of it, good! This should interest you… READ THE BOOK. There is a reason it’s a book and not a blog post. The concepts simply can not be boiled down into a cliff notes version.

This exercise is quite hard on the knees, so I do not recommend this for those that struggle with knee pain. I also do not recommend doing it to muscle failure, but rather use it as a fact-finding mission.

1: Start by kneeling on even ground. 

2. Place your hands on your stomach and you back just above your pelvis with your palms flat.

3. Engage through your core keep you tail bone tucked under.
4. Lift up by leading with your belt buckle, so that your hips are over top of your knees.

The goal of this exercise is to keep even pressure on your hands and not round your back or arch your back as you go through the range of motion. If you do round or arch your back, this is telling:

If you tend to round your back, you are stronger on your superficial front line.

 

If your tendency is to arch your back to come up, you’re more tight in you superficial back line.

If your tendency is to round your back, you are strong on your superficial front line. This means your tendency would be to be to get into more of a crouched position in the saddle.

If your tendency is to arch your back to come up, you’re more tight in you superficial back line. This means that you will more likely lean back in the saddle and get into more on a water skiing position. Continue to work on this exercise until you can keep even pressure on your stomach and back.

Want more Rider Physiology? Read Horse Nation’s review of The New Anatomy of Rider Connection here.

The Athletic Equestrian: The One Exercise Every Eventer Should Be Doing

A lot has changed for me since the last time I wrote for Eventing Nation. I do not know if you heard but there was a global pandemic … I got out of the fitness industry to do a job in Health Care (I worked for a physical therapy practice) and I wasn’t allowed in my gym for about two months and had to come up with an at home exercise routine. I started training all of my clients virtually when I was used to relying heavily on equipment and the one thing the stood true for me, and that I firmly believed and still believe in, is the grounding and challenging aspect of a plank.

I know working with horses is extremely physically demanding. Trying to fit exercise in to an incredibly busy life just seems overwhelming if not impossible, however, you can find 90 seconds two days a week. You spend countless hours treating your horse like and athlete, perfecting their diet, doing the fitness work, ensuring that their shoes are the perfect fit, etc. YOU OWE IT TO YOUR HORSE TO TAKE YOUR FITNESS WITH SIMILAR IMPORTANCE.

Start with a small achievable goal. Do a plank for 90 seconds two times a week. This will start making a difference in your strength and will even get your heart rate up quite quickly. You have to hold a symmetrical position for an extended period of time and this will give you a clue into whether or not you are right or left dominant not only in your upper body but also your lower body. You might be surprised to find that you are actually dominant in your lower body on the opposite side of your upper body.

How To Do The Perfect Plank

1. Start on all fours.

Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

2. Walk your hands forward so there is a straight line from your head to your knees.

Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

3. Come down onto your elbows.

Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

4. Straighten your legs and press your heels back behind you (really think about squeezing all down the backs of your legs).

Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

5. Don’t let your back round over or your stomach drop down.

6. Hold this position for as long as you can.

How Long Should You Hold Your Plank For?

The goal should be 90 seconds two days a week. However, if you get into this position and discover it is more challenging then you thought it would be that is totally OK. IF you are only able to hold it for 30 seconds start with doing three planks for 30 seconds. Work up to doing a minute long plank. If you are doing a plank for 60 seconds do two of them until you can do a 90 second plank. If your second plank is shorter that is totally OK. You are achieving true muscle fatigue! (GREAT JOB)! IF you are getting over two minutes great! However more than two minutes is excessive and longer does not necessarily be better so stick with about the two minute mark as a max and make sure you continue to do it twice a week. Because consistency is the important thing!

This is just the beginning of the wide world of planks and in a later post I want to look at different versions that will challenge you in many ways!

Laura Crump Anderson is an avid equestrian who realized from a young age the importance of taking care of our bodies like the athlete we expect our horses to be. Laura has competed up to Training Level in eventing on a horse she bred and started herself, and has the goal to get back out competing again on her 2019 Home-bred Still Stanley. She holds her degree in Kinesiology with a concentration in exercise science from Longwood University, is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and has her 200 hour yoga teacher certificate. Laura’s goal is to help riders be connected with their horse and be fit sound and ready to ride. Laura works with riders across disciplines from weekend warriors to Olympic athletes. She is the Owner and Founder of Hidden Heights Fitness, where you can participate in one-on-one Virtual Personal Training via zoom all you need is an internet connection, the space the size of a yoga mat, and your determination. 

