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Garden Fitness Plan

" Gardening really is a wonderful
way for me
to dig in the dirt and get fit."

- Laura Keene

 

Gardening for Fitness

As a gardening enthusiast, you've probably spent many hours reading and researching about how to produce a healthier, more beautiful garden. But have you ever thought about how gardening can produce a healthier you?

Gardening is a great alternative to traditional exercise because it incorporates elements of accepted exercise routines while enabling you to engage in an enjoyable activity in the privacy of your own surroundings.

Research shows that gardening for 30-45 minutes most days of the week has significant health benefits, such as decreasing the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes, as well as contributing to healthier bones, muscles and joints. Elements of gardening such as digging, weeding, trimming shrubs and mowing the lawn can require the same energy requirements as other physical exercise activities such as walking, cycling, swimming and aerobics.

 

Not only does gardening help you physically, but it provides you with the satisfaction of a beautiful lawn to look at or fresh fruits and vegetables to enjoy at your dinner table. So as the gardening season approaches, consider your gardening time as an opportunity to get a healthier lawn and a healthier you!

"Spring Training"

6-Weeks to Gardening Fitness!

Does the beginning of gardening season signal the beginning of sore muscles and a tired back? Why not prepare for the gardening season with a little "spring training?"

Here is a six-week exercise program that will target the muscles most used during gardening. These exercises will promote gains in strength, flexibility and endurance to start the gardening season with energy and end it injury free!

General Guidelines

Check with your doctor before beginning this or any other exercise program. This program is to be done two or three times per week. Each week, additional stretches and exercises will be added until you have a complete program. This program is designed to build upon itself.

Each week, you should perform the exercises for that week as well as those you have learned up to that point. If you find some exercises to be particularly challenging, you may want to delay progression to the next week's exercises until they become easier.

Listen to your body and adjust the exercises according to your abilities. If a particular exercise is extremely difficult or causes discomfort, do not continue the exercise.

It is normal to feel fatigued after exercising. As you gain strength, flexibility and endurance, the fatigue will decrease.

One last tip, when doing any stretching or exercises, be aware of your breathing and do not hold your breath.

Warm-Up

Always begin any physical activity with an adequate warm-up.

You may wish to take a brisk, 5-minute walk around your garden. Use this time to take a mental inventory of what you wish to do in your garden this season or to evaluate projects already in progress. Whatever you chose to spend the time doing, make sure that your muscles are warmed up and ready to work.

Importance of Stretching

One of the biggest mistakes many gardeners make is the failure to stretch before and after gardening. Because many people do not equate gardening with exercise, they forget to prepare their muscles for the task at hand and jump right in. This common yet costly mistake often results in injury -- not to mention disappointment and soreness.

After a proper warm-up, performing a few stretches will help prevent such injuries from occurring. Stretching after a long gardening session will also guard against soreness and help prevent loss of flexibility.

When stretching, hold the position for a minimum of 30 seconds. Do not bounce or perform quick movements. Move in a slow, controlled manner. Move until you feel a slight resistance, then hold that position.

Your Program

Week 1: Stretch: Trunk Rotation Exercise: Abdominal Marching Abdominal Arm Raises

Week 2: Stretch: Back/Shoulder Stretch Exercise: One Arm Row

Week 3: Stretch: Chest/Shoulder Stretch Exercise: Wall Push -Up 1

Week 4: Stretch: Leg Stretches- Calf Stretch Hamstring Stretch Hip Stretch Quad Stretch Exercise: Squat Toe/ Heel Raises

Week 5: Exercise: Plate/Pot Raise Wall Push-Up 2

Week 6: Exercise: Curls

Week 1: Stretch: Trunk Rotation

Gardening often requires twisting movements when reaching for tools or bagging leaves. This exercise will help to gain motion and flexibility in trunk muscles in order to perform such movements.

How To Perform Trunk Rotation:

 

Stand with your feet no greater than shoulder width apart. Holding a broom, rake, or dowel behind you (at shoulder or waist level), slowly turn your shoulders to the right. Hold this position between 2-5 seconds before turning to the left. Rotate within a comfortable range.

Tip: Try this stretch before and after gardening.

Exercise: Abdominal Marching And Abdominal Arm Raises In order to protect your back from injury during gardening activities, strong abdominal muscles are essential. Strong abdominals encourage proper posture, and will promote the stability needed to maintain a sustained posture for longer periods of time when working in the garden.

