Grow Your Garden and Your Fitness

How to stay active this spring.
Published April 28, 2022

Spring is here! And spring means gardening season, which is a perfect way to get in some activity that doesn’t feel like a traditional workout but reaps just as many benefits.

“Gardening is a great way to improve one’s physical health because it covers the three main areas of fitness: strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular,” says Robert S. Herbst, a personal trainer, weight loss and wellness expert, and powerlifter. “In gardening, one builds muscle as they lift, pull and carry. The body does not know the difference between using a fancy machine at a gym or pulling a weed.”

He explains that gardening also lets you practise flexibility by bending, reaching, and using your body through different ranges of motion and benefits your cardio health by keeping you active as opposed to sedentary.

“Gardening also builds functional strength because instead of being in the narrow groove of the prescribed movement of an exercise, you are using the body through different planes of motion and using your muscles synergistically,” he says.

Avid gardener, personal trainer, and health coach Saara Haapanen, BSc, MSc says gardening can become a full body workout, depending on what you’re doing in your yard. One of the ways she turns gardening into a workout is by doing things in small groups of five to get more steps in.

“When cleaning up the garden I’ll pick up five things (like branches) and then walk them to the compost which is at the front of the house. Or I’ll do this when I’m pulling weeds too, I pull five and then walk them over to the compost so I get more steps.”

You can also incorporate traditional gym movements into your gardening work, depending on the task.

“Sometimes when I’m picking up branches, I’ll do a one-legged deadlift to grab the branch, aiming to keep my back as straight as possible,” Haapanen says.

But be sure to protect your back at all times.

“While pulling weeds or planting seeds get into a deep squat, versus bending over at your hips, which can end up injuring your back,” she says. “Your back will not be happy with a lot of gardening positions. If you are doing things like digging, please be sure to remember to switch sides so you get the same amount of work done on each side.”

Lauren Kendzierski, a sustainable farmer, chef and food entrepreneurship expert, keeps “farm fit” at Black Rabbit Farm in Massachusetts.

“Shovelling is one of the best movements that you can do for your whole body, with a focus on the core. At the end of a good session, you should feel soreness in your quads (from squatting), your waist/hips (from pivoting), and your shoulders/biceps from lifting each scoop.”

For a safe and successful shovelling session, here are Kendzierski’s tips:

  • Wear sunscreen, a hat, and gloves.
  • Switch your shovel hand every five scoops so you work both sides of the body evenly.
  • Bend at your knees and squat down when scooping to take the pressure off the lower back.
  • Use both arms like a lever system to lift each scoop of the shovel, so that you are dividing the weight evenly. “Push down on the handle as you lift up on the shovel head with the other arm,” Kendzierski explains.
  • Take a break every hour to drink water and stretch.
  • Plan for at least 30 minutes of stretching in the evening.

Whatever gardening task you’re doing, it’s important to keep tabs on how your body is feeling and if you’re straining any muscles, Haapanen adds, and “if something doesn’t feel good, don’t do it.”