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Stretch the Right Muscles Before You Garden

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Not only does gardening produce beautiful blooms and food—it’s also good exercise.

The problem: As with any exercise, gardening can cause aches, strains and even injuries.

Increasing your range of motion by stretching to loosen up your joints and muscles before you pick up a trowel will go far in preventing those types of problems, according to Marla Altberg, Pilates mat instructor and certified personal trainer in New York City.

You might think that twisting your torso a few times is all that it takes to loosen up, but you would be wrong, said Altberg.

Gardening is a full-body exercise, and you may not realize just how many muscles you’re working while you’re digging in the yard, she added. So here is her simple 10-minute warm-up to help loosen all the right muscles…

GET THE BLOOD FLOWING

Before you do anything, first talk to your doctor if you haven’t been exercising or stretching in a while to make sure that these exercises and stretches are safe for you.

To increase your heart rate and circulation, start by doing two minutes of light aerobic activity, such as marching in place while briskly moving your arms. Once that’s done, you are ready to do the following stretching exercises. Unless otherwise stated, begin all exercises in a basic “posture stance”—standing erect, shoulders back, feet hip-width apart pointing directly ahead, abdominal muscles pulled gently in and up.

FOR THE BACK, BUTTOCKS, HIPS & LEGS

dhn_g1aSquats: Clasp your arms together in front of you (as if you’re saying grace at the dinner table) and slowly lower your behind, keeping your abs tight, your back straight and your head in line with your back, as if you were about to sit in a chair, until your thighs are nearly parallel to the floor. Do not let your behind go lower than your knees. (And it’s fine to stop higher up if it’s a real strain to go that far down.) Hold that position for a count of two and then slowly return to standing. This will exercise your lower back, buttocks, hips and quads (front thigh muscles). Do 10 times.

dhn_g2aHamstring stretch: While standing, extend your right leg forward about two feet (a little more if you’re tall and a little less if you’re short). Rest your right heel on the ground and raise the ball and toes of your right foot. Keeping your back straight and your head in line with your back, place both hands on your right thigh, and lean forward while allowing your left leg to bend—this will stretch the right hamstring muscle and calf muscle. Hold for a minimum of 20 seconds and then change sides.

 

 

FOR THE NECK & SHOULDERS

dhn_g3All three of these exercises should be done very slowly…

Shoulder shrugs: Raise shoulders toward your ears and then slowly bring them down. Do this three or four times.

dhn_g4Shoulder circles: Make a circle with your shoulders by moving them forward, raising them up toward your ears, pushing them back, and then moving them down to the starting position. Do this three times in the forward direction and three times going backward.

dhn_g5Neck half-circle: Turn your head to look as far to the left as possible. Lower your chin toward the center of your chest…then turn it gradually to look as far as you can to the right. Do this two times slowly in each direction.

 

 

FOR THE FOREARM, HANDS & WRISTS

dhn_g6Traffic cop: Reach arms straight out in front of you at shoulder-height with palms facing the ground. Using your left hand, gently pull the fingers of the right hand up and toward the body, opening the palm so that it’s in a traffic cop position. Then pull the fingers of your right hand down and toward the body (so your palm is facing your body). Then do both stretches on your other hand. Finish by circling your wrists slowly in each direction to loosen them up further.

You’re ready—now get out there and garden!

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Source: Marla Altberg, certified personal trainer and Pilates mat instructor, New York City. Date: July 9, 2012 Publication: Bottom Line Health
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