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The 3-Ton Workout: Adding Tone and Definition in Your Landscape

June 29, 2018

Forget lifting weights this summer; grab your shovel instead. My younger self used to scoff at adults when they said they gardened for exercise. “Ha,” I thought naively, “Gardening is just a hobby. Swimming, biking, running and other sports are ‘real’ exercise.” My older, current self – often sore from shoveling mulch or weeding my garden, and often too busy to play sports – would like to gently pat that younger self on the head and explain how common landscaping tasks can serve as training grounds for a full-body workout. I even checked in with a fitness guru and personal trainer to get details and tips, outlined below.

1. Digging and Shoveling. Digging down vertically, lifting your foot on top of a shovel, stepping or hopping on it, and then sinking down into the soil – is like an earthy stair machine. This motion works your quads, hamstrings, and calves. Your biceps and triceps also assist by holding the shovel steady, while your core/trunk engages to help stabilize the downward motion. Plunging a shovel horizontally into a heaping pile of soil or mulch, lifting up that shovel, pivoting around to the destination, and then tipping that deposit works somewhat different muscles: it strengthens arms, core stabilizers (rectus abdominus “abs”), glutes, hip flexors/extensors, obliques, and spinal erectors (“lower back”). Be sure to hinge with your hips; don’t use your back.

2. Wheelbarrowing. (Yes, I made up that verb.) Lifting up a wheelbarrow is very much like a deadlift, which works your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. Tipping a wheelbarrow to dump its load engages your grip strength, core stabilizers, chest (pectoralis major, or “pecs”), triceps and deltoids (shoulders).

3. Mowing. With a walk-behind mower you get closer to reaching 10,000 steps (or whatever your goal may be) while tuning up your lawn. Walking works your legs (quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteal muscles, or “glutes”) for power, while pushing a mower activates arms (triceps) and shoulders (deltoids).

4. Weeding. This endless activity can take many forms, and can be an opportunity to gain strength and flexibility. Try bending at the hips and lean into the position for a minute letting your head and shoulders hang low. This will stretch your calves and hamstrings. Another variation is to put your palms on the ground and push back into a downward dog position, which is also a good stretch. Then start weeding. If you prefer to kneel on your hands and knees, try doing some cat-cow poses, arching and flexing your back. There’s yet another option to mix up the monotony of weeding – bust out a one-minute plank pose on your hands or forearms in the middle of your weeding session. This will engage your core muscles as you take a very close look at your greens.

Did you know? Mulch weighs ~700 lbs per cubic yard. Compost weighs ~1400 lbs per cubic yard. Our Garden Soil and Topsoil Plus weigh ~2,000 lbs per cubic yard. So if you order 3 cubic yards of our Topsoil Plus and distribute that material across your lawn and garden beds, you’ll have lifted three tons of soil!

All of a sudden yardwork becomes your fitness friend. Digging, mulching, mowing and weeding will simultaneously tune up your landscape while toning your arms, abs, and legs. Here are some additional tips from my fitness guru:

  • Develop a mindfulness about body position.
  • Switch positions frequently to prevent overuse injuries.
  • Utilize both sides of your body (e.g. shovel, rake) with both arms despite dominant side.
  • Use a squat (quads, glutes and calves) or hip hinge (hip flexors/extensors, hamstrings, spinal erectors) to pick things up.
  • Change positions frequently.
  • Try kneeling or half-kneeling positions with pads.

Have fun in your new training grounds.

Meredith Sorensen is the Director of Communication for Harvest, a company that fuels a more sustainable world where organic resources are harvested, not wasted. Harvest New England ( | 860-674-8855 x101) provides top quality soils, mulches and custom blends in Connecticut at our Fairfield, Farmington, Ellington, and Wallingford locations, and via delivery.

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