After a winter of holiday feasts and hiding from frigid temperatures tasks like planting flowers and pulling weeds are likely to wreak havoc on unused muscles and joints come springtime.
Staying fit throughout cooler months can help maintain good physical activity and prevent injury when the time comes to pull weeds or push heavy wheelbarrows.
"A lot of the avid gardeners that I work with come in with all sorts of back and leg things and we work them right out. It's really a good idea to work out in order to get ready for gardening and to stay in shape during the off-season," says personal trainer and Ashland Fitness Studio owner Kit Crumb.
Chore by chore, local personal trainers offer some pointers on keeping various gardening muscles ready for a season of planting, pulling and harvesting instead of aching, moaning and groaning.
Digging muscles are easy to find. Not frequently considered by the average gardener until they've been injured, digging muscles include those biceps, triceps and shoulder areas that writhe with pain after hours of digging or shoveling.
To avoid springtime shortcomings, Crumb suggests incorporating weight lifting into daily routines. For biceps, do standard dumbbell curls. For triceps, try "kickbacks" with free weights to simulate shoveling by moving the arm up and turning the shoulders.
Lifting & Planting
Shape up for lifting and planting by strengthening leg, back and core muscles.
The "bridge," a standard exercise prescribed by physical therapists for delicate backs, involves lying on your back with feet flat on the ground and knees up raising and lowering the pelvis, "until you kind of have a runway from the top of your knees straight down to chest, then kick to destabilize the back, forcing back muscles to do a little extra work," says Crumb.
Pushing and Pulling
Wheelbarrow-pushing, weed-pulling muscles require some fortitude from the middle back. In addition to weight machines that simulate pulling and pushing, consider dumbbell rows, says Patrick Frey of TOPFIT Personal Training and Fitness Consulting. For pulling, bend over (practice good posture) and lift dumbbell repeatedly. With dumbbells, choose a weight that will limit your number of "reps" to 12-15. For pushing, try push-ups or bench presses.
"Having a good strong core is really important; a lot of people hurt their backs when they're out gardening," Frey says.
Up and Down, Up and Down
Prepare for the "ups and downs" of gardening by incorporating lunges and squats into exercise routines. For individuals with weak ankles, walking on a balance beam will strengthen ankle joints for walking on soft soil and rocky slopes. When you get your balance in check, do some slow lunging and squatting on the beam to mix things up.
While not much of a cardio or flexibility issue, a common gardener ailment is stiff hands from all the raking, shoveling and pulling those 10 digits endure.
Consider investing in a pair of grippers ($5-$10 at most retail stores) and improve hand strength. Stiff sponges work well, too. Use them year-round.
All Over Fitness
Try to squeeze in at least 15-30 minutes of brisk walking per day. Overall cardio health can keep muscles and joints from hibernating.
Most importantly, any muscles you remember injuring last year should be given a chance to prepare for gardening this year. That just might give you a better gardening season than any new plant you might add. And, as always, it's probably best to check with your health care professional before starting any exercise program.
"If you haven't done much of this before, go a little easy to start," Frey says. "It's basically doing as many as you can without struggling"... You want to make sure not to aggravate any injuries or cause new ones."