Have a Catalog offer ? Click Here

Exercises to Get You Ready to Garden Without Pain

Q. Julienne in Glenside PA writes: "I'd love to hear all your tips, tricks, and advice for people who love to garden but contend with physical disabilities or limitations. I think you have given more tips about reducing physical stress when gardening than you might think! After all, the way you gardened when you were 25 years old isn't the way you garden today.

"Valuable advice you've already given that immediately comes to mind is to use a flame weeder, water powered weeder or other long weeding tool to avoid bending over; to use 'no dig practices' to avoid having to weed excessively afterwards; and to garden in containers on top of tables. You've also urged people not to hesitate to hire help or ask people for help when they need it, and to be realistic. Accept that you might have to do less some years. Even one large tabletop pot full of strawberries can be satisfying.

"Gardening is so important to mental health. I'm sure there are people of all ages with a variety of physical capabilities that would love to hear how to garden in the body they have right now. You have been gardening for decades now, so we know you have the tips!"

A. July 27, 1984. That was the date my wife and I saw Bruce Springsteen perform at Saratoga Springs early in his "Born in the USA" tour. Previously a skinny guy, Bruce was now muscular and had even more energy than he had previously, which was quite a lot. Halfway through the concert, I turned to my wife and said, "there's a great story here; I'm going to find out who trained him."

After a lot of detective work, I found the man: Phil Dunphy, a physical therapist and exercise physiologist who turned me down for an interview a dozen times before finally saying, "all right. If you can do Bruce's regimen, we can talk." Luckily, I had been working out for years and so I survived the two hours of torture. My legs were Stair Master sore for a week, but I got the interview.

We wound up being good friends, and when I became the Editor-in-Chief of ORGANIC GARDENING magazine, we collaborated on a series of "Get Fit to Garden" and "Garden Smarter" articles.

These 'get fit' exercises are designed to get you into shape before garden season by strengthening the parts of the body you'll use frequently. To reduce after-exercise soreness, take a warm shower for five or ten minutes beforehand to loosen up tight muscles. Stretch gently AFTER exercise, not before.

Legs: The 90/90 wall squat. Put your back flat against a wall and sit as if you were in a chair, but without the chair. Be sure your feet are directly below your knees. Fold your arms across your chest and hold that pose for 60 seconds. Relax, and then do it again. Do this series of two repetitions three or four times in a row. Feel the 'good burn" in your thighs, calves and hamstrings.

Shoulders: Raise your arms in front of yourself, palms down, and then move them straight out to both sides. Hold each position for 15 seconds to start and then gradually work your way up to 60 seconds for each position. Repeat this three to five times with a one minute break in between.

Back: Don't do this exercise if you already have back pain; instead see a physical therapist for personal advice. This exercise is designed to prevent back pain. Lie on your stomach, hands at your sides. Lift your upper back and head, hold for a count of five, then release. Repeat this three times to start (if you can). Work up to ten seconds, then 15 seconds, then 20. By the time you're ready to start gardening, you want to be able to do five sets of 20 seconds each.

Your butt: Lie on your stomach, hands at your sides, and lift your legs, holding them slightly apart. Do this for five seconds to start and repeat five times. When this gets easy, increase to ten seconds and then 20, with a goal of making 30.

Abdominal muscles: In PT terms today, I would call this 'strengthening your core", which is essential for personal fitness. Lie on your back with your knees bent, arms crossed over your chest; eyes looking up at the ceiling. Lift yourself upwards from the middle of your back so that your chest moves towards the ceiling and your lower back is just slightly off the floor. Pause for a second, slowly lower yourself, and then pause again. No NOT bounce; the movement must be smooth. Then do it again. Start with no more than ten repetitions. Before you know it, swears Phil, you'll do this with ease.

Common sense cautions: Stop immediately if you feel real pain instead of exercise burn. If you have physical limitations, print out this article and send it to your physician and/or physical therapist for their opinion(s).

Audio-only listeners and Gardens Alive readers: This article will appear with illustrations on the TV version of our show, easily watchable at www.youbetyourgarden.org.

And that's not all, folks! Join us in two weeks and learn proper pain-free postures when you're out working in the garden.

Item added to cart