Pilates Exercise Tips for Gardening without Back Pain

by | May 23, 2013 | Back Pain, Pilates | 0 comments

Top 5 Pilates Training Tips to Stay Healthy and Help Avoid Knee, Hip and Back Pain While Having Fun Working in the Yard and Gardening

shov elIt’s that time of year again; Mother Nature is calling us outside to play in the garden.  It’s time to pull weeds, plant and clean things up so that we can enjoy a lovely yard and watch things bloom and grow.

I know that even with my small city lot, it usually takes me two or three full weekends of solid effort for Spring clean-up, just to get the weeds pulled, shrubs trimmed and everything ready for the planting and growing season.  I wish I had more space for fruit trees and a big vegetable garden, but right now my yard is filled with perennial flowers and herbs – things that don’t require too much time and effort for me to maintain and enjoy.

But even so, after a day in the yard, my feet, hands, legs and back always seem to remind me that I’ve done something out of the ordinary and found and used a few muscle groups that don’t get worked in my normal everyday Pilates and weight room workouts.  So how do we stay healthy and avoid knee, hip and back pain while having fun working in the yard and gardening? 

I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve seen over the years that come crawling into the studio after a weekend of gardening complaining that their back hurts!  And while I can’t promise that you’ll be able to completely avoid the possible soreness or awareness of new muscles when you start into gardening season, there are some things you can pay attention to, to help keep your body remain well-balanced while you’re digging, chopping, raking and having fun “green thumb” experiences working in the yard.

Pilates is the perfect off-season gardening training program!  We do exercises standing, seated, kneeling, face up, upside down, focus on hip mechanics, core support, stress-free arms and shoulders, and so many things to help you become well-balanced and aware of how you’re moving your body.

Pilates Exercise Tips for Gardening without Back Pain

Here are my top five Pilates tips to pay attention to, so you can stay pain and injury-free as you get out and enjoy gardening.

  1.  Use Your Core MORE.  That strong low abdominal support you’ve been developing is critical when you’re bent over and working in the yard.  Not only do your Abs need to work as you’re digging pulling, and lifting, but they need to stay engaged the whole time you’re bent over to support your lower back!
  2. Alternate the Leg You Squat Down With.  We tend to always put our dominate leg forward.  If you do this while you’re gardening, there’s a good chance you’ll be doing 100+ full squats going down and getting back up on one leg and zero full squats on the other side.  This will overdevelop your strong side, and continue to weaken your weak side, shifting your hips, pelvis, and back out of alignment.  Think equality!  Alternate legs to work both legs evenly to get to the ground, and you’ll find your body feels better when you’re done in the yard.
  3. Alternate the Hand you’re Using to Do the Work.  Again, balanced muscle development.  It’s important to think about strength training to develop both sides of your body evenly.  It’s a challenge to use your weaker hand, arm and shoulder to pull weeds.  Can you do it?  Squat down with your left leg and pull weeds with your right hand.  Squat down with your right leg and pull weeds with your left hand.   It can be as much of a brain-game as a whole-body workout to be consciously working the body evenly while you’re digging in the dirt!
  4. Coordinate Your Breath with Your Effort.  It’s always easiest and you will have maximum support to exert on an exhale.  I know that little weed you might be pulling is small, but it’s tenacious.  So inhale, exhale, pull your abs in, pull your shoulders down, and then pull on the weed!  Develop a Pilates-style breathing pattern that supports your efforts, whether you’re pulling weeds, digging, pruning, everything you’re doing and you’ll be amazed at the difference.
  5. Take at least 15-20 Minutes and STRETCH when you’re done.  I know you’re tired; you’ve been getting a workout!  Lots of leg work is involved in those deep squats.  You’re hips and back will be tight and tired; you definitely need to do some Hamstring, Hip, and Calf Stretches.  Lie on your back, grab a strap or Pilates Magic Circle, or prop your legs up on a wall.  Give your lower back a break and stretch your legs – Hamstrings, Quads, Inner Thighs, Outer Hips, Calves, Ankles and Feet.

And because gardening involves lots of bending forward…  be sure during your post-gardening cool-down stretch time you do some exercises that bend your spine in the other direction.  (Think BALANCE)  Your back needs some extension!  Swan prep from Matwork, back bending over the Arc Barrel or a Fit Ball.  Do a few side bending stretches too – Mermaid, standing or seated side bend, Arm Waves side lying on the Arc Barrel.  And for a healthy back we also need to twist, maybe a few easy Knee Drops side to side, the Saw, Standing Arm Strokes, Seated Twist with a Hinge and Roll Up, or your favorite twisting exercise with the Arc Barrel.  Remind your spine what it feels like to move freely in all directions, because it’s spent the last hour or two (or full day) bent forward in the yard!

And lastly, take a few minutes to stretch your neck, shoulders, arms and hands.  Our hands probably are doing more unusual work that any other part of the body.  All that grabbing and pulling the fingers, hands and forearms have gotten a workout!   Bend your wrists forward and backwards, stretch each finger back one-by-one to stretch both the fingers and the palm of your hand.  Put one arm behind your back and take your ear away from that shoulder, to stretch both the arm and the shoulder.  What other upper body stretches are in your repertoire that you know will be helpful to relax sore, tired post-gardening muscles?

Gardening can be a fun way to put your Pilates body into action and apply everything you know about using and supporting your body to being well, and staying active.  Incorporate these 5 Pilates training tips to help avoid knee, hip, and back pain while gardening to your next fun day working in the yard and discover how valuable your Pilates training really is to keep you strong, fit, and flexible.   Avoid the annoyance of Spring “gardening” back aches, hip, or knee pain from a body out of balance.  Use your Pilates body, and keep these 5 important Pilates training tips in mind to stay healthy.  Enjoy every minute of your time in the great outdoors working in the yard, and gardening, AND still be able to leap out of bed the next day with a healthy body and happy back!

Have FUN  helping your garden grow!

Aliesa George: Over the past three decades, Aliesa George has helped assist people with their personal health journeys by sharing, teaching, and developing Pilates, Foot Fitness, and other Mind-Body programs.


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