Gardening: the pleasure without the pain

May 2-4! For those of us who love to play in the dirt, this is the big start of the gardening year, and 24 is more likely the number of hours we’ll be spending on our knees over the Victoria Day weekend than any reference to a refreshing beverage we might enjoy when we’re done.

But that sudden bout of unaccustomed activity – even if we’ve been working out regularly – may cause us some unaccustomed aches and pains. Here are some suggestions to reduce that risk.

First of all, be sure to warm up. Just as you do when working out, take a few minutes to limber up before you start lugging 20 kg sacks of sheep manure. Walk on the spot, or around the ‘back 40’, do some knee lifts, swing your arms, circle your shoulders. Think of the good you’re doing yourself, and the amusement you’re providing your neighbours!

As you work, change your position often. If you’re kneeling, go from both knees to one, or sit right down. Use knee pads, or a low seat. Try digging with your non-dominant hand – that’ll challenge your brain as well as your body!

Don’t work non-stop. Take frequent breaks, and change up the nature of the task you’re doing. For example, if you’ve been working down on the ground, stand to plant up some containers. And remember, you don’t really have to get it all done this weekend; spread the jobs out over time.

When you’re finished a session, remember to stretch. Three options for stretching your low back are pictured below. For the first, lie on your back with your arms out at your sides and your knees bent; lower your knees toward the floor and turn your face in the opposite direction. This will provide a gentle rotation for the spine and a stretch across the hip.

For the stretch shown in the middle photo in the top row, lie down and bring your knees to your chest; clasp your hands behind your thighs and gently rock from side to side.

The top right picture shows a cat stretch: on hands and knees, pull your abdominals in and arch your back. Hold the stretches for 20-30 seconds, release and repeat.

As shown in the bottom left photo, you can give yourself a hamstring stretch by extending one leg straight up in the air, keeping the other foot on the floor. Gently draw the straight leg towards you and hold, then change sides.

And in the final pic, cross one lower leg over the other knee and gently draw both legs toward your chest to stretch gluteus maximus – your posterior. Hold, then change sides.

A couple of good post-gardening stretches for the upper body (not shown) are: for the upper back, clasp your hands in front of you and round your back; and for the shoulders, bring one arm across the body, pulling it gently toward you with the other hand, then switch sides. Self-massage can also help ease out knots.

By not pushing too hard, and by treating your body with the respect it deserves, you’ll enjoy the start of garden season just as much as sitting back with a cold drink and admiring the fruit of your labours.

– Barb (with thanks to Wendy for demonstrating)

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