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By Kym Burke

Warm weather is finally here, and we couldn’t be more excited to get outdoors again! This time of year, many of us spend free time tending to our gardens. After a long winter, the sudden transition to yard work can lead to aches, soreness, or even injury. But, knowing how to help your body adjust to the physical demands of working outdoors can ensure that gardening remains an enjoyable, even therapeutic, activity. This article will focus on the physical stresses we encounter while gardening and specific ways to address them.

Use the right movement patterns when gardening.

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

One central movement to master is the hip hinge. Hinging at the hips rather than bending through the trunk 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 teach you to rotate your trunk as one unit, thus avoiding unnecessary rotational stress on the spine and knees.

What about the core? It’s no secret that having a strong, functional core is crucial for gardening. Fortunately, big range of motion exercises, performed in neutral posture will strengthen your core for its anticipated demands. Also, it never hurts to perform planking exercises as it can improve spinal health. Remember: train your core specifically for its anticipated demands. It will do us little good to lie on our backs and do crunches to strengthen our cores for gardening!

Additionally, you can 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, be sure to schedule periodic “extension” breaks. 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 on the front of the hips. Be certain not to 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 first raise your head, then your chest, off the floor. Continue slowly pressing your spine into an extended position. Again, 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.

At One on One, we feel strongly that you should always train with purpose. Performing specific exercises that prepare you for the physical demands placed on the body while gardening will help you to feel more successful during, and significantly better afterwards! This week, talk with your trainer about incorporating some of the exercises mentioned above into your program, and get the most out of your time in the garden!