One of my clients said to me last week, “Wow, we really have to get back in shape. We were only out in the yard raking for maybe an hour or so and now I can hardly move!” Sound familiar this time of year? What most people fail to realize, or at least fail to acknowledge, is that yard work can actually be a workout. Raking leaves, pruning trees, clipping bushes, pulling weeds and bringing in the season's bounty from the garden all involve a good amount of effort and the use, or overuse of certain muscles. The reason why some of us feel so out of shape at the end of it all is not so much the work itself, but the way we are doing it that's causing the problem.
Let's take raking for example. Most people rake to one side maintaining the same grip the entire time, just as they would when playing hockey or baseball. Unlike hockey or baseball, raking, is a repetitive activity usually done in large blocks of time. During that time, seldom do we think to alternate sides or change hands, at least until things start to ache. In fact, most people tend to then push a little harder to “just get it done” and then suffer for the next two days feeling stiff and sore. The same holds true for weeding where one hand typically does all the pulling as well as pruning where the same hand controls the pruners. Now, I've been going to the gym for decades and never have I seen anyone workout only one side of his or her body. In fact, it's probably safe to say that not many people have ever even considered doing this because it just doesn't make sense. For fitness, as with nutrition, it's always in your best interest to create balance. With our nutrition we know that's eating our PFCs in 3s. In fitness, in this case yard work, it's about using both sides of the body equally. For raking, change the lead hand every five to ten minutes. When weeding, sitting on a stool will take the pressure off of the thighs and low back as well as leaves both hands free to pull weeds rather than one hand pulling while the other helps maintain balance in a squatted position. If you have a fair but of pruning to do, make sure you have pruners that are right or left friendly so that you may switch hands every five to ten minutes to avoid hand cramps.
By making these few, simple adaptions, muscles on either side of the body are called into play and used equally, allowing you to work more comfortably and for longer periods of time. In addition, when muscles on both sides of the body are used, a balance is created which is similar to a gym workout, where both sides are automatically targeted equally.
So, this weekend when you are out cleaning up the yard, try to be intentional about switching hands and/or sides for those long, repetitive tasks. You'll create a balanced “workout” by using muscles on both sides of the body, decrease pain and discomfort that often comes with repetitive strains, and have more energy to invest more time into getting that yard ship-shaped. Another great way to win with your fitness.
Here's to your health,
Nutritionist & Fitness Coach, IBNFC
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