aNortheast reasons Gardens The good thing about this exercise is that the sheer happiness with it hides how hard you work, so you end up stressing yourself more than you do in the gym. Scientific studies prove this is – I don’t need proof. When I can steal a moment to trim a tangle of triffids, I find it hard to stop. Before I knew it, I had been waving the chainsaw high up on a pole for four hours.
The only downside is that endless pulling, pushing, lifting and bending can lead to or exacerbate aches and pains. NHS Digital figures for 2020-2021 (also known as large gardening and DIY movement) record 12,355 admissions to hospital in England due to injuries related to ‘fatigue and strenuous or repetitive movements’. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Madeline Hooper, a retired public relations manager living in the Hudson Valley north of New York, has reached a point where she can no longer ignore her aching neck. She says, “I love gardening, and it doesn’t matter how long it takes to weed the bed – I’m weeding the entire bed. But I had terrible pains in the neck and above the shoulder.” Being the kind that can do, she sought help from personal trainer Jeff Hughes, whose simple and logical approach worked. The duo has now collaborated on an American TV show called Garden Fitwhere they travel across America, enjoying gardening while helping educate the world about how to grow gardens without pain.
The first thing to know is that attitude is everything. “If your head is back and your chest is puffy and your shoulders are back and down, you feel tall and strong,” says Hughes. “Whatever you do, you will be incorporating the right muscles, whereas when you bend over, you are incorporating muscles that are not designed to do the work. That is what we do when we are tired.”
Hopper’s technique was an excellent example of this. “Your shoulder raises your arm, and your trapezius raises your shoulder,” says Hughes. “If you’ve been doing something all day and your shoulder gets tired of lifting your arm, your body is smart. He goes: What can raise an arm? Suddenly your trapezius is doing something it wasn’t designed to do, And of course it will hurt your neck.” The solution is simple: “When your shoulder gets tired of lifting your arm, stop lifting your damn arm!
“Once you start realizing that you can’t maintain your posture properly anymore, do something on the ground or pick up the shovel and dig. Now you are going in the opposite direction with your shoulders.”
British garden designer and TV presenter Danny Clark Follows a similar philosophy. “Keep on swapping jobs,” he says. “I always say, ‘Little and often.'” “He has his own sequence.” I don’t tear into heavy lifting, or digging. I will warm the body by cutting.” Coming from an athletic background, he says, “I am very aware of my body, and what it can and cannot do.” For some, a mental adjustment is required to give up completing a task in one sitting. “No,” Clark says calmly. You try to finish it, because the garden is never finished.” “This is its beauty: it is infinite. Savor every moment. enjoy it.”
Sometimes, strengthening exercises are required to correct the posture that’s causing the pain — Hughes recalls a gardener named Bob, who appeared on the TV show with lower back pain. “He didn’t stand up straight when he walked,” Hughes says. “The lower back holds everything over it, so if you’re bent over, it’s going to get tense.”
If this sounds like you, you might want to give it a try. Relax your shoulders, says Hughes. “Imagine you are wearing your favorite pair of blue jeans and I want you to slowly take your shoulder blades and put them in your back pockets.” This creates a pivoting effect, as your chest bulges out, you breathe more easily and your spine is in alignment. While holding this, he adds, “Whatever muscles are starting to get tired now, these are your weak muscles that need to be strengthened.” He says that the longer you stay in this position, the more you train those weak muscles, eventually enabling them to do their job automatically.
To wake up those muscles in Bob, Hughes gave him an elastic exercise band to hold in front like leashes, then lift over his head. The effect was immediate, with Bob marveling at his new ability to stand up straight. “Your perspective completely changes, because your peripheral vision is now better,” says Hughes. Hughes described Bob four weeks of practicing his new posture, repeating some of the movements briefly with the exercise band each day.
While you’re working on your garden, allotment, or plot, with your shoulder blades in your back pockets, the next step is to master what Huber and Hughes call an “armchair,” which isn’t as comfortable as it sounds but can save you back when bending over or lifting. “If you straighten your feet, you are automatically closer to the ground,” Hughes says. “Everything goes down, and when you bend down, your knees and butt stick out and come down to a good base for a squat.” Then you put your arms on your legs. “Now your lower back is not lifting your body. If you apply that for the next eight hours, your back will be your best friend at the end of the day.”
When you use an arm for weeding or seeding, you can keep the other supporting arm resting on its stem, but switching arms is critical. Hughes says it’s essential to train your non-dominant hand to do its fair share of work. Not only will this distribute the load to your arms and shoulders, but you’ll be balancing your twisting; you’ve started balancing your torso.” Likewise, if you’re on a ladder, he says, “Turn it over, and now you’re turning the other way.”
Balance appears again at the last upper end of the pair, which they call the “swing” and involves, once again, being more aware of your body as you work. If you’re extending your arm out while carrying heavy clippers, you need to balance that weight by squeezing the shoulder blade down, so, says Hughes, “You can match the pressure here with the pressure there, like a little hammock’s rebound effect.”
Huber says that within four weeks of incorporating Hughes’ reforms into her life, the healthy habits had established themselves and began to feel better. “Six weeks later, I have never felt pain again from gardening.
“I wish I had learned this when I first started gardening,” Huber says. “Nobody knows this,” she says in all the gardening courses and books she’s completed.