Plus-size fitness

I’m Fat and I Went Horseback Riding

Did you go through a phase in your childhood where you were obsessed with horses?

Think Tina Belcher.

*Raises hand.* Guilty as charged.

I read every horse book I could get my hands on. I learned how to draw them and plastered my room with horse posters and stickers. I played with My Little Ponies until the glitter wore off and their manes became frayed I even earned my Horseback Riding badge in Girl Scouts at summer camp. Trail rides at state parks were highlights of family vacations.

But then life got in the way. I gained weight, stopped traveling to state parks, and lost my love of horses.

Till my fortieth birthday, that is.

I was recently reintroduced to riding by a friend of mine. I want to share my experience and encourage you to think about horseback riding if you are looking for a new form of exercise. It’s sunshine, fresh air, and a helluva workout. And, horseys.

And yes, curvy women can ride horses.

It was a beautiful fall day—one you see on Instagram or in a movie—when my friend Lorri took me where she boards her horse, MJ.

Lorri called her sweet bay mare from her pen where she was chowing down on hay. Giving MJ a few pets, I remembered how soft horses’ lips and noses were—velvety smooth. Lorri slipped a bitless bridle on, attached a lead, and MJ came walking out of the pen.

We walked out to the open field where MJ turned into a horse lawnmower, eating up all the grass in sight.

Lorri had me hold MJ’s lead, advising me to stay to her left and in her line of vision. I was nervous about being in control of a 1,200-pound animal, but MJ was more intent on food than me.

After she saddled MJ up, Lorri took her horse to a nearby ring, mounted her, and did some warm-ups. I watched her command MJ to turn right, left, and back up. They went from a simple walk to a trot. MJ took the commands really well.

Lorri hopped off the horse, and it was my turn.

I was worried my weight would hurt the horse, but Lorri assured me I wasn’t too big to ride a horse. I got on the mounting block, put my left foot firmly in the stirrup and swung my right leg over MJ. I teetered in the saddle a little bit, but I was on a horse for the first time in twenty years.

I directed MJ to walk clockwise around the perimeter of the ring, and I tensed up immediately. My body wasn’t used to this, and my head swirled with thoughts of what could happen if horsey decided to rear, bolt, or jump over the fence.

Relax, I told myself. You are on a large animal. She’s a gentle mare, and you’re not helping by freaking out.

Forcing myself to breathe, I loosened up my legs and let MJ do the work. Under Lorri’s direction, I had MJ go clockwise, counterclockwise, and even back up! I was really on a horse again!

After fifteen exhilarating minutes, I was ready to get off. I asked Lorri to get me the block.

“No block,” she answered. “Stand up in the stirrups, swing your right leg over, and slide down using your stomach.”

I hadn’t bargained on that. I was terrified, but we were on soft dirt and it really wasn’t that far from the ground. I stood up in the stirrups, swung my leg over, and shimmied off, using my fluffy tummy as leverage.

My legs felt like noodles as I wobbled over to the fence. Lorri got the tack off MJ, and she let me brush MJ down while she fed her mare treats from a bucket.

Lorri explained to me the different ways to get involved with horseback riding if that was something I was truly interested in:

  • Take riding classes. If you Google stables near you, you can find places that offer hourly classes. You learn the basics of horse care, how to put on tack, and how to ride.
  • Rent a horse. For a monthly fee, I could rent a horse without the obligation of owning it or paying for board. Lorri even found me a suitable gentle mare, but I currently have no interest in riding as a hobby.
  • Purchase a horse. There are many horses to be found at sales and auctions. Only do this if you have the time and expertise. Most good horses run in the four figures, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, you and the horse will not have fun. Horses are bigger and more complicated than owning a cat or dog—a commitment not to be taken lightly.

But the benefits of riding are undeniable:

  • Burn 200 calories/hour
  • Wonderful workout for your core muscles
  • Muscle toning, especially for abs and legs
  • Improve balance and posture
  • Wonderful way to interact with animals and nature

If you’ve never considered riding as a form of exercise, please give it some serious thought—especially if you think you’re too large to ride. Horses can carry up to 20-25% of their body weight. So don’t be afraid to get on the phone, talk to stables, and ask their honest opinion.

I am grateful for the experience Lorri and MJ gave me for my birthday. It was a workout I won’t forget any time soon!

What sport have you always wanted to try but been afraid to? Comment below!

I Did Parks & Rec Fitness for One Week

I don’t think I have ever mentioned this on the blog, but I work for my city’s Parks & Rec department.

Cue the L’il Sebastian and Jean-Ralpio Saperstein jokes. Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard ‘em all.

With summer in full swing, Parks & Rec has a huge selection of activities not available any other time of year: swimming, softball, canoeing, special hikes, and other free classes. Being thrifty by nature, I gave myself a challenge to see if I could do at least four days of free fitness classes using only what Parks & Rec offered.

Challenge accepted.

Tuesday—Canoeing

I was at our city’s Fourth of July celebration to serve dinner to our employees working overtime. But before it was dinnertime, I went out to the lake (site of the fireworks show) where the Rec people had kids’ games and other demonstrations. One of them was canoeing. The Rec staff asked if I wanted to hop into a canoe.

“I haven’t been canoeing since the nineties,” I admitted.

That excuse wasn’t good enough. They slapped a life jacket on me and chucked me into a canoe.

If you’ve ever been in a canoe, you know the first couple minutes are a little hairy because you swear you are going to tip over, and that was my experience. As soon as I managed to feel even-keeled, though, I started drifting further away from shore. My quick demo would turn into a three-hour tour if I didn’t do something! Thankfully the water was not deep. I shoved my paddle into the water like a gondolier and made my way back to the bank.

