Ever since I planted my first bean seed in a paper cup back in grade school, I've been an avid gardener. But the older I get, the more I realize what a toll gardening can take on my aging Baby Boomer body.
After putting in my vegetable garden this spring, I came up with this sequence of stretches to help me recover. Most are focused on the low back and hips, two areas that really need help after a day of stooping and bending to play in the dirt.
Stretches are most effective and safest if you do them while the muscles are warm, so you might want to do these right after you've had your hot shower or after a brief warm up. Don't worry if you're not as flexible as the pictures; stretch to the point that's tight, but still comfortable for you, then breathe deeply and try to relax into the stretch.
1. Standing Spinal Extension.
Reach arms overhead. Reach toward the ceiling with both your hands and your head to create as much length as possible in your spine. If it feels good to you, tip your hands back just a couple of degrees to slightly exaggerate the curve in your low back.
2. Pelvic Tilt
Lying on your back with knees bent, rock your pelvis forward and backward, alternating between exaggerating the curve in your low back and flattening your low back against the floor. Repeat several times until you feel the range of motion increasing and the tension in the muscles decreasing.
3. Lying Hip Hiking
Lying on your back with legs extended, hike one hip up toward your rib cage, then the other. This is a very small motion; your hip bone will only slide an inch or two toward your rib cage, but you should feel this in the deep supporting muscles around the spine in your low back. Repeat several times until you feel your low back loosening up.
Start on all fours with wrists aligned under shoulders and knees under hips. Arch your back and tilt your pelvis into cat position. Then reverse the curve in your spine, raise your head and let your belly drop for cow position. Rock gently back and forth between the two positions several times to loosen the muscles all along the spine.
5. Figure 4 Stretch
Sit on the edge of a chair with one ankle crossed over the opposite knee. If you already have good flexibility in your hips, your bent knee will drop, and your legs will be positioned like a number 4. (Don't worry if your knee doesn't drop to the side; just start from there and let the flexibility increase over time.)
Pull up long and tall through your torso, then tip forward from the hips until you feel a stretch in the hip of the bent leg. Maintain a long, straight spine, without slumping or rounding. Repeat on both sides.
6. Standing 90 Degree Stretch
Stand facing a chair or counter that is about waist high. Grab the back of the chair or edge of the counter, step back a couple of steps, and hinge forward from your hips. Try to get your back parallel to the floor. Reach your head toward the chair or counter to elongate your spine. You should feel a stretch down the sides of your back, in your hips and hamstrings, and perhaps in your shoulders.
7. Thoracic Rotation
Lie on one side with knees and hips bent to 90 degrees. Extend your arms out parallel to your thighs, one arm stacked on top of the other. Keeping your knees together and on the floor, rotate your upper spine and open up the top arm behind you. Your goal is to rotate so that both shoulders are on the floor. In addition to a stretch in your upper spine, you are likely to feel a stretch across the top hip and perhaps across the chest and front of the shoulders. Repeat on both sides.
There's no doubt that gardening is good for the soul, but not so good for the body. These stretches should help you recover quickly from a hard day of work in your garden. Tell us what you're growing in the comments section below, or post photos on the Prime of Life Fitness Facebook page.
To see these stretches in action, check out the video on the Prime of Life Fitness YouTube channel.
(photo credit: LeeAnn Langdon)