By Performance Personal Trainer Sam Valentine
What do you call a sore, short-tempered gardener? A snap dragon!
The weather is finally warming up, the trees are turning green, and the flowers are beginning to bloom. That means it’s time for everyone with a green thumb (or in my case a black thumb, but I try anyway) to get into the garden and start digging in the dirt. But before you pull out the rake and shovel, here are a few important things to remember in order to be safe, prevent injury, and make the most of your gardening experience!
Prepare Your Body
I’m not just talking about the day before or the morning of (although that is also very important), I’m talking about weeks in advance. Some simple exercises that you can do at home to get your body ready for the types of movements that you will be doing in the garden include:
- Counter push-ups (to prepare for raking and pushing a wheelbarrow): placing your hands on the edge of a counter or other stable surface and your body at an angle, perform two to three sets of push-ups for 8-12 repetitions. For more of a challenge, increase the angle, sets, or reps.
- Squat to a chair (to prepare you for getting up and down from the ground): holding your arms straight out in front of you and keeping your torso upright, bend your knees and bring yourself gently to a seated position (don’t just plop down). Hold for just a moment and return to standing. Do two to three sets for 5 to 10 repetitions.
- Bird dog (to prepare muscles of stomach and back for all movements): on all fours, tighten your abs and bring your spine to a neutral position (if you put a water bottle across your lower back it should stay there). While keeping your core tight, extend and lift your right arm out in front of you while simultaneously extending your left leg behind you. Lower and repeat this movement with the opposite arm and leg. Repeat this exercise for 6 to 10 repetitions and do two to three sets.
Hydrate and Fuel
If you plan on staying out in the garden all day long, remember to fuel your body properly for the work ahead of you. When you get up that morning, drink a glass of water to jump start your system, and eat a healthy, filling breakfast. Keep a water bottle or glass of water with you throughout the day, especially if the weather is warm (add a lemon wedge or a slice of cucumber to make it even more refreshing).
Instead of walking out of your house and immediately hitting the dirt, take a brisk walk around your garden or up and down the street to warm up your muscles. After your walk, do a little static stretching (focusing particularly on the muscles of the legs, back, neck, and shoulders).
Lifting more than you can handle or spending two hours working in the exact same position are recipes for soreness and injury. Here are some basic things to remember while working and moving around in the garden:
- Raking: use short, quick movements and keep your arms close to your body (extending too far puts unnecessary strain of your back). Switch sides every 2-3 minutes.
- Shoveling: squaring your hips and shoulders to what you are going to move, tighten your core and hinge at the hips (not lower back). Use your whole body to move shovel forward, bend the knees, and then lift the load with your legs. Instead of flinging the dirt or mulch off to the side with full body twist (which puts a huge strain on your back), turn and face where you want to dump it and simply turn the shovel over. Don’t lift more than you can handle.
- Lifting: bend at the knees, brace your core, set your shoulders, and use the strong muscles of your legs to do the lifting, not your back. Again, lift only what you know you can handle. One or two more trips is worth preventing a lingering back injury.
- Pushing a wheelbarrow: brace your core (a common theme but extremely important), set your shoulders, keep your torso upright, and lift with the legs. Only load the wheelbarrow with as much weight as you can lift without straining. Push the wheelbarrow with the muscles of your arms and legs.
- Work from a kneeling position instead of bending at the waist if possible, preferably on a pad or cushion. If you need to work from an all-fours position, keep your core tight and your spine neutral (like those bird dog exercises from before!) and be sure to stretch and move around as needed.
Take Plenty of Breaks
Time can get away from us when we focus intently on a task, so be conscious of the time and make sure to take plenty of breaks throughout the day (better yet, take plenty of breaks and drink some water!). When you’re done for the day, don’t be afraid to cool down with another round of static stretching.
Come to Our Workshop!
Performance Health and Fitness will be partnering with Forever Green Garden Center to put on a gardening workshop on May 13th from 10:30am in our yoga room, where we will be demonstrating and talking about some of the very techniques discussed above. I hope to see you there!