Last year GP’s and emergency departments reported a record number of injuries at the start of a new gardening season. Stretching and warming up is essential when heading out into the garden. Pilates trainer Kate Lewis shows some easy to follow and effective warming up routines.

As the days get longer there is an anticipation in the air about the gardening season ahead. After months of long, dark days we can’t wait to get back out into the garden and start preparing it for those plans we’ve been hatching all winter. 

Gardening is a wonderful pastime for our health and wellbeing – both physical and mental. It builds strength, endurance and flexibility, is beneficial for heart health and can help control weight. And that’s before we talk about the mental health benefits – research has shown that it can help reduce stress, anxiety and depression.  

But it is easy to forget that gardening should be viewed as a physical activity, and a strenuous one at times. Leaping back into full days of moving, digging, pruning and planting, especially after a sedentary winter, can cause pain and injury. It is so easy to get stuck into all the jobs that need doing without a thought of the toll it will take on our bodies. 

Build up slowly

Although the temptation to jump back into several hours of work is tempting, it is more sensible to pace yourself, especially if you have had an inactive winter. It is far better to start out with shorter spells of activity and build up than it is to overdo it and not be able to get out in the garden again for days. 

We have all started a ‘quick job’ and then realised hours have passed and ended up with back pain afterwards. Your body will thank you for starting small and building up. Break tasks into smaller chunks and set a timer if you need to.   

Warm up 

Hands up how many people have warmed up before they start gardening?! Spending a few minutes getting the body prepared is worth it. 

Start your warm up by going for a short walk – just ten minutes will do. This is enough to warm up your muscles and raise your body temperature. 

Then take some time to do some dynamic stretches. These are active stretches usually used before physical activity to prepare the body for movement. Static stretches – that are held for a longer period – are best done post activity. 

1. Wrist Circles

Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Raise your arms to shoulder height in front of you. Circle your wrists ten times in each direction. 

2. Arm Circles

Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Raise your arms to shoulder height and windmill your arms forward ten times, backwards ten times and then try to rotate them in opposite directions. 

3. Side Reaches

Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Raise your arms above your head keeping them shoulder width apart, keep your shoulders away from your ears. Reach your arms over to one side of your body and then the other. Reach through your fingertips and gently move from one side to the other.

4. Trunk Twists

Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Place your arms behind your head and rotate the torso to one direction and then to the other. Keep the pelvis facing forwards. Repeat ten times. 

5. Roll Down

Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Keeping your knees soft, roll down through the spine, one vertebrae at a time, until you are in a forward fold. Draw your tummy muscles in and roll back up through the spine one vertebrae at a time. 

6. Leg Swings

Stand with your feet hip width apart, holding on to a tree or stable object if you need extra balance. Lift your right leg. Slowly and gently swing your leg forwards and backwards five times each way. Repeat on the other leg.

7. Hip Circles

Stand with your feet hip width apart, holding on to a tree or stable object if you need extra balance. Lift your right leg.  Slowly and gently circle the leg five times in each direction . Repeat on the other leg.

8. Cat/Cow

Kneel on the ground with your shoulders over your hands and your hips over your knees. Pull your tummy muscles in and arch your back gently so you are looking up. Keeping your tummy muscles pulled in round your back in the opposite direction into an ‘angry cat’ stretch. Move slowly and gently between each position five times. 

NEXT MONTH we look at post-gardening stretches and safe gardening techniques.

Note: Please check with your doctor/healthcare professional before starting any physical exercise, especially if you have a previous medical condition. None of the above exercises should cause pain, please exercise within your capabilities. 

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