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Exercises for Gardeners

Posted by J Little on March 26, 2018 at 6:50 PM

***Do a light cardio warm up - Warm up first with a 5-10 minutes of walking, cycling, etc., and then stretch. You can also do stretching exercises at the end of your full cardio workout. Stretching cold muscles (not warmed up) can cause or lead to injuries.


March 13, 2012 by Erica 10 Comments | Affiliate disclosure

Here are the 7 Best Exercises to do before gardening season gets going, so you’ll be ready when it does. You can perform these motions at a gym or at home – all you need are a pair of appropriately heavy weights or kettlebells and a little floor or garden space.

1. Dumbbell Deadlift

Mimics: Bending over to pull a weed, lift a rock or pick up a bag of compost. Really, any time you bend over and pick something up, you are performing a deadlift. Practice dumbbell or barbell deadlifts in the off-season and your lower back and legs will all be stronger when gardening season gets going.

Focus on: letting the dumbbells or the bar slide along your legs through the entire motion, and keep your back and shoulders strong so your spine doesn’t round down. As you add weight in the deadlift, you begin to work your grib strength as well, which is important for keeping hold of sledgehammers and heavy buckets.

2. Front-Loaded Squat

Mimics: Carrying bags of compost, soil amendments, rocks or kids in front of you. Strengthens your butt, thighs, and entire core. The squat and deadlift are, hands-down, the best all-over strength building exercises you can perform.

Focus on: keeping your weight in your heels – if necessary point your toes up toward the ceiling to ensure that you are squatting back rather than down. Keep your low back in neutral alignment through the entire motion; don’t let your back round forward towards the ground. Start with very little weight and work up as you get stronger.

3. Farmer Carry

Mimics: Carrying buckets of water, compost or soil amendments through the garden. If you’ve ever carried a bag of groceries in each hand, you’ve already performed a Farmer Carry. Up the weight you can handle through diligent practice of the farmer carry and you’ll strengthen your grip and forearms substantially and make hauling all those buckets all over the yard a lot easier.

Focus on: keeping your abdominal muscles tight and engaged and keeping the weight under control – no big swings. If you don’t have heavy enough weights to make this simple motion a challenge, grab a few large filled water bottles. I keep these 3 gallon bottles filled with emergency water in the garage. Topped up with water, they weigh about 25 pound each.

4. Diagonal Wood Chop

Mimics: chopping logs, rotating to weed, pull and reach items in the garden, overhead hammering of posts and tree stakes. Wood Chop is a great all-around exercise because it incorporates both strength and stability work. Wood Chop strengthens the entire abdominal girdle, arms, and back stabilizers, which means less fatigue and back pain after a long day in the yard.

Focus on: keeping a strong core as you perform a controlled but forceful diagonal lift of a manageable weight from the outside of one knee up and over to above the opposite shoulder and back down. Your torso should rotate but your feet should stay fixed (though it is ok for the active foot to pivot in place). Wood Chop may be performed with varying degrees of squat – I find the amount I squat in the motion is proportional to the weight I am using, with lighter weights requiring less squat at the beginning of the lift. Performed dynamically, this exercise can quickly become a cardio-conditioner as well. Because of the dynamic torso rotation, be cautious if you are new to the Diagonal Wood Chop.

5. Push-Ups

Mimics: pushing wheelbarrow loads and push-mowers through the garden. Push-ups work your entire upper body, including your chest, arms and core. Strength in pushing is important to gardeners because we always need to push something around the yard: compost, yard waste containers, lawn-mowers, etc. If challenges keep you motivated, take the 100 Push-Up Challenge and learn to rock this important upper-body exercise.

Focus on: keeping your body in a straight line from toe to head. Don’t let your back arch or sway. Keep your elbows tucked in against your torso to more fully engage the triceps muscle. If a full push-up is too challenging, perform a modified push-up. Remember to shift your weight off your knee-cap and up to the very bottom of your quadriceps (thigh) muscle, and to establish the same strong, straight body line in a modified push-up as you would have in a full push-up.


6. Renegade Rows

Mimics: raking, pulling-out well-rooted weeds, starting gas lawnmowers. Rows are sort of like inverse push-ups. Everything a push-up does for your chest and pushing ability, rows do for your back and pulling ability. Most people think of yard work as pulling – pulling weeds! But we gardeners pull recalcitrant rocks, re-bar stakes, tagled vines and brambles and more as well. Renegate Rows have the added advantage of working the core stabilizer muscles.

