For the last in our blog series built on the comical premise of an adult amateur hitting the gym with Olympians, I went to Aiken, South Carolina, to work out with eventing legend Boyd Martin!
Now bear in mind, prior to Boyd I’d already worked out with Laura Kraut, Kasey Perry-Glass and Beezie Madden. This adult amateur was whipped—I was definitely having a really fun time on this fitness journey, but I also recognized I did not prepare adequately. I was out of rations and the will to do planks.
So naturally I thought I was hallucinating when I got a call from Boyd a week or so before our work out asking if I’d like to switch things up a bit—instead of going to the gym, what if I went to what he referred to as a “lazy man’s yoga” session with him? He had me at “lazy.”
While he’s in Aiken for the winter eventing season, Boyd goes to see Krissy Dopson Simon, a yoga instructor who focuses a lot on improving flexibility and muscle use, once a week. Basically, you get into a yoga pose and then Krissy assists by pulling your leg or arm just a little further than you’re comfortable to get even more motion out of it. Boyd described it as “massively painful,” which, naturally, pre-session Ann scoffed at. I spent three days walking around like a newborn foal after my other workouts; I was pretty sure I’d find an intense stretching session relatively comfortable.
Famous. Last. Words.
As we were parking at Krissy’s studio, it occurred to me that I used to get teased in high school for being the least flexible person on the cross-country team—when we were supposed to touch our toes, I touched the back of my calves and called it a day. And I certainly haven’t been practicing or stretching much in the years that have followed—this may be an interesting experiment in comparing an Olympic pretzel to an adult amateur 2″ x 4″.
We started out with some poses on your typical yoga mat, and it became clear pretty quickly what Boyd meant by the “massively painful” part. You know when you’re reaching for your toes and you start to feel the stretch, and it gets a little painful, and then you stop? Well now imagine you have a very bright and peppy Krissy gently pushing you past that comfort zone, and you suddenly discover you have a foot more reach, and also your legs are on fire.
It reminded me of when your trainer hops on your horse and you realize you’ve spent weeks being swindled by your own animal—he really IS capable of holding a proper frame and carrying himself for more than five strides down the long side, and you really can touch your toes with the proper encouragement.
It did comfort me to watch Boyd go through the same stretches and appear to experience a similar feeling. He had way more bend and reach than me, obviously, but that just meant Krissy pushed him even further, robbing him of any and all advantage over the amateur.
After the poses on the yoga mat we moved to a padded table Krissy uses for some of the more complicated movements. Krissy said as we go through the stretches and movements she identifies problem areas on each person—I have some very long and noodle-like limbs I take very bad care of, and Krissy quickly found a lot of problems with tension from repetitive motion exercises like riding I needed to work out.
There were a couple of different movements where I had a silent chuckle thinking about what someone would think if they just walked into the studio at the moment. We would have to explain, “This isn’t what it looks like, just a yoga instructor and Olympic eventer helping this noodle of a human stretch.”
I can really see how this would be particularly helpful to a top rider where every little advantage counts. When you play sports in school, you spend 20 minutes before every practice and game stretching and warming up, and we give our horses plenty of time to warm-up, but many of us don’t give ourselves the same treatment. I don’t know about you, but generally, it’s 5:30 p.m., and I’ve got limited daylight left, so I’m cracking my knuckles, twisting the crick out of my neck, taking one last swig of my beer and getting on with it.
I tell you what though, I felt like a whole new noodle at the end of this session. Even if I don’t have a Krissy to push the movements, I think all riders could benefit from some flexibility training. It was a nice ease off from the intense weight lifting and working out from the rest of the series, and I’ll be clapping and waving my newly flexible noodle arms this week cheering on Boyd as he tackles the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event. We’ll see if his secret flexible weapon serves him well against the competition!