How To Perform Abdominal Marching:

Lie on your back on a smooth firm surface with your knees bent. Tighten your stomach muscles, drawing your belly button downward toward your spine (like you are "sucking in" to put on a tight pair of pants).

Continue to keep these muscles tight while alternately lifting and lowering your right foot, then your left foot. Perform this motion as if you were marching. Make sure you are not holding your breath.

Do 2 sets, each lasting 60 seconds. If you feel you are not contracting the full 60 seconds, stop, rest and begin again.

How To Perform Abdominal Arm Raises:

Lie on your back on a smooth surface with your knees bent. Tighten your stomach muscles, drawing your belly button downward toward your spine. Continue to keep these muscles tight while alternately lifting and lowering your right arm (elbow straight), followed by your left arm. Make sure you are not holding your breath. Do 2 sets, each lasting 60 seconds. If you feel you are not contracting the full 60 seconds, stop, rest and begin again.

Tip: You may combine abdominal marching and abdominal arm raises into one exercise when you feel that they are no longer challenging for you individually.

Week 2: Stretch: Back/Shoulder Stretch

Gardening tasks that require repetitive overhead reaching may leave you with tight upper back and shoulder muscles. This stretch will help loosen muscles that make reaching difficult.

How To Perform Back/Shoulder Stretch:

Stand with your feet no more than shoulder width apart facing a railing or fence post. Grasp railing or post with both hands. Round-out your upper back and shoulders, leaning away from the post. You should feel a stretch through these muscles. Hold this stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds. This stretch is good to do after performing the One Arm Row Exercise.

Exercise: One Arm Row

Upper back muscles tend to become over-stretched when doing yard work that requires stooping or hunching over. These muscles, as well as larger back muscles, tend to become weak if it has been a long time since you have done any physical activity or if you sit for long periods during the day. This exercise will help build strength for digging and lifting.

How to Perform One Arm Row:

Position one leg in front of the other in a lunge position. Support your upper body with one arm resting on your front leg while holding the weight in your other hand. Your shoulders should be square to the front.

Begin with the weighted arm extended in front of you at a 45 angle and your back straight. Pull your arm back, keeping your elbow close to your body and squeeze your back muscles together. Return your arm to its starting position.

Repeat the exercise on the other arm. Do 2 sets of 8-10 repetitions. As the weeks progress you may find that you can increase your repetitions to 10-15.

Week 3: Stretch: Chest/Shoulder Stretch

Digging in your garden and pushing heavy lawn equipment can produce very tight chest and shoulder muscles. Tight chest and shoulder muscles can contribute to overstretched back muscles, produce poor posture and restrict movement. This stretch will loosen up these muscles and prepare them for work.

How To Perform Chest/Shoulder Stretch:

Stand next to a wall, post or large tree. With your elbow bent, place your forearm flat against this surface. Turn your entire body away from your arm until you feel a slight stretch in your chest and front portion of your shoulder. Hold this position for at least 30 seconds. Repeat this stretch on the other arm. Tip: This is an excellent stretch to do after the wall push-ups exercise. Also, try this stretch before and after gardening.

Exercise: Wall Push-Up 1: Preparing for many upcoming months of pushing that lawn mower will require building strong chest muscles. Here is an exercise to do just that!

How To Perform Wall Push-Up 1:

Stand 2 ft away from a wall with your feet together. Place the palms of your hands on the wall keeping your arms slightly below shoulder level.

Keeping your elbows facing out, lower your chest toward the wall. Keep your body in a straight line, using your stomach muscles to help you. Push away from the wall to return to starting position. Concentrate on using your chest muscles to do the work.

Do 2 sets of 8-10 repetitions. As the weeks progress you may find that you can increase your repetitions to 10-15.

Tip: To increase the difficulty of this exercise, stand farther away from the wall.

Week 4: Stretch: Leg Stretches- Calf Stretch, Hamstring stretch, Hip Stretch and Quad Stretch

These stretches are useful for preventing injury to leg muscles while walking, stooping or lifting.

How To Perform Calf Stretch:

Place both hands on a wall in front of you. Step back with one leg, leaning into the wall, assuming a lunge position. Keep the heel of your back foot flat on the floor. Hold this position for 30 seconds then return to starting position. Repeat on the opposite leg.