How to Use a Mounting Block to Stretch and Strengthen Your Calves

As riders we tend to have strong calf muscles; however, just because they are strong does not always mean they are functioning properly. Our calves serve as the heart of the lower body — the two main muscles in the lower leg, the gastrocnemius and the soleus, assist the cardiovascular system in pumping blood back up to the heart with each step. This is part of the reason you are encouraged to get up and walk around on long flights.

I commonly encounter riders who suffer from overly tight calves that has a profound impact on the galloping position, as well as common human lameness like plantar fasciitis. As humans we should pay as much attention to stretching our calves as we do our hamstrings.

For this exercise you will need a step or a solid mounting block. 

  • Place the ball of your foot on the step, place your hand on a railing or a wall to steady yourself. (This is not the place to add balance work in as bouncing, hopping and sudden movements will increase your chance of injury.)
  • Drop your heels down toward the floor. At the bottom of the range of motion hold that static position for five seconds.  

Jaclyn Burke of Burke Equestrian demonstrates a calf stretch. Photo by Laura Crump Anderson.

  • Next with your hand supporting you on the wall, slowly rise up pressing your toes into the step and contracting in your calves. Go for your full range of motion — this will be different for everyone.

Jaclyn Burke of Burke Equestrian demonstrates a calf raise. Photo by Laura Crump Anderson.

 

  • Complete this exercise for two minutes and you will be feeling quite the burn in your lower leg and possibly your glutes and hamstrings. 
  • Finish by holding the start position for at least 30 seconds.

Jaclyn Burke is one of my idols and time management gurus. The amount of things she can accomplish in a day is second to none. Jaclyn owns and operates Burke Equestrian out of Hablyn Hills Equestrian Center in the heart of Area II. Jaclyn specialize in bringing OTTBs up through the levels and she has competed at the CCI3*-L level, with goals and plans to get back with her talented string of three competition horses. 

As if running and managing a success competition, training and lesson program were not enough, she also has a full-time job at Workday, a software company that helps businesses optimize the back office processes. For Jaclyn hacks are often filled with phone calls but when she gets down to riding and teaching she strives to be 100% present in the moment. Even with her extremely busy schedule she makes the time to prioritize her own fitness as she can feel the difference when exercise moves onto the back burner. 

Laura Crump Anderson is a certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and is a Registered 200 Hour Teacher with the Yoga Alliance. She specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science, and has evented through Training level. Read more of her EN fitness columns here.

If It Was Easy It Wouldn’t Be Worth It: A Mindfulness Practice

Laura Crump Anderson is an Equestrian Fitness Specialist at InForm Fitness Leesburg. She is certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science, is a Certified Personal Trainer with the American College of Sports Medicine, and has evented through Training level. Read more of her EN fitness columns here

The author bombing a distance.

Sometimes I honestly cannot conceive how horse people do it.

The hours that are demanded of us whether you are a professional or an amateur.

The fleeting pinnacles of highs that make you feel like someone destined to be on horseback.

Then, all too quickly, the overwhelming lows that so hastily can come on but takes months to pass, which throw you in a depression so deep that you probably would not get out of bed if there wasn’t a four-legged creature that literally depends on you.

Add to it heat, cold, expense, injuries, surgeries, deaths, and the lack of understanding from people that we are closest to. Sporadically I am amazed that I am allowed to walk the streets as ‘horse crazy’ as I am.

Even as an adult I still occasionally wish that I had picked a different sport to dedicate my life to. Do divers deal with the overwhelming mental game that is riding? Or do soccer players at the age of 30-something still dream of making a team? This is where my yoga practice has come in … it is so much more than stretching for me. It fills a gap in my life that never realized was missing. I am learning that I am enough just the way that I am.

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present. It took me a long time to realize it, but it is one of the reasons I love riding. Even if just for a moment during a 45-minute ride my monkey brain turns off and I feel fully present in the moment.

Three Mindfulness Hacks

1. Set a timer for five minutes. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Each time you find yourself distracted (it will happen and more than you might think) acknowledge the thought or sound and return to focusing on your breath. Work up to doing this for 10 minutes every day. You will be amazed at the time warp you witness.

