Eight Gardening Exercises

Gardening + exercise = My Favorite things

National Gardening Exercise Day is a great day to acknowledge that gardening is an exercise. I know I know there is a National Holiday for everything, but when I saw this one was coming on the calendar, I knew I would be observing. It combines my two favorite things Gardening and Exercise. Exercise has recently, within the last few years, become a new favorite thing of mine. I began hating exercising and thinking of it as a form of punishment to falling in love with it and learning, growing, and evolving. I have not only learned of the mental benefits of exercise but have seen the results.  It is also so important when doing strenuous work, even if it may be yard work to prepare adequately.

5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Jeremiah 29:5

Warm-Up is Still Important in gardening exercise.

Often, my Monday clients come in complaining about aches and pains, and we can only deduce it was from slinging around mulch, pulling up weeds or in some cases even just mowing the lawn that is a factor in their soreness.  Just like in exercise, warmup is probably the most important thing when starting to work in your garden. I put together a few stretches and exercise that can relieve some of the aches and pains at the end of a productive day in your yard.

Gardening can be very taxing and challenging.  It always gives me a good nap, and I do feel like I have worked out more than in the gym. You are sweating, arms burning, and dirty-just like the gym.  Even though you are in your outside oasis, not only can you enjoy your outdoor space, but by adding some stretches and a few squats, you could amplify the benefits.

Why I love gardening

There are several reasons I love gardening; it is therapeutic. I love the satisfaction of starting seed and watching it grow within weeks to some yummy vegetable or a beautiful flower.  When you stop and think about it, you can build muscles and burn calories while gardening.  You probably never thought of it, but when you are weeding, digging, spading, planting, pruning, mowing, raking, and walking. Just the sound of it all makes me tired, but it can put a lot of stress on your body.  Often people overlook the amount of exercise that is required when you are gardening or doing yard work-like. You can even add it to your My Fitness Pal because it counts!

Gardening requires exercise moves.

There are so many “exercise” moves used while you are walking around your yard from here to there, standing up, bending down, picking up, pulling, tugging, and shoveling.  When we exercise, we stretch and warm up to prevent exercise, and since gardening can be considered exercise activity, why aren’t we preparing correctly?

Just like exercise, gardening is known to be a huge stress reliever. The fact that all the while you are soaking up the Vitamin D and getting some much needed fresh air shouldn’t be overlooked.

How do I warm-up for gardening? I am so glad you asked! I have a few tips and moves that can make your outdoor chores less stressful on your body.

Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. Genesis 2:15

Begin at the beginning-Stretching

If you are active, you should stretch every day, not just when you garden, but stretching will help you ease that post garden soreness that can occur.  I PREACH pulling all the time we use it to lengthen tight muscles that are “kinked” up through repetitive or strength motions.  Stretching should always be done after you warmup of 5-10 minutes to help the muscles move easier.  You want to extend the muscles you are going to use for the activities.

It should just take a few minutes to get ready to get to work.  When you do focus on what you’re going to use since it’s gardening more than likely, you are going to be using you Neck (core muscles), shoulders, upper/lower back, and knees. With those body parts in mind, I came up with a few stretches that can help.

Child Pose

1. Start on the ground on your hands and knees.
2. Spread your knees wide apart while keeping your big toes touching. Rest your butt on your heels.
3. If you have very tight hips can keep their knees and thighs together if that feels more comfortable.
4.Sit up straight and fold over till the top of forehead rest on the mat.
5. Keep your arms long and extended, palms facing down. Press back slightly with your hands to keep your buttocks in contact with your heels. 6. Lengthen from your hips to your armpits, and then extend even further through your fingertips.
7. Let your upper back broaden. Soften and relax your lower back. Allow all tension in your shoulders, arms, and neck to drain away.
8. Keep your gaze drawn inward with your eyes closed.
9. Hold for up to a minute or longer, breathing softly.

Straight Arm Pushups

Straight arm pushups are a great exercise to improve many aspects of your body that not only helps your garden but also helps improve:

  • Posture and balance.
  • It’s a great exercise to strengthen and stretch your spine and neck.
  • The movement stretches the hips, abdomen, and back.
  • Helps you to increase your coordination.

Downward Dog

1. Start on your hands and knees.
2. Align your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips.
3. Stretch your elbows and relax your upper back.
Spread your fingers wide and press firmly through your palms and knuckles.
4. Distribute your weight evenly across your hands.
5. Exhale as you tuck your toes and lift your knees off the floor.                                                    6. Straighten your legs, but do not lock your knees.
7. Bring your body into the shape of an “A.”
8. Press the floor away from you as you lift through your pelvis. As you lengthen your spine, lift your sit bones toward the ceiling.
9. Press down equally through your heels and the palms of your hands.

Lat Stretch

In Child Pose, reach as far right as you can go with your right hand; have your left hand meet your right hand and hold the stretch. Do the same on the opposite side. This is an excellent stretch for your Lats or Latissimus Dorsi

Gardening Requires Strength

I have heard of so many clients straining their back because they decided to haul a 40lb back of soil or move some massive rocks from point “A” to point “B.” Just like when you are lifting weights, you have to crawl before you walk, and lifting requires the proper form, and technique-often overlooked because “I was just gardening.” One tweak and you are on the couch with a heat pack crying, “Why me?” You need to be smart even if you are just gardening.

