The sun comes out and we head into the garden, asking our bodies to do things they likely haven’t done since the same time last year! We bend, stretch, crouch, twist and carry, often for lengthy periods and usually without any preparation. It’s no surprise that our body starts to complain. Spend a little time easing it into action, and helping it to recover afterwards, and you will feel so much better. This blog shows you how.
The three step process
Every exercise professional is taught how important the warm-up phase is. It gradually prepares the body for the demands which are about to be placed on it, usually using movements that are relevant to what is to come. By warming up, you improve range of motion in the joints and prepare the muscles so they will perform better. You will feel looser and less stiff. In turn, this can prevent injury.
Think about the areas that you use most in gardening: the back has to move in lots of different directions and there are demands on the shoulders and hands. The knees, hips and muscles of the lower body will have to power you up and down from the floor, and be ready to stay in unusual positions for extended periods of time. All of these areas need to be warmed up in advance.
Different joints will move in different directions . Where possible, your preparation should aim to cover all of them. For example, the back can bend forwards and back, to the side and it can also rotate. The shoulder joint allows the arms to swing forwards and back, they can lift out to the side away from the body, the arms are able to rotate inwards and outwards from the shoulder joint and they can circle.
Warm up sequence
Here’s some warm up moves for you to try that are safe and effective. I am purposely keeping the list focused so it won’t take too long but you will still get lots of benefit:
Back – side bends, pelvic tilts, roll downs (or cat/cow if you have osteoporosis) and rotating gently from the waist.
Shoulders – arm swings forward and back, lift and lower arms out to the side, circles in both directions
Hands – make a fist and then open the fingers long and wide, flex both ways at the wrist, circle both ways, lightly clasp the hands and imagine you are shaking a cocktail.
Hips/knees/ankles – bring your foot to your bottom alternate sides, swing your leg forward and back and then across the front of your body, walk through the feet as if you are pedalling, lift onto the balls of both feet and lower down slowly, do some gentle squats, focusing on sending your bottom to the back as if you were sitting down on a chair.
Here’s a video for you to follow with all the above moves together with some pointers on technique.
Muscles that have been contracting need to be stretched and lengthened again. Failure to do this can leave them short and tight which compromises the joints and can eventually cause pain and injury. A little stretching after gardening can help alleviate this. Plus, it’s a good way to relax, wind down and congratulate yourself on a job well done!
These are the key areas I would recommend you stretch. Hold each one for a minimum of 15 seconds, and up to 30 seconds if you have more time or you are particularly stiff. It is important to breathe deeply, inhaling before you start the move and exhaling as you go into the stretch. Keep breathing deeply as you hold the stretch. If you feel it loosen off you can go a little deeper without forcing it and always on an exhale.
Lower body – front of the thigh (quadricep), back of the thigh (hamstring), calf, and bottom (glutes).
Upper body – front of the arm (bicep), back of the arm (tricep), chest stretch (pectorals)
Back – lower back (lumbar spine), upper back (thoracic spine), and side waist.
Here’s a bonus stretch session with all the stretches above. It’s perfect for easing out post-gardening tightness.
When I mention strength work, a lot of women are quickly put off. There’s no need to be. It is not going to build bulk or, when done correctly, cause injury. What it will do is improve function, prevent age-related muscle loss, increase your base metabolic rate and most importantly of all, allow you to keep doing all the things you enjoy, including gardening, for as long as possible!
Building and maintaining strength is on ongoing process. It’s not a quick fix but more of an insurance policy for the future. I highly recommend you incorporate strength training into your routine all year round. Then when the gardening season arrives, your body will be much better prepared and able to do what you need it to do more easily.
One last thing!
Build up gradually – as soon as there’s a sign of good weather, naturally the garden calls. With so much to do, it’s tempting to stay there for hours. Remember that gardening is an exercise in itself and can be just as strenuous as any class you might do. You wouldn’t think of doing 4 or 5 heavy classes back to back ,or running a marathon without training for it and yet that is what we do with gardening. Try and set a time limit and build up gradually. Your body will thank you for it.