2. Grab a glass of water and notice every single detail you can about the glass or bottle. Note every single detail as you drink the water, feel, temperature, can you feel it hit your stomach? Do not do anything else until you have finished with it.

3. Take a yoga class. Yoga is so much more than the postures you sit-in — it is actually an eight part process of self- awareness. Just like in riding it is so important to find the right teacher for you. If you do not like one class but are not sure why, go try another!

Mindfulness is a practice and the more you do it the better you will get at it. Like any practice consistency is a key to success. Just because it is simple doesn’t mean it is easy, but if it was easy would it be worth it?

Learn more about mindfulness and nutrition for the rider in the heart of Area II at Beverly Equestrian (The Plains, Virginia) during the Rider Wellness Series. The next session takes place Thursday, July 25th 2019 at 6 p.m. Click here to learn more and purchase your ticket.

 

Up Your Game With This 20-Minute Rider Fitness Video

Laura Crump Anderson is an Equestrian Fitness Specialist at InForm Fitness Leesburg. She is certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science, is a Certified Personal Trainer with the American College of Sports Medicine, and has evented through Training level. Read more of her EN fitness columns here

Are you wanting to up your in-the-saddle fitness game, but you’re on a tight time budget? This is the program for you.

Laura explains: “This video is an effective workout that does not require too much time outside of the tack. As riders we spend a lot of energy ensuring that our horses, are fit and sound and ready to compete. It is time we take the same dedication to our own fitness.”

Go Eventing.

The Athletic Rider: The Difference Between Motivation and Discipline

Laura Crump Anderson is an Equestrian Fitness Specialist at InForm Fitness Leesburg. She is certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science, is a Certified Personal Trainer with the American College of Sports Medicine, and has evented through Training level. Read more of her EN fitness columns here

I strongly considered not writing about New Year’s resolutions because, well, for one thing I hate them. Not to be a hater, and generally I am not; however, creating change in your life does not lie on a day of the calendar. It rides on a shift in your mindset. The good news is that can happen 365 days a year, but requires the 364 other days each year to keep working. One of my favorite diagrams is this…

Photo by Laura Crump Anderson.

I would be missing an incredible opportunity to cheer people on if I was to ignore January. Motivation is high in January; the first two weeks it is as if every day is #motivationmonday. The key now is to harness that motivation create discipline, and this is where the struggle begins.

Photo by Laura Crump Anderson.

Motivation is important. Motivation is a spark, it is getting the shiny idea, it is chasing the dream.

Discipline is not exciting; it is not sexy and attention grabbing. Discipline is hard. Discipline in boring. Discipline is taking the extra 10 minutes to make sure something is done correctly and not just sufficiently. Discipline is doing the hard things when they do not matter, so that you can do them when they matter most. Discipline is found in the everyday and the mundane — it is what you do when no one is looking.

Today my discipline is writing this article. Your discipline in this moment is reading to the second to the last paragraph of this article. You did it and can transfer this success into another success. Try applying this discipline into a plank to true failure, for instance — working to momentary muscle failure requires a lot of discipline.

Photo by Laura Crump Anderson.

So, when the shine of motivation wears off and you are feeling like you cannot continue, make sure you have cultivated discipline within you.

The Athletic Rider: You Are What You Eat (and You Cannot Out-Exercise a Bad Diet)

Laura Crump Anderson is an Equestrian Fitness Specialist at InForm Fitness Leesburg. She is certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science, is a Certified Personal Trainer with the American College of Sports Medicine, and has evented through Training level. Read more of her EN fitness columns here

Health and fitness are things to be worked on and maintained year-round. I have never been a fan of new year’s resolutions; to instill a healthy habit or quit a bad one does not require a day on the calendar to roll around. Picking a specific day like January 1st or a birthday has been shown to be less successful when it comes to upholding goals. My method is to choose a theme for the year, 2017 — a year of consuming less (no shopping), 2018 — the year of learning to say ‘no’ (learning create healthy boundaries), and I am currently thinking that 2019’s theme will be acknowledging the responsibility in all things good and bad my life.

Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

The winter months can be an ideal time to put an emphasis on your body, by adding a yoga class or fitness routine. Assuming you are still riding regularly, take note of how the asymmetries in your body might mirror that of your horse. Also, make the time to think about what you are fueling your body with. Try to find the healthier, real food, items on the outside of grocery store, not in the center isles.

