Pulling up weeds is feel-good therapy—it helps me calm down when I’m anxious or aggravated…provides a physical workout while saving me a trip to the gym…and brings the added bonus of a prettier garden. But oh, how an afternoon of bending, squatting, reaching and twisting can make my muscles ache.

After one recent session of soreness-inducing weeding, I phoned Rachel Hazuga, the community wellness/fitness director at the La Crosse Area Family YMCA in Wisconsin, who is herself an accomplished gardener. She gave me some great suggestions on how to prevent post-yardwork aches and pains. Her tips…

  • Before weeding, do some stretching exercises for a few minutes to warm up your muscles, then stretch again when your gardening is done. Examples: Interlock your hands behind your back…keeping shoulders down and shoulder blades drawn together, gently lift your arms to feel a stretch through your chest. Next, standing with feet shoulder-width apart and knees very slightly bent, reach your arms out to your sides at shoulder height…then reach overhead as high as you can…then bend forward at the waist and touch your toes (or shins, depending on your flexibility).
  • As you weed, change your body position frequently, Hazuga advised. For instance, alternate between perching on a low stool…kneeling on a cushion…and sitting on a pad on the ground. Use both hands to yank up weeds, not just your dominant hand. When you’ve cleared the area closest to you, move your whole body closer to the next patch of weeds—don’t try twisting your trunk too far or reaching out beyond your comfort zone.
  • Take a break every 20 minutes or so, walking around to stretch out your muscles. To keep track of the time, Hazuga suggested using a portable kitchen timer or creating a special gardening playlist on your iPod. (This worked well for me—now every sixth song is a Beatles number, which serves as my reminder to stand up.)
  • When moving piles of weeds into the wheelbarrow or trash receptacle, bend your knees and lift straight up, keeping your spine straight. Let your leg and buttock muscles do the work, and avoid twisting or turning while lifting—otherwise, you could strain your back.
  • Stay well-hydrated, especially when weeding in hot, humid weather. Research shows that dehydration contributes to the delayed-onset muscle soreness that can develop a day or two after physical activity. Rule of (green) thumb: While gardening, take a big gulp of water every 15 minutes or so, aiming for eight to 11 ounces per hour, Hazuga suggested.
  • Know when to call it a day. “When you’re fatigued, it’s easy to forget proper body mechanics—and that increases your risk for injury,” Hazuga noted. So don’t overdo it…the weeds you don’t get rid of right now can be dealt with another day.

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