Spring is springing and it’s time to go play in the dirt, right? Not so fast, Marge. Gardening and lawn work will help you find muscles you didn’t know you had if you’re not physically ready for it. Especially if your winter routine didn’t include a lot of bending, reaching and kneeling.
Reduce the risk of injuries, skip the low-back pain and soreness, increase blood flow, improve balance and relieve tension with some quick pre- and post-gardening stretches. The following routine only takes 2 minutes for the warm up and you can use the same stretches afterwards for your cool-down.
1. Neck. Stretch your neck by slowly moving your head from side to side, laying your head first toward one shoulder and then the other. Repeat a couple of times. Now move it front and back with your chin on your chest and then tipped back. Hold for a few seconds.
2. Back and Shoulders. Bend forward at the waist and let your hands hang toward your toes. Roll your shoulders back and around, as if you are shrugging. This elongates your spine and loosens your back. Stand up slowly and place your palms on the back of your pelvis and lean back from the waist. Drop your head back and hold it for a few seconds.
3. Trunk. Reach one arm across your chest. Twist that same direction. While you’re doing that, reach the other arm behind your back. Do this 3 or 4 times, switching arm positions. This works the trunk and opens the spine.
4. Upper torso. Hold your arms straight out at shoulder height. Make fists. Pull your arms back as if you were trying to touch your elbows in the back. Tighten your fists and then push your hands in front again. Roll your shoulders forward to stretch your upper back. Open your hands with your wrists flexing up and spread your fingers as you push forward. Do this several times.
5. Ankles & Lower Body. Lift your knee as high as you can and point your toes toward the ground as far as you can. Then extend your leg forward, with your leg straigh and flex your ankle up, with your toes facing the sky. This will loosen most of your leg.
6. Knees. I like to add a few deep squats and lunges just to get my knees extra warm. Use a rake or chair for balance. While I’m lunging I stretch and flex my fingers. This helps grip strength.
Continue your warm-up in the garden by starting slow. While you work, be mindful and thoughtful about how your body is positioned. Try not to twist a lot or stay in one position too long. Stand up at least every 10 minutes if you’re bent over or on your knees. Make sure you’re using ergonomic garden tools. Read Gardening Made Easy to see what I mean.
Save the heavy lifting for later – say, a half-hour into it. Make sure you’re good and warmed up before you start moving pots and bags of soil.
Drink plenty of water! Set a kitchen timer if you need to be reminded. Every 20 minutes take 5 big gulps.
A good cool-down is even more important than a good warm up. After gardening, don’t just sit down. Take 10 minutes or so and really stretch to keep that lactic acid from building up and making you sore later. Use the stretches above as a guide, but do them slower and longer.
Do you have a tip or a favorite stretch? Please share it!