IF you are looking for a bar, though, I highly recommend EquestriBar. They are made with premium ingredients, they taste good and will not crumble in your pocket, and are good enough size to not leave you hungry.

Photo courtesy of Equestribar.

I had a reality check this week when I got back on the scale after Thanksgiving. While visiting family last week, I did not ride, so I went to the gym almost every single day. Usually, I only workout 20 minutes once week. You can see the results Monday Morning below, while I was able to maintain my muscle mass, you can see from the InBody chart below that I actually gained 3.5 pounds of fat mass. This was do the excessive amount of eating on Thursday, I have been really getting back on track Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I am not saying to stare at your scale throughout the holiday season, because the way you feel on your horse is the most important indicator of health. However, I am advising you to be aware of you holiday eating habits.

Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

This is time where holiday snacking can become overwhelming and seems you are invited to a new festivity almost every day. It is very important to not let the cheat meal, become the cheat day, leads to the cheat week. This is how we find ourselves 10 lbs. behind the curve on January 1st . Fuel yourself through the winter months like the athlete you expect your horse to be.

Here are a few of my favorite healthy recipes! Enjoy.

This broccoli and spinach soup is warm and hearty.

Three Healthy Holiday Eating Strategies That Work

We spend so much time eating turkey and ham around the holidays, that a perfectly cooked beef roast really stands out and can be an excellent change of pace. Try this Garlic Rosemary Roast Beef with Horseradish Sauce by Lauren Grant.

The prep work that goes into this one, Roasted Heirloom Squash with Sea Salt and Local Honey by Diabetic Living Magazine, is a little more extensive. However, this dish is well worth the time it takes. You can save time by looking for winter squash varieties in the precut isle of your grocery store. When it comes to squash, though, never buy frozen! Add a strip or two of chopped nitrate-free bacon and take it to the next level.

Lima beans were surprisingly the first leftover that disappeared at my family Thanksgiving this year! This is a super easy and quick recipe to make year round, and it is packed with fiber and protein. Remember to go with the baby lima beans they taste way better, and frozen is totally acceptable! Here’s a delicious Baby Lima Beans recipe by Trisha Yearwood.

HOLIDAY COCKTAILS

Now onto the fun stuff. Making a lower calorie drink that is festive is easy.

1. Pick your favorite glass.
2. Pick your clear poison (vodka, clear tequila, gin, or skip this step).
3. Mix with the sparkling water of your choosing.
4. Garnish with frozen berries.
5. Snap a picture, and enjoy responsibly.

Photo by Laura Crump Anderson.

Rider Fitness: The Importance of Rest, Recovery and Reinforcements

Laura Crump Anderson is an Equestrian Fitness Specialist at InForm Fitness Leesburg. She is certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science, is a Certified Personal Trainer with the American College of Sports Medicine, and has evented through Training level. Read more of her EN fitness columns here

Could you imagine a world where the fitness instructor is telling you to do less? Well, welcome to that world Eventing Nation. I am here to tell you, start scheduling a day off into your week immediately.

For many riders, professionals and amateurs, 12-hour days are the norm, and the occasional eight-hour day is the exception. You will get laughed out of the barn if you mention a day off. In our industry it is almost a badge of honor to tell someone how many days you have gone without a day off. However, you would never abuse your horse this way, so why are you doing this to your own body?

Your horse gets a day off once a week and you need one. I am not saying do not exercise, but what I am saying is take care of yourself because it is essential to doing your job well. You are busy so exercise smarter not longer, get the eight hours of sleep your brain requires, fuel your body with nutritious food and make sure you take a day off once a week.

Take Time Off

When an event rider is in the studio one of the initial questions I ask is “How much sleep are you getting?” The importance of sleep cannot be understated. Sleep is when your body recovers, builds muscle, improves mental clarity, and prepares you for keeping your important routines. That said when people are looking for more time in the day sleep is often the first thing to go. So looking at your schedule, block out those eight hours as not optional.

We live busy lives and are incredibly used to waking up early and going until we crash. Rinse and repeat day after day, week after week. Overtraining is the process of not getting enough rest and recovery, and the impacts are not just physical, they are also mental and will lead to burnout, or worse, making dangerous mistakes.