Focus on: just-like the push-up, you want to keep your body in as straight a line as possible. Pull your abdominal muscles in alternatively pull your weight up, keeping about a 90-degree bend in your elbow. Kick your feet about shoulder-width apart to make balance easier.

7. Lunges

Mimics: weeding. The motion you use to get down on one knee and propose, tie a shoelace or pull a weed is a lunge. Lunges work your butt and thighs like nothing else and are great for balance and stabilizer training. Gardeners who get strong in the lunge will avoid the temptation to constantly bend over with an arched back (which leads to a sore back!) when they need to get close to the ground.

Focus on: a smooth down-up motion of the entire torso in the lunge. Try not to lean down and forward as you lunge. Instead, think of a smooth drop and an engaged lift. Don’t let your knee bang the ground; if you cannot control a full depth lunge right away, just don’t drop as deep until you build up your strength.

Once you master the lunge, you can make things more challenging with the walking lunge, performed with or without additional weight.







Put these exercises together and prepare to get into better gardening shape than ever before. Here’s a quick, 11-minute circuit example work-out to get you started.

Busy Gardeners Strength Circuit

3 Minute Blast – do not rest between the following exercises:

Deadlift – do as many as can be performed with good form in one minute

Farmer Carry – walk around the house or yard with an appropriately challenging weight for one minute

Lunges (Left Leg forward) or Walking Lunges – do as many as can be performed with good form in one minute

Rest One Minute

3 Minute Blast – do not rest between the following exercises:

Push-Up – do as many as can be performed with good form in one minute

Diagonal Wood Chop (right side) – do as many as can be performed with good form in one minute

Diagonal Wood Chop (left side) – do as many as can be performed with good form in one minute

Rest One Minute

3 Minute Blast – do not rest between the following exercises:

Front-loaded Squat – do as many as can be performed with good form in one minute

Renegade Rows – do as many as can be performed with good form in one minute

Lunges (Right Leg forward) or Walking Lunges – do as many as can be performed with good form in one minute

If you want to make real strength gains, record your “score” for each activity – the number of reps you are able to complete in one minute – and try to beat your previous score each time you perform this circuit. If you are already in great shape, make this circuit harder by upping weights or performing it twice or three-times through.

After a few weeks, no deep-rooted weed will stand a change against you.





Stretch 1: Spine Twist with Gentle Hamstring Stretch

Stand with your feet hip distance apart, let your arms relax at your sides and slowly twist your upper body to the left and then to the right, repeating this motion back and forth. Your feet will lift onto the ball of the foot as you twist in each direction, and your arms, as they wrap round your body, should gently tap against your body. After twisting for a few minutes, slow down the twist until you are at a complete stop. Come to stillness and, closing your eyes, take a few deep breaths and bring your awareness to the sensations you feel in your body: your fingers may be tingling, your body, arms or head may feel warm. This is what energy feels like as it moves through your body.

Now, keep the same stance with your feet hip distance apart. Take a large breath in and, as you exhale, slowly reach down to touch the floor. You want to feel like your head, neck and spine are moving one vertebra at a time as you roll down to your lowest point. Hold this stretch, and gently shift your weight from the left leg to the right, moving mindfully and slowly, feeling the stretch in your hamstrings. After several shifts side to side, come back to center, take another deep breath and start to slowly roll yourself back up one vertebra at a time to a standing position.

Repeat the whole exercise 6-8 times.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine the brain meridian passes through the muscles that run down either side of your spine and the backs of your legs. This twist activates this meridian and helps keep those muscles fluid and moving, assuring a healthy back. This meridian also helps improve brain activity for mastering your gardening technique and strategy.

Stretch 2: Child’s Pose with Upper Back Stretch

Sit on your heels, bow down onto the floor as you extend your arms out fully in front of you resting on the floor. Place your forehead gently on the floor naturally where it rests, your body weight evenly distributed between your legs and arms, this is child’s pose. TIP: if this position feels uncomfortable, moving your knees further apart might help. Now, press down on the floor with the palms of your hands and, at the same time, push your upper back up towards the ceiling. Your body should remain still but the action of pressing down with the hands while simultaneously elevating the upper shoulders gives an amazing stretch to your upper back, beneath your shoulder blades, and under the arms all the way up to the armpits.

