As I write this, I’m in pain.
Not emotional or spiritual, but undeniable physical pain.
Two days ago, I caught the ferry with my dog to Arran, walked along the beach to Brodick Castle and then scaled the towering peak of Goatfell. I don’t know if it’s named after the fall of an actual goat from its peak, but I can tell you that it really is rather a steep climb to the top, and as this was training for an upcoming fundraising attempt to summit the highest three peaks of Scotland, England and Wales in a 24 hour period, I was on a bit of a mission.
Anyone who has done any hill walking or hiking will tell you that it’s not the going up that you pay for, but the going down. There’s repeated strain as the load your quads take to support your bodyweight as you step down carefully to the rock below accumulates, and unless you’re very accustomed to the effort or have done your prep in the gym with squats and lunges, you’re going to know all about it.
The soreness I feel today is not the same as the burn you might feel in an intense workout. The discomfort that is causing me to groan as I roll out of bed and to descend the stairs a step at a time is called DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and is caused by thousands of microtears in muscles that are unused to this level of activity.
If you’ve signed up for my health and fitness guide for middle aged women, you’ll know that I don’t encourage people to exercise to the point of inducing this discomfort, primary because it’s well, uncomfortable, and no galloping housewife deserves to be uncomfortable. But DOMS is not a bad thing per se, the microtears are simply how we build muscle and gain strength, and even if you don’t feel the effects of these minute abrasions, they will be occurring in your body every time you move.
Our bodies spend all day, every day healing and regenerating as cells die through injury, wear and age. The more we do, the stronger all our systems get, the more we can do, and the easier what we can do gets.
It’s the same for our horses, which is why a progressive training system is so important, not just for their understand of what they are being asked but their fitness and gymnastic strength as well. They need to be given the time to develop the athleticism and physical ability to gallop up a hill, jump a fence, carry themselves in a frame, lower themselves to spin or cut.
The microtears and our body’s ability to heal and grow is also why it’s so important to vary what we do. If you’re muscle sore, the last thing you want to do is use those same muscles again, even if you know you aren’t going to be doing yourself any lasting damage. You can decide that a run or a hike or a weights session is not wise on sore muscles. Your horse doesn’t have that option if you choose to go out and do back-to-back sessions over big fences or in a collected frame when they’re not fit for that work.
It’s not just muscles sustain these microinjuries on a daily basis, our bones and ligaments and tendons and cartilage all suffer tiny abrasions. This is why exercise is so important, especially as we get older. It’s the strength training that keeps your joints mobile and anything that you do with repetitive concussive impact that keeps your bones dense.
If you’re active on your yard, if you ride regularly and walk across fields all day and muck out stables and throw bags of feed and bales of hay, you probably don’t need to be doing anything supplementary, unless you want to make these things easier. If you’ve got a sedentary job and you turn up to the yard to a tacked up horse ready for a light school or a quiet hack a couple of times a week, your future self will thank you if you added some gentle resistance training, some short walks and some flexibility sessions into your schedule.
As for the galloping housewife, she is relishing this feeling as she knows it means that next time she climbs a hill, she will be fitter and stronger. She’s also popping a few aspirin, enjoying soaks in Epsom salt baths, had a rest day yesterday and will just go for a gentle walk today.
She’s ordinary after all.