Stretching for Gardening

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By Cord Prettyman, Certified Personal Trainer at Absolute Workout Fitness and Post-Rehab Studio- Woodland Park
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It was fourteen years ago but I remember it well. It began as a classic gorgeous sunny Colorado spring day but by noon, the clouds had rolled in and within a few hours a heavy downpour had commenced with, of course, the obligatory hail.

I was feeling sorry for my wife who had spent the previous weekend in her garden potting and planting when – in the midst of the now raging hailstorm – I caught a yellow blur out of the corner of my eye. There was my wife dressed in rain gear and a construction hard-hat dragging potted plants to safety and covering those she could not move.

Ahhh, gardening in the Rockies!

Not unlike the awakening of the bears, Colorado gardeners have reappeared after a long winter with vigor – often, too much vigor. Every spring, I observe many locals limping about from a marathon weekend in their garden.

Here's the skinny on how to survive your favorite weekend activity and still be able to get out of bed and go to work on Monday.

First and foremost, don't do "too much too soon.” Gardening and yard work are physically challenging with a specificity that is unlike anything you do during the winter.

Start off gradually and increase your time in the yard in small increments taking hourly breaks. If you start at daybreak and find yourself in the dark planting by flashlight, you're definitely overdoing it.

The most common gardening injuries are to the low back, hamstrings, knees, shoulders and neck. Here are some stretches to help you avoid the aches and pains of beautifying your property.

First, some basic principles for self-stretching:

• All stretches are static, which means no bouncing or rapid movements.

• Stretch to the point of resistance but not the point of pain – stretching should feel good – and hold each stretch for 10 to 15 seconds.

• Release the stretch slowly, relax for 3 seconds, and then re-stretch the muscle group for a second time.

• Stretch both before and after gardening and periodically throughout the day.

Here are a few stretches for gardening:

• Standing back extension. Place your hands on your hips and lean back and extend your neck gently backwards as you look up to the sky, while you gently push your hips forward. This stretch reverses the stress on your spine from being bent-over for hours on-end in spinal flexion.

• Low back flexion and hamstrings. With your feet shoulders width apart, toes pointing straight ahead and your knees bent, lower your hands towards the ground until a stretch is felt. This stretch will help your low back and the back of your upper leg – the hamstrings.

• Thighs. While standing on one leg and holding on to a stable object – like your potting table – bend your lower leg to the rear grabbing your ankle and gently pull your heel to your buttock. Next, move the engaged leg to the rear. If you can’t grab your ankle, use a tree tie or strap around your ankle and pull on that instead. Alternate legs.

• Shoulders. Place your left arm over your right shoulder as if you are going to pat yourself on the back. Next, place your right hand on your left elbow and gently apply pressure on the elbow as if trying to push it over your right shoulder. Alternate arms.

• Neck. While either standing or kneeling, turn your head slowly to look over your left shoulder as if you were changing lanes in a car. Then, turn to look over the right shoulder.

The above stretching regimen should take no longer than 5 to 10 minutes and could save you from sore muscles, aching joints and a trip to your chiropractor. And if you find you like stretching, go online to amazon.com and pick up Bob Anderson’s 30th Anniversary Edition of his world famous book called, “Stretching” for as little as $11.46.

Enjoy your hobby – garden smart and don't forget to wear your hard-hat.