Last weekend I spent all day outside digging, hoeing, planting and hauling. These activities are relatively new for me this year and on Monday, I found myself sore in places that surprised me. I always assumed because I exercise regularly that my body was prepared for anything. I was wrong!
The gardening position had stretched me deeper in places that I had missed at the gym. Lifting of awkward loads and pushing heavy objects over long distancing surprised my body as well. While I enjoyed the soreness, knowing that I had challenged myself in different ways, I found myself wondering how I had missed working on these positions during my exercise program.
My body naturally kept asking me to perform my much loved stretch to undo the long day of forward flexion or the planting position. I took many “looking up at heaven” breaks, otherwise known as the standing supported back extension that weekend.
Gardening is not for sissies. It’s an athletic endeavor requiring muscle endurance, strength and flexibility. Breaking gardening down, it is actually a weight-training workout minus the dumbbells with pushing, bending, squatting, pulling and lunging. On my first day out, I also found myself committing the error that I recommend avoiding when starting to exercise. The words I seemed to have forgotten are, “Go slow, increase the time and intensity poco a poco and listen to your body!”
Training for gardening must be designed as functional, specifically including exercises that mimic the movements of gardening. The concept of functional training is carried further in my gym to include training for aging in order to enhance ability to enjoy more choices safely building confidence that life has just begun instead of almost ended. It’s the base foundation for successful aging.
In retrospect, training for gardening needs to include squatting down low, reaching up high, picking up heavy unbalanced objects safely, pushups anywhere (floor, countertop, chairs), lunges, rowing or pulling heavy objects towards your body
When the day of gardening begins, go for a walk first just to get the blood flowing through your limbs, then perform a couple easy, mild squats, forward and backward bends and twists to warm up your joints.
While in the garden, you can also limit the stress and strain of staying in certain positions for extended periods of time by regularly rotating through two or three jobs that require different activities and postures. For example, alternate, in 10-15 minute intervals digging with pruning or weeding with edging and mowing. Remember to bend and lift using your legs instead of your back and always keep your abdominals contracted, remembering to take regular breaks
Finish your day sitting on a bench, performing a variety of the following easy, static stretches while admiring your beautiful masterpiece. I like these exercises to undo what I just did.
Perform seated rotations; extend your legs and reach forward, supported standing front thigh stretches and standing “hands on hips” back stretches looking up. Hold each one 30 seconds. Sit back down, breathe deeply and enjoy your accomplishment.