Why top riders have caught the CrossFit bug

Gone are the days when supplementing your riding with a gentle jog merited praise. Riders have cranked up their own fitness regimes to get the best results in the saddle, and the latest craze is the American import CrossFit.

The concept was the brainchild of Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai back in 2000, with the original CrossFit gym opening in California. But over the past five years, UK CrossFit has more than doubled in size from 250 affiliated gyms to over 500, with Instagram awash with people sweating their way through the WOD (workout of the day).

What is CrossFit?

“CrossFit is varied, functional movements, performed at high intensity,” explains Adam Dobie, director and head coach at WhiteHorse Marlborough CrossFit, which has seen a flurry of top riders hitting the gym floor including five-star eventers Jonelle and Tim Price, Flora Harris, Jesse Campbell, Georgie Strang and Rebecca Howard. “The fitness programme targets those who wish to train safely, effectively and with sound nutrition. It works for all individuals, from high-level to everyday folk and beginners — there is always an option, no matter what your ability is. You just have to show up to class.”

Why does it work so well for riders?

“The use of functional movements such as squats, deadlifts and presses require midline stability (core strength in common terms) in order to perform them with sound mechanics,” says Adam. “It needs balance and coordination of the body, becoming aware of where to distribute your centre of gravity while moving, which is why the programme is so effective for riders.”

“It’s really opened up my eyes to a different way of training,” says 2018 Badminton winner Jonelle Price, who has been going to Whitehorse Marlborough CrossFit since it opened last September, having done CrossFit with its founder Adam for over a year before that. “I’d always enjoyed a circuit type of workout but this has got me training a bit harder and smarter. There really is no typical session. It changes every day, but you’re basically focusing on strength. We do a lot of gymnastic-type movements like handstand push-ups or handstands, as well as conditioning work. It’s a very well-balanced workout.

“I found that I could easily run 10km, but I very much stayed in my comfort zone,” adds Jonelle, who goes to the classes at 6 or 7am before she starts her riding day. “And with CrossFit it’s more about working the heart rate. The sessions are only an hour so it probably makes me work harder than I would [if I was working out for longer].

“I worked out throughout my whole pregnancy, right up until the last two weeks. So much of the work can be modified to a pregnant lady or anybody’s level of ability, strength or fitness,” she says, crediting the programme for helping her get back in the saddle just 10 days after having her son Otis in August 2017, and going on to win Badminton just nine months later.

“In our group there might be anything from five to 10 of us, so it’s quite motivational and naturally being a competitor, you put yourself against the others. It keeps you focused.”

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How can you get involved?

Find your nearest affiliated CrossFit gym at map.crossfit.com. Sessions vary in price, but the average is around £80 a month for unlimited classes, or £10 for a drop-in session.

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