EXERCISE: CONDITIONING SIMPLIFIED
As you can imagine, designing your own program carries its own risks and rewards. I recommend you keep it all extremely simple. To maintain your level of conditioning requires a daily overall routine you can do in a matter of minutes, followed by a good stretch to the muscles worked to keep them long and strong.
Here’s the simple version a trainer taught me years ago that has stood the test of time for her clients trying to maintain an overall level of conditioning: You can work all of your major muscle groups with three things: squats, a four-way crunch series and pushups.
• Squats. Sit in an invisible chair, then stand up. That’s it. The only rules are: Don’t let your butt go below your knees or your knees extend forward past your toes. Do these in sets of 10 with a quick rest in between. Start with three sets and work up to 10.
• Four-way crunch. 1) Lie on your back with your fingers interlaced behind your head, knees bent, feet flat on the ground. Lift your chest and shoulders straight up toward the ceiling; repeat till you feel a burn. That’s your starting number. 2) Now straighten your legs and lift your heels toward the ceiling for as many reps as it takes to feel that burn in your lower abs. Write that number down. 3) Take your left elbow to your right knee, and repeat till you feel it in your left side. That’ll do. 4) Now repeat with your right elbow to your left knee till you feel the pinch. Don’t overdo this one: Start where your body allows and work up to a max of 25 of each with good form. Remember to breathe out upon exertion (when you “crunch”), and keep your abs “zipped” and your bellybutton pulling toward your spine as you perform each move.
• Pushups. Can’t do pushups? Try to do just one with good form. (If you can do more, great.) A Pure Barre instructor told me that just holding your pushup in the “up” position with a straight body, square shoulders and straight arms for as long as possible will work the same muscle groups as actual pushups and start to build the kind of strength that will eventually allow you to lower yourself with good form into a single perfect pushup. Once you can do that, you’re ready to build toward adding one pushup a day until you get to 10, and then start working on adding additional sets of 10, with three sets as a good goal.
“You perform a triathlon every time you ride,” says Stewart. “Instead of swimming, biking and running, you walk, trot and canter!”
What I think Stewart means by this sage bit o’ wisdom is that when we ride, our effectiveness depends on our body’s ability to tolerate and resist the different types of fatigue. When fatigue sets in, our posture changes, our muscles tighten as if to brace against it, our breathing changes, and at some point, our mental focus starts to fade, compromising our decision-making and cognitive functions including timing, judgment and body awareness.
Stewart identifies three types of stamina: muscular, cardiovascular and psychological. “The good news is that an increase in one type of stamina nearly always causes an increase in the others,” he says. “The not-so-good news is that to increase your stamina, you’re going to have to do a little hard work.”
• Muscular stamina refers to how long you can use your muscles and hold good posture and form before fatigue and muscle burn make this impossible. Improve muscular stamina with things like progressively longer/more intense rides, circuit training with light weights, and perhaps a barre class, in which shaking muscles indicate complete