Fitness

Get in shape for gardening

I love working in the garden but it hurts my back, knees and muscles. How can I prevent body aches?

Many people consider gardening a relaxing hobby but it’s also an athletic activity that requires muscle endurance, strength and flexibility. Because you’re pulling, pushing, bending and squatting the entire time, it’s like weight training without the dumbbells. So, if you start weeding without warming up, you’re bound to be sore later. To ward off aches and pains, you need to prepare your body the way you would for any strenuous activity.

To ensure pain-free gardening, start exercising well before gardening season arrives. Regular cardio workouts will help keep your muscles and joints limber, minimizing aches and pains. And a good weight-training routine that incorporates squats, lunges, curls, pushups and seated rows will make it easier to lug around heavy bags of soil.

OK, so planning ahead is next year’s plan. But even now, you can take simple steps to keep your body in gardening shape. Try to mimic the bending and lifting you’ll be doing by squatting to move furniture or placing frequently used items such as pots and pans on lower shelves so you have to bend to get at them.

Don’t touch that trowel until you’ve taken a 10-minute walk to get the blood flowing through your limbs. Then do a few squats and twists–gently moving slightly from side to side while looking over your back shoulder–to warm up your joints.

Limit the strain of staying in the same position for extended periods by regularly rotating two or three tasks that require different postures. For example, alternate 10- to 15-minute intervals of digging with pruning, weeding or mowing. Always use your legs instead of your back when you bend and lift, keeping your abdominal muscles contracted for extra back support. And take regular breaks: many people try to plant a whole garden in one day but they’d never dream of spending a full day at the gym.

When you’re finished working in the garden, grab a lawn chair and stretch those weary muscles out a bit.

Seated rotation: sit with perfect posture and your abs contracted. Slowly rotate in one direction and hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.

Seated hamstring stretch: sit with one leg straight out on the ground in front and the other bent. Slowly bend forward at the hip while keeping your back in a neutral position until you feel the stretch in the back of your leg. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.

Standing hip flexor stretch: face away from the chair and bend your right leg up behind you. Put the top of your foot on the seat. Stand straight and slowly press the right hip forward. At the same time reach your right arm up and toward the midline of your body. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.

Standing quadriceps stretch: holding the chair for balance, stand on your right leg while holding the left heel toward your buttocks. Press the left hip forward while keeping the thigh perpendicular to the ground. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs.

Standing back extension: place your hands on your buttocks and slowly arch backward looking up toward the sky. Hold for 15 seconds. Repeat the stretch four times.

Sherri McMillan, M.Sc., is the author of Fit Over Forty: The Winning Way to Lifetime Fitness (Raincoast).