By: Kym Burke

Spring has finally arrived here in State College, and it’s time to get outside and start working on our gardens. Since we live in the Northeast, our long winters keep us mostly indoors, and the sudden transition to springtime yard work can cause aches, soreness, or injury. But if you know how to help your body adjust to the physical demands of working outdoors, gardening can be an enjoyable, even therapeutic, activity. This article will focus on the physical stresses we encounter while gardening and specific ways to address them.

Although gardening involves occasional heavy lifting, most of what we do in the garden is considered low-load, long-duration movement, primarily lifting, carrying, lowering, bending, and reaching. The most common injuries reported from gardening are due to the repetitive load these movements place on the spine and knees. Therefore, a training program that emphasizes proper mechanics of movement will serve the gardening enthusiast well.

One central movement to master is the hip hinge. Hinging at the hips rather than bending at the waist ensures the gardener maintains a neutral spine position. The traditional bent leg deadlift and forward reaching lunge are ideal exercises that train you to hinge at your hips while raising and lowering your center of mass safely. Similarly, torso rotation exercises will teach you to protect yourself by rotating your trunk as one unit and thus avoid unnecessary rotational stress on the spine and knees.

Because these exercises are performed in neutral posture, you will receive all the core work you need to prepare your body for the specific demands of gardening. It will do us little good to lie on our backs and do crunches to strengthen our core muscles. I’ve never seen gardeners working on their backs! Remember…train your core specifically for the anticipated demands.

Finally, plan on “resetting” your body while you garden to help you stay comfortable and injury-free. If you’ve got a full day of gardening ahead of you, be sure to plan periodic “extension” breaks. A simple standing extension or prone press-up will do the trick.

At One on One, we feel strongly that you should always train with purpose. Rest assured, if you are properly prepared you will enjoy your gardening experience more and feel significantly better afterward. This week talk with your trainer about incorporating some of the exercises mentioned above into your program, and check out the two extension exercises below that will help reset your body.

Standing Extension

Position your body with feet approximately shoulder width apart, spine in a neutral position, shoulders back and down. Rest hands on the lower back just above the glutes. Slowly begin raising chin and chest to the ceiling while subtly squeezing the glutes. Press the hips forward until a gentle stretch is felt either in the lower back or the front of the hips. Do not force the spine too aggressively into the extended position. Hold position for approximately one second before slowly returning to the start position. Repeat 8-10 times.


Prone Press Up

Begin by lying face down with your hands positioned just outside your shoulders. Gently press with your arms in order to raise first your head, then your chest, off the floor. Continue slowly pressing your spine into an extended position. Do not force the spine too aggressively into the extended position. Once you have achieved your full extension, hold for approximately one second then slowly return to the start position. Repeat 8-10 times.



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