It’s been another excellent weekend, and I’m sure many of you have put in more long hours in the garden. I’ve talked with my neighbor, and exercise model Marg Tingley and I know she’s been regularly performing the exercises I showed her. It won’t be very long before she’s feeling the benefits.
As discussed in last week’s column where I focused on flexibility, it’s also very important to make sure that your muscles are strong to help stabilize your joints and make every movement you do easier and less stressful on your body. If every bend, squat and lift is easier, imagine how much more energy you’ll have left over after a day of working in the garden, playing sports or performing other favorite activities.
Muscular strength and endurance can be developed in many ways, and you certainly don’t need to go to the gym to build up your gardening muscles. It was easy to come up with a number of great exercises for Marg that used objects found in most yards or gardens. The important thing to remember when you begin to strengthen your body is to use common sense and pay attention to your body position and joint alignment. For example, you don’t have to be a kinesiologist to know that your knee joint is supposed to hinge forward and backward, and shouldn’t really be twisting or bending sideways. When you do your leg exercises, or when you move around in your daily activities, try to keep this in mind.
Following are 3 good strength exercises you can do in the garden on a daily basis. I’ve chosen exercises that will engage the upper and lower body, and also involve the core muscles. Always consult your physician before undertaking a fitness program or making changes to your current routine, and remember to do these when your body is properly warmed up.
When we don’t use our muscles, they atrophy and lose strength quite quickly. The silver lining is that the muscles bounce back when you start using them again. If your legs have lost muscle mass and don’t feel as strong as they used to, rest assured that regular strengthening exercises will bring quick results. A simple exercise that uses many of the muscles of the lower body is the chair squat. Stand with your back to the chair, and your feet about shoulder width apart. Initiate the movement by reaching your hips back as if you were about to sit down. Keep your feet flat on the ground and your knees aligned over your toes as you slowly lower your hips. Hold your arms in front of you to help with your balance, and keep your core engaged to protect your lower back. Go down about half way to the chair, pause for a moment, then return to the top position. Repeat this for 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions. If this is too easy, go a little lower the next time. If you get pain in your knees, try to limit the movement to a pain-free range of motion. Breathe comfortably throughout the exercise.
To strengthen many of your lifting muscles, including your spinal stabilizers, find a small plant, or other light object that you can lift. Hold the object with both hands in front of your body, and stand in a strong, balanced position with your hips and knees slightly flexed and your body slightly forward. Keeping your core muscles engaged and your head and chest upright and in good posture, slowly raise the object in front of you at arms length. Try to extend and lengthen through your upper spine to reverse the effects of ‘stooping’ when you’re gardening. When the object has reached the height of your chest, pause momentarily and lower it back to the bottom. Perform 2 sets of 10-15 repetitions. Try to keep your shoulders back and down throughout the movement.
This full-body exercise is excellent for developing core control when you’re crawling around on your hands and knees in the garden. Start by finding a low wall or railing and lean forward onto your hands. Keep your body in good alignment with your core system engaged. You should be leaning far enough forward that you can feel your body working to hold itself in position. Starting with your feet close together, bring one knee up toward your chest, trying to prevent your pelvis from twisting or shifting at all. Switch legs, and repeat for 20-30 repetitions. The further forward you lean, the more stable you keep your body, and the wider you position your feet, the more difficult the exercise. Be constantly aware of maintaining good posture and core stability. Eventually you’ll be strong enough to do this with your hands on the ground!
–Rob Williams is a kinesiologist, elite personal trainer and posture specialist. He has been practicing for 20 years and currently operates an exclusive private training studio Mixx Fitness Studio, with a team of 10 trainers, as well as a multi-disciplinary posture facility, Performance Posture Clinic. Rob’s parent company is Williams Health Group. Rob is an accomplished writer and speaker in the fields of fitness, posture and nutrition. He is a sought-after posture and performance coach for professional and amateur athletes and celebrities.