GoBlue this Garden Day, flex your gardening muscles

Giving yourself a good workout in the privacy of your own backyard is much nicer (and cheaper) than going to a gym, and you don’t have to force your ‘love handles’ into unbecoming lycra!

Getting fit and healthy can be an expensive affair if you consider the cost of gym membership – sweaty and dreary institutions with hectic peak times and busy parking arcades, communal bathrooms, tyrannical personal trainers who resemble The Hulk, and watertight contracts that can tie you down for ages. Another point to consider is that you can’t simply rock up there in gumboots, a t-shirt and an old pair of jeans that have seen better days. Everybody will look and laugh at you and your self-esteem will take a huge knock. Trying to get fit in the streets of a neighbourhood is no picnic either. You will either be run down by speeding motorists or robbed by tsotsis if you are jogging or walking with a cellphone in your pocket and a watch on your arm. There is also a chance of being attacked by fierce watchdogs, or being chewed around the ankles by somebody’s nasty and yapping little lapdog – the worst-case scenario of all!

Aikona, it’s a much better idea to do a little gardening gym. While you are getting fitter and trimmer with pruning, weeding, composting, raking, digging, planting and mowing, your garden will reward your time and spent perspiration with lush growth and harvests of flowers and edibles. Another advantage is that garden gym, which also means spending time outside in the sunshine and fresh air, has a positive influence on your psychological health as well – it relieves stress and helps a lot with depression. Regular hours spent in the garden will work out the muscles in your legs, back and stomach, and will also give you a healthy cardiovascular buzz while the kilojoules slowly melt away.

BEFORE YOU START… Gardening in overdrive can cause injury, muscle spasm and stiffness. Before starting your garden gym session, warm up those cold muscles by stretching a bit – it gives you time to decide what you’re going to tackle first. Vary your garden workout with different actions like pruning, raking, sweeping, mowing, digging and weeding, and spend about 15 minutes on each activity to work out different muscles. Do some stretching and limbering exercises before moving on to the next action. If you stick to this regime regularly, everything that has to be done in the garden will be done, and you will feel much better!

Weeding, planting and digging

The wrong way: When weeding flowerbeds or planting annuals or bulbs, don’t bend down with your nether regions sticking up in the air. Apart from the fact that this might be a scary sight for others, you will punish your lower back relentlessly and unnecessarily.

The right way: Squat down with bended knees, pull your tummy in and keep your back straight – you can do a few leapfrog moves between flowerbeds too.

To sit on your knees while working is also fine. Some will say that being in this position while digging and weeding with hand tools is similar to picking up weights.

Digging with a large garden fork is hard work, and if you keep at it for too long you will pay the price! Not only will you damage your soil structure, but also your lower back. But sometimes you’ve just got to do it, and it strengthens the skeleton and gives practically every muscle in your body a good workout – remember to keep your tummy muscles pulled in tightly while digging.

Muscles exercised with these actions include those in the stomach, thighs, calves, bum, back and all of those in the arms. With regular leapfrogs your heartbeat will increase and your thigh muscles will become strong and firm.

Hot tips: Use a kneepad (available at garden centres) to kneel on, or cover the knees of your old gardening jeans with thick layers of silicone gel (allow it to dry first before kneeling). It is very painful to scrub muddy knees afterwards and old, scruffy knees full of mud residue can be a real passion killer between the sheets!

Raking and sweeping

The wrong way: Don’t assume a bent position and don’t rush the job. Refrain from making sudden sideway movements, which can hurt your back, or to stretch out too far to reach another leaf. Rather move along with the tool. Some rakes and garden brooms are so heavy and uncomfortable to use that it tires you out after the first few movements. Choose lightweight tools with handles that are comfortable for you to use.

The right way: Stand up straight, pull your tummy in and bend your knees when raking fallen leaves, picking up garden refuse to compost, or sweeping the paving clean.

It is rumoured that raking and sweeping exercise the same muscles as a rowing machine in a gym. You will feel the muscles working in your upper body, tummy, shoulders and arms. If you bend down regularly to pick up stuff, you will also feel the stretch in your calves and thighs.

Hot tips: Use sturdy garden gloves when raking or sweeping as doing it bare-handed can cause terrible blisters on soft hands. When putting down a rake to do something else, remember that the sharp tines should always face downwards. Accidentally stepping on an upturned rake can cause the handle to shoot up with alarming speed, catching you a great whack on the side of the head!

Trimming, pruning and sawing 

The wrong way: Rome wasn’t built in a day, so you should allow yourself more than one session to handle these actions. It is extremely hard work that can tire you out and cause muscle pain – the plants that are in need of pruning will not know the difference!

The right way: You use a lot of energy when pruning something like a hedge, as you are moving non-stop, exercising your shoulder muscles, arms and hands. You will also find that your heart beats faster and you are short of breath.

Gym equipment doesn’t come cheap, and neither do good pruning tools. Buy the best, care for them, keep the blades sharpened, and have electrical or fuel-driven pruning tools regularly serviced by professionals.

When pruning, take short rest periods and wear gloves to protect your hands. Because low hedging requires bending down, straighten your back every now and again to relax the constant strain on it.

High hedging and a rickety ladder can cause you months in traction! In this case call upon a friend who also needs a bit of garden gym – and take turns holding the ladder, please!

Hot tip: When pruning or sawing off anything above your head, wear sunglasses or safety glasses to keep small sticks or insects from landing in your eyes.


Mowing and wheelbarrow carting

The wrong way: Mowing a lawn on a tractor-like machine with a comfortable seat and music from your Smartphone in your ears will give you the same amount of exercise as sitting idly on the patio. And pushing an overloaded wheelbarrow with difficulty just because you are too lazy to cart a few extra loads will take its toll on your back when you are in your dotage.

The right way: Mowing a medium-size lawn with a push mower has the same value as a fast walk around a few neighbourhood blocks, or spending some time on a boring treadmill in the gym. The difference with garden gymming is that you will have trees and flowers around you for company, while your back, leg and arm muscles are working hard and your heart is beating like a drum.

Always check out the lawn for ‘booby traps’ like stones, chewed dog bones and small toys before mowing, by walking around briskly – this is also in mental preparation for the job of getting the thing started and running smoothly!

Adjust the machine’s handles to fit your height so that you can walk upright with your tummy pulled in. A bended mowing session will hurt your neck and back.

Hot tips: Wear sturdy shoes with closed toes, or you might lose a few. Never pull a heavily loaded wheelbarrow as you can lose your balance while it falls over – they are made to be pushed!

  • Drink a lot of water while garden gymming.
  • Keep a hat on your head and plaster yourself with sunscreen – especially tender places like nose tips and forearms!
  • Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes. You can look quite sexy with a gardening apron with pockets to keep small tools and gadgets handy.
  • Wear shoes to keep your toes safe and your heels soft and free of ingrained dirt.
  • Never wear scarves, jewellery or any loose pieces of clothing that can get caught or stuck into garden gym equipment like power tools as it can injure you badly.
  • Wear protective, heavy-duty garden gloves when moving stuff like tree stumps, poles, old wire, or rocks in neglected or ‘natural’ areas as they attract some wildlife. Lift them towards you, so that anything hiding underneath, can escape in the opposite direction. (If you don’t have to move these elements, don’t!)
  • Be careful of rusted nails and slippery pathways covered in moss.

By: Anna Celliers
The Gardener Magazine