It’s now been a little over a year since I started my Pilates journey with Ride Advanced Physio. It’s almost impossible for me to stick to a work out routine. I try my best…but as many of you know…it’s easy to let it fall off. To get too busy. To get too distracted. I have been aiming each week to do at least two Pilates sessions, many weeks I’ve done three. Sometimes I just do one video, and other times I do a few back to back. I incorporate some of the exercises pre ride at the barn as well if I find myself with extra time before my ride. I have missed perhaps 5 weeks total of Pilates all year (which is a miracle) due to injury, illness or travel. I’m not sure I’ve ever stuck to a workout routine this well since I was in high school. I also managed to sneak in a Biomechanics clinic with Ride Advanced Physio as well in the fall with added in person benefits.
If you missed the other learnings and are interested in checking those out, here they are.
These are some of the most important takeaways from this year.
Posture – I didn’t truly understand posture until I started doing this program. I have spent my entire life being yelled at to get my shoulders back (from either my mom or a trainer…mostly my mom). She would physically grab my shoulders and pull them backwards…but here’s the thing. I don’t need to pull them backwards. That is not fixing anything. I need to carry my shoulders where they’re supposed to be. I have a tendency of carrying my shoulders up by my ears…because as a young teen my tiny narrow shoulders made me self conscious and I see someone like Gwen Stefani (who was my idol with these big wide shoulders) so I’d lift my shoulders to try to make them wider…which then made them round forward. Now do that for another…20 years. It’s a bad habit. At the same time I have a large bum…and am a girl that has often worn bad shoes, so I had a tendency to exist in anterior pelvic tilt (which I’ve known was a problem for years, but didn’t have the tools or understanding to address it). That particular hip posture ALSO contributes to upper back rounding…so literally…telling me to put my shoulders back does nothing except make me tighten muscles that can’t possibly hold against everything else I’m doing wrong.
What this program has taught me with posture is…I need to maintain a neutral pelvis at all times. I used to catch myself slipping all the time to anterior pelvic tilt and fix it…but it’s becoming more my baseline neutral to stand more neutral. At the same time I also learned that instead of pulling my shoulders back, what I really want to do is keep “sliding my shoulder blades down my back.” I want to aim to drop my shoulders away from my ears and keep them in their lowest position on my back possible. Low and behold…that action of sliding my shoulder blades down my back and keeping my shoulders away from ears is how I get good posture. At first it was almost impossible to do this while I was doing any sort of exercise…but after a few months of heavy shoulder/upper body Pilates videos that has improved markedly. My pain in my shoulders is generally improved and while I still get tension there…my complaints about it to my husband (and massage therapist) has diminished.
Gluteus Medius – So I didn’t really know this was a thing before Pilates. If you’d ask me to engage my glutes…I’d just do a large motion tightening of the entire lower back/butt area. Now after a year I can activate and engage each glute med by itself…not to mention some of the other smaller muscles in my core an lower body. I’ve always had good balance, but it’s gotten even better now. And when my trainer is asking me to fix something with my seat, it’s often a glute med activation issue (because I’m not paying attention to it…and riding off old habits)…and I know immediately what I need to do to fix it. It’s always a work in progress, but it’s been a LOT of progress this year.
Awareness – Doing this program has helped to develop my understanding of my body to an extent that I can more regularly call out why things are having issues (aka. tightness, pain). While the programs don’t teach anatomy, my ability to separate out and individual fire different muscles and know what they are and what they do has been the thing. If something hurts, I can Google it…and then make educated guesses based on specific issues. For instance…when my lower back hurts…most of the time doctors want you to do stretches for your back or hips…however for me it’s almost always my inner thighs getting too tight. Or my Psoas. The knowledge I’ve gained about my body and how it functions is priceless.