I served dinner with hella sore arms, but proud I could navigate a canoe alone after 20+ years.

OK, so technically it wasn’t a class. But I got more exercise in those fifteen minutes than I do many days of the week!

Wednesday—Yoga

I have talked before about how much I love yoga, so this one was a no-brainer. I had to negotiate a longer lunch since this was in the middle of the day (12:00-12:45). I quickly changed into yoga clothes at lunch, sped the 10 minutes to the park where the class was, and rolled my mat open.

I was pleasantly surprised. There were only four other participants, so I got a lot of one-on-one instruction from a local yoga instructor. Though all of us were intermediate yogis, the teacher truly taught the class for any level. She suggested pose modifications to make things easier or more advanced. What I appreciated most was that she helped me make modifications for my bad back on the concrete surface below my mat. She was a true pro!

Thursday—Water Fitness

This was after work at a local pool. I was hesitant to break out my new Lane Bryant suit, but I paid a lot for it and dammit I was going to use it!

There were about thirty people there, almost all women. And they were all shapes and sizes, so why should I feel self-conscious about my size? It was basically a water aerobics class without using any props—just body weight for resistance. The teacher did a great job of teaching to those without much experience and suggesting ways to make it harder if we wanted to push ourselves.

I took a semester of water aerobics in grad school and it is a phenomenal workout. I used all my muscles, got my heart rate up, and best of all, my perpetually sore back didn’t hurt. If I’m honest, that was the best workout I had all week!

Saturday—Yoga

This was similar to Wednesday’s experience, but there were a dozen people in this class instead of five. I still got great, individual instruction. I also got to roll next door to one of my favorite cafés for breakfast! 

Sunday—Water Fitness

This was a similar routine to what I encountered Thursday, but the pool was absolutely packed. There had to be at least sixty people in the pool. It was a little more harrowing to find my own spot and harder to hear the instructor, but I still had a ton of fun. Though I couldn’t see well with water smacking my glasses, the age range appeared to be college kids to people well in their seventies.

It was the same instructor from Thursday, and I am amazed how she managed to keep sixty people corralled in one pool, motivating everyone, offering suggestions to modify the workout, and keeping us all laughing. She was worth her weight in gold!

All in all, I had a great week doing my Parks & Rec workout. If you are looking for something to do, why not see what your local Parks & Rec has to offer? You never know who you will meet, and it’s all low-cost or free!

What was the last fitness class you took? Comment below!

Yoga and the Plus-Size Woman

“Ohm…shanti…ohm…shanti…”

You probably think those of use who practice yoga sitting around in our yoga pants, watch incense waft heavenward, and pray to weird Eastern deities.

Yeah, no. That’s not how yoga works. (Although, as a sad/funny side note, my local ultra right-wing Catholic bishop tried to tell women practicing yoga was a grave sin.)

I took my first yoga class in my twenties, and I was hooked right away. I loved being able to shut my loud brain off for 75 minutes at a time. I was amazed I could actually do some of the poses as well as or better than my classmates, like the bridge pose and sitting in a butterfly pose with my knees flat on the floor. And when I could do things I had never done before, such as a handstand, I knew yoga would always be a part of my life.

Whether you’re a seasoned pro, an intermediate yogi like me, or a total newbie, I hope you will consider doing yoga. Even though we are curvier women, yoga offers so many benefits, they simply cannot be denied:

  1. Improved respiration. A lot of yoga centers on breathing. You focus on different parts of your body receiving oxygen. The deeper you breathe and the more you focus on it, the more it improves your overall breathing.
  1. Increased flexibility. I am amazed at how much more flexible I was after a few months of yoga class. Postures I had to skip in the first few classes were ones I could actually do! And it was fun to try to recreate those movements at home.
  1. Perfects your posture. While Pilates are better for core work, yoga also focuses a lot on your core and tucking your belly button into your spine. Yoga stretches make you longer, leaner, and your posture will naturally follow suit.
  1. Increases blood flow. Believe me, when your head is below your heart – like in downward dog – the blood flows to your head. And you start to feel arteries, veins, and capillaries you don’t even know you had!
  1. Inspires a healthy lifestyle. I don’t know about you, but I am less likely to grab fast food on the way home from yoga class. Somehow my body craves better food, and I make better choices. I drink more water, less alcohol, and I actually want to eat stuff that’s good for me.
  1. Fights depression. Not only does yoga center you and help you focus on your breathing, but your endorphins kick in. I seem to feel particularly happier after a round of hot yoga.
  1. Improves your balance. Yeah, I wobble and fall when I’m trying to balance on one leg. So what? Over the weeks, my balance improves. So not only can I stand on one leg, but I can stand on one bent leg!
  1. Fosters deeper sleep. It is connected to the focus on breathing and being centered, but I always slept like a rock after yoga practice. The calming breathing and soothing feeling of well-being lend themselves so well to a good night’s sleep!
  1. Yoga is a sport you definitely see improvement in. As I mentioned, literally everyone improves after a few weeks in yoga class. I dare you to try it out for a month. Tell me you don’t see marked improvement.
  1. Centers you. After a long, tiring session, it feels so good to lay there in corpse pose, breathing, and connecting with the universe. That is a sense of peace and tranquility I have never found in any church. Ever.

So if you want to practice yoga for increased flexibility, as a way to ease symptoms of depression, or you are looking to take up a new sport, yoga is simply amazing. Give it a try at your local adult education classes or see if a local yoga studio offers free introductory classes. You might get hooked!

Have you ever done yoga? What were the results?