You Can Not Do Everything – Hire Back Up

I am no stranger to overbooking my schedule, I work full time, I am the sole caretaker of my two horses, and I have the honor of serving as chair of the Health and Wellness Committee for the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce. Plus my only “vacation” so far in 2018 was volunteering in the vet box for the World Equestrian Games.

This year we made the big decision to expand our Equestrian program at InForm Fitness. This was so exciting and a dream come true, but it also meant that I had a lot of pressure on my shoulders, and we needed to hire a new person. Thankfully, I quickly found the perfect person to take on the position.

Cameron Rouse is an H-A Pony Clubber who holds a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science and recently completed her Power of 10 Certification, all while working on her Masters and actively competing her horse Rummy throughout Area II. Five months into having Cameron on the team, I am just beginning to delegate successfully, and she is stepping up to the mounting block.

Training someone to fill a roll that you currently do is challenging, and amplified greatly when it involves a half-ton animal. However, finding conscientious people who can be taught is essential. Even more challenging, yet just as important, is learning to give them safe opportunities to learn and carry out the responsibility.

Cameron Rouse on Rummy at Morven Park. Photo by Lee Rouse.

Delegate or Suffer

In order to take the time off to attend WEG, I had to hand over all of my clients to Cameron. This is an incredibly tall order for a new strength training instructor, ultimately the hardest part was letting go of the reins, and she rose to the challenge. I am so incredibly proud of her for doing an amazing job. That was no small task on her part, the clients loved her, and she has quickly proven to be an incredibly talented and valued member of the team.

Hiring another equestrian fitness specialist was the best decision for the company and for myself. As this will allow me to stay focused, not burn out, be more organized and even ride more consistently. It takes time to learn to delegate and it requires you to pay someone to a do a job that you could be doing. That said freeing up time for yourself to rest and recover, is essential to your success as an athlete!

“Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something.” -Pooh

My strength training travel routine:

1) Wall Sit
2) Lateral Work
3) Slow Motion Push Up
4) Half Passes for the Obliques
5) Side Plank (see video)

6) The Plank

Each of the exercises are done to a point of momentary muscle failure, with little or no rest in between exercises. Perform once or twice a week with a minimum of three days’ rest in between routines.

Get some rest, then Go Eventing!

The Reasons I Practice Yoga

Laura Crump Anderson is the Equestrian Fitness Specialist at InForm Fitness Leesburg and Reston and specializes in working with riders of all disciplines and has competed to training level in eventing. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science, and is a Certified Personal Trainer with the American College of Sports Medicine. This past weekend Laura graduated from her 200-hour yoga teacher training course.

As far as equestrian fitness trends, I was behind the curve on the value of yoga. Videos and books on yoga and Pilates for the equestrian have been around for as long as I can remember, though I barely gave them more than a glance. That changed two years ago when I walked into a yoga studio simply to support a pregnant friend. Prior, my experience with yoga was a one-credit class in college. Rough association with a guy friend from high school, who broke my heart more than once, was now a yoga teacher blowing up my news feed with constant postings on social media … Let’s just say that this was not something I expected to do regularly. I was fit, I rode horses, and I worked out, so who needs yoga?

Photo by Melissa Hunsberger.

Reason #1: Anatomy

As the story goes, she had me at ‘xiphoid process.’ The xiphoid process is the boney bump at the bottom of your sternum, and when my teacher used it as a body marker in my first class I was hooked.

I quickly realized that through movement, I was learning more about the human body than I had in three years of anatomy and physiology in school. While I could point to an IT Band on a chart of a human with no skin, it had nothing on holding a pigeon pose for three minutes and identifying exactly where my IT band was and how it worked. Through my practice I learned more about my body and other people’s anatomy than ever before. This helped me become a better fitness specialist. I believe this knowledge of how the body works helps instructors and clinicians teach students as well.

I went on to continue studying yoga and the second concrete and detectible difference I felt was in my mental strength.

Photo by Melissa Hunsberger.

Reason #2: Grounding

I learned to ground into the present moment more and worry about the ‘what ifs’ less — the greatest tool to access this is through the breath. My breath is the yoga that I have with me throughout the day; when I start feeling overwhelmed, or worse, out of control, I can always control my breath, and it starts me on the right path to address the situation ahead. Competitiveness and comparison almost never serve the practice, and I learned that quickly to meet my body where it is that day. Yoga has taught me to breathe and work with the madness.

