Gardening is a physical activity that requires use of the whole body, but it should not hurt. So how do you work in your garden without pain? By gardening ergonomically! If you are mindful of ergonomics while working outdoors, you can greatly reduce your risk of injury.
Any time we begin a seasonal activity that requires different positions and the use of muscles that we may not have used in a while, we have to be careful to avoid injury and strain. I like to think I’m in pretty decent shape (in large part thanks to our team at Energize!) but I don’t quite have the nimble body of a little kid like the clinic boss Olivia, who can spend long sunny days crouched over examining and playing with the earth.
We’ve put together this list of helpful tips to help ensure your body stays as healthy as your garden!
Tip #1: Warm Up
Before you get into the weeds, start with some simple stretches to prepare your muscles for the task ahead. The image below shows some great, simple stretches of muscles typically engaged while gardening.
Tip #2: Work in the “Comfort Zone”
As much as possible, keep your work close to your body, or in the “comfort zone”. Generally speaking, the comfort zone is about 2 feet in front of you. Try to keep all activities in this area to avoid movements that can be strenuous like reaching, extending and twisting. If you have to work out of your comfort zone, limit the work to a few minutes at a time and take frequent breaks or work on different activities within the comfort zone to give your body a break and to avoid strain and fatigue.
Tip #3: Maintain a Healthy Posture
Head and Neck:
Avoid working with your neck in an extended position (looking up). If you must be in this position, take frequent breaks to stretch your neck to avoid strain and fatigue.
Whenever possible, work below shoulder level. If you have to work above shoulder level, try to use both arms and work in short increments (a few minutes at a time). Take frequent breaks to stretch and avoid fatigue.
Elbow should be kept below chest height as much as possible and forearms should be in a neutral (thumbs up) position. Wrists should be kept straight in line with your forearm to decrease tension on your wrists and elbow.
Lower Back and Legs:
When lifting, squat and bend your knees to use your powerful glute and thigh muscles. Engage your abdominal muscles to stabilize your core. If you have to move a large pile of soil or leaves for example, try pushing it in a wheel barrow or pulling it on a tarp to reduce the effort needed to move heavy items.
Tip #4: Use the Right Gear
Wear gloves to protect your hands and provide padding. Gloves should be made of material suited to the specific task you are performing. You’ll need gloves that are made of different material when working with chemicals such as fertilizer and herbicide than you will for pruning a bush or planting seeds. Generally, gloves should be fairly thin to minimize the reduction of sensation, coordination and grip strength.
Make sure you pick up and try tools in your hand before you buy them. Just because it says “ergonomic” on the label doesn’t mean it will be a comfortable fit for your unique body. Be mindful of weight, handle diameter and keep an eye out for telescopic, pistol grip and/or curved handled tools. These styles require less effort and reduce stress on your wrists, arms and back by making it easier to maintain proper alignment.
Use a knee pad or folded blanket to cushion your knees while in a crouched position.
Gardening should be a source of exercise and relaxation. Don’t overdo it, enjoy yourself and garden safely! With some practice, the above tips will become habit and both you and your garden will both be in great shape. Don’t forget your hat and sunscreen!