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MOVE

How does your gardener go?

It's growing season, and like a lot of gardeners, you probably planned your plot and plantings carefully. But did you include planning for yourself? Gardening is physical work. You pull, dig, crouch, stand, bend, lift, walk, carry and twist. If you are not in shape, these activities can cause sore muscles or even injuries.

Because gardening uses a lot of full body movements, you want to work your whole body, as well as specific muscles groups. Start your gardening day with a brief 2-5 minute warm up. Walk in place or around your yard and swing your arms, just to get your blood flowing and your muscles warmed up. This helps prevent injury and gets you ready for stretching.  

Neck and Shoulders

  • Shoulder blade squeeze: Stand tall with your feet shoulder width apart and your knees slightly bent. Concentrate on squeezing your shoulder blades down and together. Hold this position for five seconds and then release. Repeat 10 times. 

    Shoulder blade squeeze
  • Upper trapezius stretch: Stand or sit facing forward. Tilt your right ear slowly to your right shoulder, while keeping your shoulder level. This should be a comfortable stretch, and you should not feel any pain. Hold this position for 30 seconds and return your head upright. Repeat by tilting your left ear toward your left shoulder. Do this exercise three times in each direction. 

    upper trap stretch

 Hands and wrist

  • Traffic cop: Reach your arms out in front of you at shoulder height with your palms facing the ground. Using your left hand, gently pull your right hand straight up, like a cop halting traffic. Hold for five seconds and then pull the fingers of your right hand down so the palm is facing you. Hold for five seconds. Repeat with the left hand. Do five repetitions on each hand. 

Lower back

Because gardening involves a lot of leaning forward to pull weeds or pick tomatoes, you need to ensure you have mobility both ways by stretching your lower back. 

  • Single knee to chest: Lie on your back on a firm surface; you can bend your knees or lie with your legs flat, whatever is easiest. Pull your right knee to your chest with both hands until you feel a comfortable stretch in your lower back and buttocks. Hold for 30 seconds. Relax and repeat with your left leg. Do this exercise three times on each leg once a day. If you are more flexible, you can try pulling both knees to your chest at the same time. 

    Low back stretch
  • Standing extension: Stand tall with your feet shoulder width apart and your knees slightly bent. Place your hands on your back. Lean your upper body backward and hold for five seconds. Repeat 10 times. 

    Standing extension

 Legs

  • Chair squats: Stand in back of a sturdy chair with your feet shoulder width apart. Hold onto the back of the chair and sit back like you are sitting down. Keep your weight over your heels and your knees behind your toes. Repeat 10 times. 

    Chair squats
  • Standing hamstring stretch. An alternative to the seated hamstring stretch. Stand tall facing a stair or stool. Place your right foot on the step, keeping your knee straight and your back straight. Lean forward from the hips until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh. Hold for 30 seconds and relax. Repeat with your left leg. Do three repetitions on each leg. 

    Standing hamstring stretch
  • Seated hamstring stretch: Sit on the edge of a chair. Straighten your right leg out and keep your left leg bent. Keep your posture upright as you lean forward at your hips. You should feel a stretch in the back of your thigh. Hold for 30 seconds and relax by sitting upright and bending your knee. Repeat with the left leg straight. Do three repetitions on each leg. 

Body mechanics

One of the best things a gardener can do is practice good body mechanics.  These include: 

  • Keep your back straight and not rounded or hunched over as you garden.
  • Keep your arms close to your body when carrying, lifting or pulling.
  • Stay square to your project. If you are planting a geranium in a pot, face the pot with your whole body and avoid twisting and turning to grab your soil or tools.
  • Bend at the knees and hips when you lift.
  • Keep good posture in general. 

There are many other exercises and stretches that can help you be a healthier gardener. Strength training exercises can help you if you have to do a lot of heavy lifting. If you have to push a wheelbarrow, you may want to practice planks or wall push-ups to strengthen your core as well as your muscles. Find activities that "mimic" a gardening activity, such as raking, lifting, pulling, pushing. Also, be smart about setting up your tools and work station to reduce twisting and bending.  

Now you can sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor with much less soreness and strain.

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