My world is demanding, fast paced, meticulous and complicated by ADHD and so incredibly vata deranged that I am grateful to now understand what that means. I hold a leadership role in a small business; I am serving as Chair of the Health and Wellness Committee for the Loudoun Chamber, one of the fast-growing counties in the nation; I am blessed with incredible yet demanding clients, two dogs, two horses, six chickens, a 20-acre horse farm, and a remarkable husband, who did not sign up to be a main caretaker.

Breathe.

Reason #3: Visualization
Do this, it works!

Reason #4: Energy or Spirituality

If you don’t care for ‘woo-woo’ feel free to skip this next paragraph … I would have two years ago. However, the more I learn the more I realize this was a part of my life that I was missing. Through meditation and connection with energy that is in everything, my understanding of self
grows stronger.

I must admit this did not come from once a week classes. For me this required more in-depth breakdowns that I have received with my 200-hour yoga teacher training. The intuitiveness of some Ayurveda came easy; however, I still get lost when they start talking about chakras, though I am starting to understand how chi moves through the hyaluronic acid in the fascia and the reason western doctors had so much trouble identify meridian lines because experiments were conducted on cadavers, and dead bodies have little chi. While I digress, I would be amiss to write about yoga and not touch on this.

Here are three great stretches for equestrians of any disciplines, presented in order of yin (most passive) to yang (most demanding). The key action of all three poses are to stretch, the inner thigh which tends to be chronically tight in riders.

Wide Leg Up the Wall. Photo by Machelle Lee.

Butterfly. Photo by Machelle Lee.

The Frog. Photo by Jason Smith.

Thank you to Melissa Hunsberger and the team at Stephen Bradley Eventing for opening your beautiful facility for me to teach my first yoga class outside of training. Melissa was the first instructor I had dedicated to eventing through Loudoun Hunt Pony Club. I could not dream up a better group, and it is an amazing experience to teach my teacher.

Namaste!

Photo by Laura Crump Anderson.

 

Laura’s Exercise of the Month: Reclined Half Pass for Your Obliques

Laura Crump Anderson is an Equestrian Fitness Specialist at InForm Fitness Leesburg. She is certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine and specializes in working with riders of all ages and disciplines. Read more of her EN fitness columns here

The reclined half pass for the obliques is an abdominal crunch that involves the muscles of the rider’s sides. Obliques are the muscles that one must engage to hold themselves upright in the saddle, so the rider sits centered and is not collapsing to the left or the right side.

It is simple-but simple does not mean easy.

  1. Lie on your back with feet on the floor, and arms raised up with your fingertips touching the side of your head. *Do not apply any pressure or pull on your head with your hands.

Fiona Coulter, the assistant trainer at Sara Spofford Dressage in Waterford, VA. Photo courtesy Laura Crump Anderson.

2. Bring your knees over to one side, stacked one on top of the other.

Photo courtesy Laura Crump Anderson.

3. Start the abdominal contraction motion by sitting up and engaging through your side obliques, bringing your right elbow up toward your right knee. Try and keep your legs down. But as ever, do not let perfect get in the way of good enough. The point is to engage your oblique side muscles.

Photo courtesy Laura Crump Anderson.

4. The range of motion and movement should be short, so shoot for five seconds. At the top of the repetition, maintain the abdominal contraction for a two-second squeeze, and then in a controlled and slow manner, un-squeeze, and take another five seconds to lower yourself back down. The intensity will build, but never let yourself rest or disengage your core at bottom of the rep.

5. Time yourself and continue do this exercise until the muscular fatigue literally brigs you to temporary muscle failure. That’s the GOAL! Once achieved, switch to the other side.

Obliques are the muscles that one must engage to hold themselves upright in the saddle, so the rider sits centered and is not collapsing to the left or the right side. Photo courtesy Laura Crump Anderson.

Your obliques work together, so best to start on your weaker side first. When you switch to your stronger side, you already have pre-exhausted one side of the body, and the final GOAL is closer in sight. Whichever direction you start, if you are doing the exercise correctly, the second side, irrespective of its dominance in strength, should feel more challenging.

Interested in additional core strengthening exercises? Check out The Plank The One Exercise For Every Eventer and  The Wheelbarrow: Two is Better Than One.