As we prepare to get our gardens in shape for the upcoming spring, we also need to get ourselves in shape for gardening!
Gardening and yard work involves cardio, flexibility and strength. And though you are gardening to exercise, not exercising to garden, we spend 2.5 to 15 hours a week (depending on the time of year) on average, on this "exercise". But, for those of us who "hibernate" in the winter, the springtime may be more then the start of the growing season. It may be the start of sore muscles, backaches, strains, or worse!
Before the start of any exercise program, check with your Doctor. Access your current fitness level and start slowly. Remember, gardening and yard work involves bending, lifting, crouching, twisting, endurance, and sweating. Drink plenty of water, and if possible avoid "exercising" during the hottest part of the day.
Begin your exercise program with a warm up. This can be as simple as walking for 5-10 minutes around your garden. Follow with stretches or some yoga to increase flexibility and reduce the risk of injury. Start off slowly and work up to the harder tasks at hand. Intersperse aerobic activity with lifting for interval training and to maximize benefits. Stop and stretch during your workout to relieve any areas that become stiff, tight, or sore. Take the time at the end to cool down, again with a slow walk or with additional stretches.
Here are a few suggestions to get you exercise ready for gardening...
Standing Forward Stretch-Improves flexibility of hips, hamstring, calves, and the spine. From a standing position, bend forward at the hips. Cross your forearms and hold your elbows in the opposite hand, over your head, close to your legs. The weight of your arms will help to enhance the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute. Slowly return to a standing position.
Lateral Side Stretch-Helps to realign the spinal column. Begin standing, feet touching, knees slightly bent. Place the right hand on hip, raising the left arm overhead, keeping it close to the head. Tilt to the right, to feel the stretch on the left side. Repeat on the opposite side.
Push-ups-One of the oldest and most effective, basics of exercises. Often referred to as the "perfect exercise", push-ups strengthens the upper body and tones the core muscles. There are many variations on push-ups from standard to modified, wall or counter push-ups, one armed or one legged, incline or elevated, military and so on. Regardless if you are a beginner, intermediate or advanced, pick the type of push-up that is best for you and always use proper form.
Plank-Strengthens arms, wrist, spine, glutes, and chest and tones the abs. Also improves balance and increases endurance. Just like push-ups, there are several variations of the plank. Find a variation that works best for you and your abilities.
Wall Squats-Targets upper legs and glutes. Stand with your back against a wall. Your feet should be about 6 inches apart, toes facing forward, and 18 inches from the wall. Slide yourself down the wall until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Hold position.
Standing Calf Raises (with ankle rotation)-With feet shoulder width apart, slowly rise up on your toes, lifting heels off the floor. Return to the starting position. Do 3 sets of 10, provided you are without pain or discomfort. Finish with ankle t\rotations. Lift one foot off the floor and using your big toe, draw a circle to the right and then to the left. Repeat on the other foot.
Jumping Jacks-Simple and fun, and who doesn't know how to do them? Jumping jacks provide aerobic and strength building benefits.
Physical exercise falls under four areas, flexibility, cardiovascular, muscular strength and endurance, and balance and coordination. None of the above requires expensive equipment or a gym membership. Try to include something from each of these basic areas, blending a variety of activities that you enjoy, working at a level that is right for you.
So why the rest of the world is vowing to get in shape for the new year, we gardeners should vow to get in shape for the next growing season.