I have a few exercises that will help you prepare yourself to haul and load next time you are in your backyard.

Farmer Carry

Farmer Carries are a great exercise that is something you would resemble in yard work. Carry heavy loads while walking is a great way to increase strength and endurance.  This exercise is easy to execute, and when heavy loaded can be a challenge. Just because it is natural doesn’t mean you can’t hurt yourself, so make sure to have proper form when performing this exercise to get good results.

  1. You need two sets of a heavy weighted object -water jugs, sandbags, dumbbells, kettlebells, or plates.
  2. Stand between two weights and squat down to grab your weighted objects.
  3. Brace your stomach “as if you were about to receive a punch” and squeeze your glutes and drive through the floor to lift the HEAVY weighted objects.
  4. Stand tall and look straight ahead.
  5. Walk quickly for a set distance or an amount of time.
  6. Don’t drop the weights at the end, squat down and place them on the ground.

Front Squats

Front squats are great to work the body by placing the load in the front, usually resting on shoulders unless kettlebells, sandbags, or medicine balls, which are all load options for front squats.  They pull the body forward and increase the knee flexion you get while lowering into the squat.  I chose front squats because they are significant to work your quads, glutes, lower back, and require you to use core control.

  1. Stand shoulder-width carrying the load in front make sure elbows are parallel to the ground, and your shoulder blades are down and back.
  2. Push your hips back and bend at your knees, lowering yourself into a squat position with your chest up and elbows up.
  3. Bend your hips and knees as low as you can go.
  4. When standing to drive through the ground as if you were trying to break through the ground versus push off the ground (there is a difference).
  5. Squeezed your glutes and extend your hips as you rise.

Straight Leg or Romanian Deadlift

This is a great exercise to strengthen your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings! Prepare you to carry heavy loads and bending over. It’s another great exercise you can do to help you function better, and it’s easy on the knees for people with problems doing a traditional squat because of imbalances, especially for your knees.

Deadlifts are lifting “dead” weight or heavyweight again to prepare you for a heavy load.

  1. Walk to the deadweight, whether that is dumbbells, sandbag, forty-pound bag of soil, something heavy.
  2. Stand with your mid-foot under the load.
  3. Put your heels hip-width apart, narrower than Point your toes out 15°.
  4. Grab the load by bending over without bending your legs.
  5. Grip the weight narrow, about shoulder-width apart.  Your arms must be vertical when looking from the front.
  6. Hinge your hips and drop into place by hinging and gripping the weight.
  7. Lift your chest while you straighten your back BY raising your chest. Do not change your position.
  8. Pull the weight up as you take a big exhale; hold it and stand up with the weight. Don’t shrug or lean back at the top. Lock your hips and knees

Lift & Chop

Lift and chop are exactly how it sounds and another excellent exercise for you to prepare for gardening. They are many benefits to the chop and lift the exercise. It helps to correct movement patterns by using the entire body to perform the movement.

It also helps to correct muscle imbalances we get from overcompensations posture, injuries, or our lifestyle, such as working at a desk job. Lift and chops should be added to any workout program to help you function better, not just the garden at ease.

Both movements are familiar with garden work.

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart while holding a dumbbell.
  2. Squat down, placing the dumbbell on the left knee.
  3. Lift weight as if lifting a shovel and throwing “something” over your head.
  4. Stand tall as you lift the weight.
  5. Squat back down, bringing the weight back to your knee as if you are chopping a tree.
  6. Repeat chopping from low to high as you lift.
  7. Do 1 set 6 sides each to prep for gardening.

Other tips to make the most of your garden experience

  • You can do it if you DON’T put your back into it. Lift with your legs, not your back! You have been told this before, and this counts too when hauling soil, sand, rocks, or any other things that can overload your back.  Lift with your legs and save your back the strain.
  • Treat each hand the same-use both hands equally, typically we tend to use our dominant hand, often leading to overuse and can increase the risk of injury to that side.  Try to switch hands and use both sides equally when doing garden work.
  • Breathe correctly.  I tell everyone as a trainer, most of my job is teaching people how to breathe correctly when working out.  When the task is challenging, we tend to hold our breath and stress out our core neck muscles.  Exhaling during the challenging parts restricts us from straining and allows oxygen to the muscles that are being worked at an optimal time of use.
  • Drink WATER! I don’t know about you, but my garden experience from sitting out in the sun gives me a great tan and leaves me in a puddle of sweat.  Stay hydrated, and keep water handy while doing yard work.

If you don’t have a garden, I want to encourage you to start one.  There is nothing more satisfying than eating something you grew yourself, even if it’s a container garden or herb garden. If you don’t exercise, make this a way to add exercise into your gardening routine, and you can add all of these exercises and stretches into your program.  They are great functional movements to help correct imbalances and strengthen you. Even if it’s a container garden or herb garden, it’s an enjoyable way to spend time outside.

11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations. Isaiah 61:11

Do you garden? Have you ever considered stretching?

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