Repeat 6-8 times. In Traditional Chinese Medicine this exercise will improve the energy flow of your skin meridian. This child’s pose stretch specifically builds strength and flexibility in the muscles of your upper arms and upper back while simultaneously strengthening your immune system. Immune system improvements will help you to repel insects and their bites, heal from sun damaged skin, and improve your ability to fight off infection.

Stretch 3: Hamstring Stretch

Lie on your back and grab the back of your right lower thigh (just above the knee), extend your left leg long on the floor as you slowly pull your straight right leg towards your head. As you are pulling your leg in, it will feel as if it is pressing away and doesn’t want to come closer to your head. As your arms pull against the direction your leg wants to go in, you are creating a ‘resistance action’ that will keep you in a safe range as you elongate and strengthen your hamstrings and help you avoid injury. The movement is small, but if you add a lifting motion (gently stretching your leg out of the hip socket) as you hold your right leg, the stretch will intensify. Repeat the exercise on the other side, with your right leg long on the floor and pulling your left leg towards your head.

TIP: If your hamstrings are very tight the resting leg may be bent with the foot flat on the floor, this will relieve some of the tension in the leg you are stretching.

Repeat 6-8 times on each side. In Traditional Chinese Medicine this stretch improves the energy flow in the brain meridian. It will build flexibility and strength in the central hamstrings, encouraging a tension-free lower back. The hamstrings along with the muscle of the spine (see stretch #1) are important muscles to keep limber throughout the gardening season as any back pain will make gardening difficult. Hamstring flexibility and strength will help make your gardening movements effortless.

Stretch 4: Hip Stretch (Figure 4)

Lie on your back, bend both legs and place your feet flat on the floor. Lift your right leg up off the floor and rest the outside of your ankle on the top of your left knee and let your right knee fall to the right.

Now grab ahold of your left leg at the thigh just above your knee, and slowly pull it in towards your head. This action will pull both legs towards your head together and you will feel a big stretch on the outside of your right hip. Repeat on the other side, with your left ankle resting on your right knee.

Repeat 6-8 times on each side. TIP: You may also feel tension on the inside of your right leg, if this sensation feels like it is preventing you from stretching then it will benefit you to work on the inside leg first and then come back to this stretch. The Liver Meridian Stretch, for the inside leg muscles, is a good place to start.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine this exercise improves energy flow in the gallbladder meridian. This exercise will stretch and strengthen your outside hip and leg muscles where more pressure is often placed in our standing and upright postures. Improvement to hip flexibility and to the outside leg muscles will allow fluid movement during gardening as you move from the ground to standing, and in the upright side-to-side movement you make in watering, or just moving around your garden.

Stretch 5: Kneeling Quad Stretch

Place your mat directly against an upright surface such as a sofa (you could also use the wall or an ottoman). Put a folded blanket or towel on top of your mat, touching the sofa, as a bit of extra cushioning. Start by kneeling on your cushion, with your back to the sofa. Bring your right knee about 6 inches away from the sofa, and allow your right lower leg and foot to rest against the seat. The top of your foot will be poised to press against the sofa (use more distance than 6 inches if your thigh muscle is super tight). Place your left foot flat on the floor slightly further away from the sofa than you think it should be and use your hands for balance by resting them on top of your left knee. You should now be in a lunge position with the back leg already starting to stretch as it is bent and resting on the sofa.

To begin the stretch, press your leg and the top of your right foot into the sofa and slowly move your body weight towards your left leg while continuing to press your right foot into the sofa. You should feel a big stretch in your right thigh. Keep your back straight as you lunge forward also remembering to keep your chin down. Keep shifting from a lunge as you move back into an upright position against the sofa. If you are flexible your heel will touch your gluts when you push back from your lunge. Repeat on the other side, with your left leg resting on the sofa.

Repeat 6-8 times on each side. In Traditional Chinese Medicine this exercise improves the energy passing through your stomach meridian. I have been told by my clients that this stretch alone is worth the price of admission – it is an amazing and effective way to stretch and strengthen your thigh muscles. The thighs need to have full range for gardening to allow for all that forward bending, kneeling, squatting and lifting you need to do. Stretching out the quads is a great way to regain balance from the front and back of the body which will allow for ease in forward and backward bending motions from the waist and knees.


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