5 Exercises to Get Ready for Gardening and Yard Work Season
We’ve all heard about the weekend warrior — the person who jumps into an ambitious — often strenuous — project after spending most of their time sitting behind a computer desk during the week. Maybe it is you!
A get up and go attitude is something to be admired, but the 180-degree occasional lifestyle shake up is known for causing weekend warriors painful strains, body aches, and injuries. It’s not because their bodies are “old.” It’s because their joints and muscles haven’t been prepared to take on spurts of vigorous activity safely.
These injuries don’t just happen to a person who is going to deadlift 500lbs on the weekend. It can also happen to the seasonal gardener who took great care to plan out which plants are going where and made sure the soil is in good condition to yield a successful crop but neglected to condition their body for the physical demands it requires.
And while you might think conditioning your body for a “non-sport” like yard work seems strange, a regular exercise practice that complements the other physical activities you enjoy doing can help stave off injury and keep you ready to enjoy what you love at a moment's notice.
Conditioning Our Bodies For Functional Movement
Like everything, our bodies will get better at what we do most. Our body tissues — muscles, fascia, tendons, and ligaments rise to meet the daily range of motion we ask of them.
This means movement that expands beyond our regular routines can cause stress at first, but ultimately allows us to move more freely with practice.
For example, if you usually lower yourself to the height of a chair or sofa— think sitting most of the day— and rarely take your joints and muscles through the increased stretch and strength requirement of going down to the ground, you are slowly losing the ability to access your full range of motion without potential injury or strain.
Unless you have tall, raised garden beds, your planting efforts are likely happening on ground level. This requires your whole back line of muscles and fascia to do extra work, which is taxing if you’re not accustomed to this type of movement regularly.
The great news is our bodies are designed to adapt — and simple conditioning exercises can help restore your functional movement!
You may not realize how much you engage your muscles while performing simple tasks, like bending over to pick something up. But if you’ve held a forward bend position for a long time — like you do while gardening — your hamstrings are likely sore the next day because they are being stretched for longer than normal all of a sudden.
Try this simple experiment to see how this happens within your body.
Begin standing and fold forward to touch the floor or your lower legs. Stay there and notice how the backs of your legs feel. Notice the soles of your feet. There is quite a bit of muscle engagement that you may have never been aware of before.
It is more subtle, but your whole back line of tissues up to your head are engaged, stretched, and in focus. Now, what happens if you try to completely relax those muscles?
You’ll fall forward straight away!
This experiment illustrates how much you’re actually activating all the muscles in your feet, calves and up the back of the legs to be in a bend over position. Through regular conditioning, we can help avoid soreness.
5 Simple Exercises for a Pain Free Gardening Season
Ideally, you’d start conditioning work about a month ahead of time, but even beginning it a few days before or using these exercises as a warm up prior is helpful. Movement does add up!
Taking a little time for body conditioning on a regular basis before the hard work begins can set you up for a safer, injury free season.
Here are five exercises that will help prepare your body for gardening and have you feeling great all the way to a bountiful harvest.
During these exercises, be sure to maintain awareness of your breath allowing it to flow. Don’t worry about when you are inhaling or exhaling. Instead, just be sure you aren’t holding your breath.
1. Slow Roll Down and Knee Bends
This simple exercise mobilizes your spine and warms up the back line of your body, engaging both the muscles and stretching them. It also wakes up your core muscles.
With feet in parallel and hip distance apart, begin lowering the chin and continue rolling down very slowly and smoothly through the spine. As you begin, be sure to draw the pelvic floor into the body, which causes your deep core muscles to engage.
If you are able to reach the floor go all the way down and if not, simply place your hands lightly on your lower legs. Release the pelvic floor muscles and slowly bend and straighten your legs four times. Then, re-engage the pelvic floor muscles and begin rolling up very slowly and smoothly.
Repeat three times.
2. Utkatasana (Chair Pose)
If you’ve attended a yoga class, you may be familiar with Chair pose. Chair pose strengthens your hips and thighs, aiding in better knee alignment. It also increases ankle and shoulder strength and flexibility.
Bonus: it’s great for improving posture as it strengthens the upper back!
Start with feet in parallel. They can either be together or slightly apart. Bend the knees and hinge forward from the hips, a deep sit with an elongated spine.
Go as deep as you are able while keeping the spine from rounding and knees in good alignment with heels of the feet firmly on the ground. Arms are up and slightly forward of the ears — or even more forward if needed to keep them long and straight.
Listen to your body’s range of motion, keeping good form as a first priority. Continually reach your tailbone away from the crown of your head and keep your neck and head in alignment with your spine. If you have shoulder issues, you can put your hands in prayer position in front of your chest.
Hold 30 seconds to one minute, building strength and endurance over time.
3. Single Leg Pick Up
This exercise strengthens your balance, hamstrings, calves, ankles, and glutes.
Start by standing on one leg. Hinge from the hip, bend the knee, and pretend you are picking something up from the floor.
Move slowly and with control. You do not have to touch the floor; focus on good alignment of your knee and core engagement.
Repeat four to eight times on each side.
4. Criss Cross Abs
This exercise strengthens the deep core muscles that stabilize your spine as well as your oblique muscles and hip flexors.
Begin on your back in a neutral spine and hands supporting your head. On your exhale, curve your upper back up off the floor. Check to see if you have pushed your low back into the floor. If so, release it back to neutral.
Keep your core engaged as you bring your legs up into tabletop or chair position. Begin your slow and controlled criss cross abs focusing on maintaining low back and pelvic stability (don’t let the pelvis rock left to right).
Moving from the rib cage area, think about looking back towards the back elbow rather than trying to tough the elbow to the bent knee. Also, stretch the legs in opposition as one knee bends in and the other reaches long and straight.
Repeat eight to 16 times on each side.
5. Malasana (Yoga Squat Pose)
Malasana increases flexibility in the ankles, knees, hips, and spine.
Begin with your feet a little wider than hip-width apart and turned slightly out. Then, sit yourself down into a deep squat as far down as you comfortably can — adjust your feet a little wider or closer together as needed.
If you are noticing that your heels are coming up off the floor, get a folded towel or blanket and put it under your heels. This will give your body the support it needs and allow you to get the most out of the pose.
Bring your hands to prayer and engage your elbows with your inner thighs, keeping a gentle locked feel. Be sure your knees are pointing over about your second toes and that your spine is gently elongating.
Respect your current range of motion and work your way up to holding for one minute.
Conditioning your body for gardening and yard work can help prevent injuries, which ultimately keeps you moving freely among your flowers for years to come!
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