Tip: Try this stretch after toe and heel raises.

How To Perform Hamstring Stretch:

Place one foot on a step in front of you with your toes facing upward. With your hands on your opposite leg for balance, lean forward slightly until you feel resistance in the back of your thigh. Keep your back straight. Do not round your shoulders. Hold this position for 30 seconds then return to starting position. Repeat on the opposite leg.

How To Perform Hip Stretch:

Holding onto a tall shovel or dowel for balance, cross one leg over the other. Sit down into the other leg. You should feel a stretch through the back of your hip. Hold this position for 30 seconds then return to starting position. Repeat on the opposite leg.

Tip: Try this stretch after performing squats.

How To Perform Quad Stretch:

Holding onto a wall, post, or large tree for balance stand on one leg. With your hand, grab the ankle of your free leg. Press your leg gently into your hand. You should feel a stretch on the front part of your thigh. Try to keep your knees together. Hold this position for 30 seconds then return to starting position. Repeat on the opposite leg.

Tip: Try this stretch after performing squats.

Exercise: Squat and Toe/Heel Raises

If your garden activities include lifting heavy bags of soil, squatting or kneeling to tend flower beds or standing for long periods of time, strong leg muscles are a requirement. Here are two exercises that will prepare you for such activities.

How To Perform Squat:

Stand with your feet no further than shoulder width apart, toes forward. Place hands on hips for stability. Keeping your chest tall, bend your knees and sit back, as if sitting in a chair.

Squat down as far as your can without bending your knees past 90 Place your weight through your heels to prevent knee strain. Return to starting position.

Do 2 sets of 8-10 repetitions. As the weeks progress you may find that you can increase your repetitions to 10-15.

How To Perform Toe/Heel Raises:

Place hands on a large tree, fence post or railing for balance. Stand with your feet no further than shoulder width apart, toes forward. Raise your heels up off the ground, as high as you can. Tighten your calf muscle. Then rock back onto your heels, lifting your toes. Tighten the muscles in your shin. Repeat. Do 2 sets of 8-15 repetitions.

Week 5: Exercise: Plate/Pot Raise and Wall Push Up 2

Haven't lifted a single thing all winter? Here are some exercises to get your shoulders and arms up to speed for the gardening season.

How To Perform Plate/Pot Raise:

Stand with your feet no wider than shoulder width apart, knees bent, toes forward. Keeping your elbows slightly bent, lift an empty clay pot, or saucer lid (depending on it's weight) straight out in front of you. Raise your arms only to shoulder height and then lower. Repeat.

Do 2 sets of 8-10 repetitions. As the weeks progress you may find that you can increase your repetitions to 10-15.

Tip: If you would like to increase your resistance, place a small amount of soil in the bottom of one of the pot prior to lifting.

How To Perform Wall Push Up 2:

This exercise is performed like Wall Push Up 1 in Week 3. However, instead of keeping elbows out to the side, keep your elbows tucked in close to your body. If this exercise is difficult, stand closer to the wall until you build more strength in your arms.

Do 2 sets of 8-10 repetitions. As the weeks progress you may find that you can increase your repetitions to 10-15.

Week 6: Exercise: Curls

One last exercise to build arm strength for more gardening gusto!

How To Perform Curls:

Stand with your feet no wider than shoulder width apart, knees bent and your toes forward. Keeping your elbows close to your sides and your wrists in a neutral position, lift the weights toward your chest. Stop before the weights touch your shoulders. Lower the weights to the resting position. Repeat.

Tip: Resist gripping the weight too tightly.You should be able to open your fingers and still lift the weight.

Do 2 sets of 8-15 repetitions.

About the fitness plan creator:

Kimberly Ridout has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from The University of Texas at Arlington and is a personal trainer certified through The Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas, TX. Kimberly has been assisting individuals to achieve personal fitness goals since 1993 both in personal home settings and wellness centers. Kimberly created the personal training program at The University of Texas at Arlington, authored the training and fitness-testing manual for their wellness program and continued to assist with program development until 1999. Currently, Kimberly is pursuing a Master's degree of Physical Therapy at Texas Woman's University and will complete her coursework in July 2002. Kimberly competed in the Dallas Tom Landry Triathlon 1999, the Dallas White Rock Marathon Relay 2000 and the Dallas White Rock Marathon in 2001. Kimberly offers personal garden fitness programs for individuals.