Healthy Lifestyle

Gardening Can Be Great Exercise

Published: May 1, 2020

Most people don’t think of gardening as exercise. But believe it or not, gardening provides an excellent opportunity for strength and cardio training. 


Stretch to Avoid Injuries

Before you grab your garden hoe, it's important to remember to stretch first. Yes, I said STRETCH before you garden! Stretching is our first line of defense against muscle and joint injuries. 

Stretching helps keep our muscles flexible. Flexible muscles improve range of motion in our joints. Tight and shortened muscles are more likely to become injured. Improved range of motion in our joints helps to keep them healthy by moving the natural lubrication around the joint. 

Stretching also improves blood flow, which helps to warm muscles and provide increased oxygen. Increased oxygen helps to decrease the buildup of lactic acid, which is what makes our muscles sore. Stretching will also help decrease muscle stiffness and cramping when you are done.


The Do’s and Don’ts of Stretching

Stretching is best performed after 5-10 minutes of activity. You can start by gathering up your gardening tools. Resist the temptation to carry heavy items out at this time. Save that for after your stretching.

Stretch gently and don't bounce. Stretches should be held for at least 30 seconds to allow muscle fibers time to actually unwind. Modify your stretch as needed by increasing or decreasing the intensity to keep it gentle. Stretches should not cause pain or discomfort. A stretch that causes pain may actually injure the muscle. 

Keep things simple. Complete a few simple stretches before you begin your gardening. We're more likely to skip stretching if the routine is too complicated or time-consuming. Complete three repetitions of each stretch to allow your muscles to gradually stretch more. Muscles have a memory and are more likely to stay lengthened when stretches are repeated. Over time, you'll find your flexibility improving.

Some great movements to complete before gardening include:

  • Standing calf stretch
  • Sitting hamstring stretch
  • Back stretches (forward and side to side)
  • Shoulder circles forward and back can be completed for 5-10 repetitions for joint lubrication


Gardening to Get Your Cardio

Gardening can provide a good cardio workout as well. Hoeing the garden is especially effective. Remember to hoe safely by keeping your feet and legs in a lunge position with one leg forward to lessen the stress on the lower back. Do not hoe with your feet together, side by side. This position increases the stress you place on your lower back. You can save your back and provide a good lower extremity workout by lunging forward and then backward (transferring your weight to the front foot and then to the back foot) as you hoe.


Just a Little Strength Training

Strength training comes into play as you are lifting your trays of flowers or other plants. Remember to bend your knees and keep your back locked in a slightly forward position as you lift. Lifting from the waist or with a rounded back can lead to back injuries. 

Remember, safety first! If the load is too heavy or too far away, be kind to your body and transport your plants with a wheelbarrow.


Gardening Safety Tips

  1. Don’t forget to take frequent breaks when you first start back into your garden to help gradually condition your body. Even if you weren’t sedentary during the winter months, your body may not be used to this activity.
  2. Switch tasks or change position when you feel yourself stiffening up to give your muscles a break. For example, switch from hoeing to planting, or switch the lead foot during hoeing if you start to get sore.
  3. When planting, don’t kneel on both knees, as this can cause lower back strain. Instead, kneel on one knee and keep the other foot on the ground to give your back more stability. If you have bad knees, sit on a small stool. Again, have one foot back and one foot forward to give your back better support. 
  4. Bend both knees when bending down to pull weeds. Contract your abdominal muscles to support your back before actually pulling the weeds.


Get Your Garden Workout

By stretching first and following good body mechanics while gardening, you can get a good full-body workout that doesn’t leave you sore and becomes a more enjoyable experience.

If you experience pain with gardening, see your Methodist Physicians Clinic physical therapist to help problem-solve and customize a program for you.

More Resources

About the Author

Sherri Castor, PT, MPT, cares deeply about the needs of her patients. She believes in creating a tailor-made treatment plan that focuses on the patients pace and ability. It is also her mission to educate them on how they can get heal better and achieve their goals. You can visit Sherri at Methodist Physicians Clinic.

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