Mental Fortitude and Greater Understanding of my Horse – At the same time doing all this work physically on myself has given me greater mental fortitude with my training. If it’s taken a year to get myself to the point I am now with Pilates only practicing it 2 – 3 days a week…why should I expect my horse to learn perfect lead changes in any less time. I mean sure…it’s natural for horses to do them…but it’s also natural for me to be able to have good posture. Doesn’t mean our bodies are there or we can readily and easily do it. I’ve had a hard time with this because Jax to this point has learned very quickly, so get stumped here was very frustrating. I know things like Piaffe/Passage/Pirouette take YEARS to develop the strength to do and I’m not impatient with those things, but I was being impatient about the changes…because to me they should not have been that difficult. They don’t take that much strength compared with the others…and horses do it naturally for balance. However what I failed to see was that for Jax maybe they weren’t so easy and coordinating his legs, his size, my balance and these news aids was a real challenge. Now after a year of working on my own body, my own imbalances, my own compensations and movement habits…I get it. It’s not so easy. I still get frustrated for sure…but mostly at myself for not being the perfect rider to help him out. I know if I was better, he would have an easier time of it…but I’m not. So he’ll have to make due with me and I’ll have to make due with patience and grace.
What Pilates has improved
1. Posture – as discussed above. I feel like in general my posture and understanding of my body is much greater.
2. Muscle endurance – I can ride in good form for longer periods of time. It’s not about lung endurance…I can canter for an hour…it’s about muscle support and correct action for longer periods of time so I can get more correct work in.
3. Positioning fixes and changes to help my horse move to his best ability – because of my greater understanding of my body…I can now adjust it in more subtle ways to help my horse (and also I can feel his imbalances and tricky things easier as well).
4. Extra help in dangerous situations – I mentioned this in a past blog with another scary situation, but also recently Jax got me out of the saddle and hanging off the side of him after an exuberant lead change/rodeo buck fest…Not only was I able to stop him from bucking in the moment, but I was able to support my weight and balance on one stirrup off the left front of his body, right myself, and get back astride without hitting the ground. It’s the closest I’ve come to falling off since my jumping accident many years ago where I did come off. If only there were video, it would have been an excellent brag/”save” video for some particular Facebook groups.
5. Reduced Injury – I have hyper mobile problems and I roll my ankles ALL the time. Seriously…at least 3 times a year for my whole life. Often going down to the ground. Every time I do this, I limp for at least a week having damaged a ligament or tendon or straining a knee trying to catch myself. This year (and more specifically in the last 6 months) I’ve rolled my ankle 2 times and fallen. I have gotten up and walked away “sound” all three times. No sprain. Why? My supporting muscles are stronger and my understanding of my balance is better. Instead of allowing my weight to go down the leg that has “given up” on me and put all that pressure on that tendon/ligament under pressure already…I take the weight back into my hips and into the other leg and basically control the drop to the ground. I have managed a couple of good saves as well where I feel the ankle start to roll and can keep myself from falling by reacting quickly with compensating muscles. It’s made a huge difference for me.
6. My Position in the Saddle – I can “bend left” much better than I could a year ago. I also notice when I’m doing weird things (when my seat is too far one direction, when a shoulder is dropping, when I’m weighting the wrong seatbone for a movement) much easier than I was able to do before. Along with some interesting revelations from clinics, I’m working hard to improve my canter seat as well. My position is no longer hindering Jax as much asking for lead changes as I’m sitting more balanced.
As I’ve mentioned in past blogs, Pilates is a subtle thing. It’s not for someone that wants instant visible results. It’s for someone that want’s to slowly peck away at something and look back and see exactly how far you have come. Perfect for dressage riders as we tend to be the type to enjoy that kind of thing. Because these videos are relatively short, not “hard,” and don’t need a lot of specialty equipment (I can literally drop and do one almost anywhere) I have been able to stick with this program. I don’t intend on stopping Pilates now. It is clearly something that is helping me and my riding in more ways than one, so why would I stop! I look forward to see where I am in another year from now.
If you’re interested in making some big changes in your riding for a small financial and time investment (and by small I mean…15-20 minutes a workout…and $50 a month…quick and painless even during these expensive times…it’s a bargain), I highly suggest you give Ride Advanced Physio Pilates for Riders Program a chance for a few months and see what it can do for your riding and your general health and body awareness.