Gangbusters in the Garden

By Lisa Byrne, B.S Exercise Sciences  |  Certified Pilates Instructor
NABBW’s Boomer Women\’s Fitness Expert

Boomers and gardening, they go well together. Too well sometimes.

Every year it’s a similar scene: you’re going to get it all done.


Well, maybe this weekend.

You’ve got fantastic visions of transforming the yard, the beds, and the new transplants in addition to seeding, weeding and watering.

How many times have you overdone it hauling mulch, raking leaves, spreading soil or planting those 200 bulbs?

Your love affair with the land, yard and garden doesn’t have to take a toll on your body.

As a gardener you know that gardening demands plenty of strenuous work. But, you may not know the healthy ways to move in your yard and garden. Maybe you are paying a price for all those repetitive actions.

If you’ve injured yourself in the garden or doing lawn work or even yard clean up undoubtedly you know it puts you on the sideline for some time. Maybe you’ve seen a doctor or physical therapist that recommended some therapeutic exercises to do.

Have you heeded the garden fitness advice that tells you what not to do? Articles and advice filled with don’t, watch, caution, never, and avoid.

That’s understandable once you’ve become injured. It’s not an intelligent practice to repeat the bad action that got you there in the first place. Okay, but let’s begin with where we are seasonally.

This will help bring perspective for a plan that I have for you.

Right now, many of us are launching into the Spring season.  Springtime usually means rekindling the passionate pleasures of getting dirty with high levels of exuberance and obsessive delight in planning. Oh so sweet, I can hear your body humming.

Every motion in the garden breaks down to its least common denominator move. Those five basic moves are:

  • Push
  • Pull
  • Bend
  • Reach
  • Twist

Most likely all of your actions are a combination of up to three of these basic moves. Does that make sense?

There truly are 100’s of combinations.

Think about the difference between being on your hands and knees clearing the off season’s accumulations then hauling that tarp filled with dead leaves, pruned branches, and broken twigs.

While on your hands and knees, you reach, pull and twist. Hauling it away it changes to another reach behind and pull.

I remember when I was going through the teaching hours in my Pilates certification. The teacher reminded us constantly how this move is that move just in a different plane with a slight adjustment. All the moves and exercises in Pilates are a part of each other. The connections are endless. That’s part of what makes the method so brilliantly designed.  It is this flow of movements one after the other. These build from the core. It is also through this flow and the constant streaming of core stability that actual movement transpires.

Okay, let’s transfer that idea and those principles to the garden.

Unless you are mowing the lawn for hours on end most likely you are constantly flowing from one movement to another. You dig a little, rake it, dig again, get down on hands and knees to claw it towards you, shovel into a pot, grab it, get up and off you go. Prune, clear, step back, examine, oh I missed a spot, prune, clear… beautiful.


Here’s a secret to pay attention to as you begin your gardening this season. This is BEFORE you go gangbusters in the garden. Before you even start shining those tools in the shed. Before Dr. Welby tells you to avoid bending and twisting this season.

The secret is simple… TEACH YOUR BODY TO SEE IT!

Remember what I was previously telling you about Pilates, the connections are endless. It is the flow of movements one after the other that build from the core. You stabilize yourself, motions build from the core, pass through it and you execute . Same with gardening. Your task is to clear the raised bed, haul it away, return to plant more, shovel some fertilizer in, kneel and give it some loving pats on the dirt and voila! None of that gardening action happened without stabilizing your body (read: grounding it) and using your strength from center to complete the steps toward finishing the task at hand.

You want core strength, even if you are unsure of what it truly means. It’s a buzz word and it sounds good.  Remember, core stability is its partner.  How do you hold onto yourself and stay grounded?  Think about it, when you’re raking, the rake is the tool you need to perform the task. If you’re not holding onto yourself, holding onto the ground, using that core power, you have no base from which to operate. You look silly raking. You accomplish very little without the groundedness.

Everything that you do comes from the core. Everything.

Grounding yourself means to stabilize. This stabilization constantly shifts as you shift your movement, as you shift your task.

One of the best things that would serve the longevity of a healthy gardening season this year is to shift tasks every 20 minutes.

Three things happen:

1.       You refresh the muscles combinations.

2.       You stay sharp by revitalizing your brain’s awareness of the task.

3.       You lessen the chances of overdoing it. You know what overdoing it feels like.

After spending a day in the yard and garden, wouldn’t it be refreshing to know  you don’t  have to experience those same strains and discomforts that you have in previous years?

Here’s a video I made for members of a class I taught last gardening season.  The program is called GardenCore.

This video is really good for opening up in the joints that keep you rounded and hunched forward in the garden. That’s really what gardening is, flexion. The tasks are either in front of you or below you.


Usually, it’s your low back, shoulders, hips, and chest that get some real delight in such relief. It’s kind of like the Anti-Flexion series of movements.

So, as you get started in the garden this year, be mindful of your exuberance. Warm up, chunk up your tasks, and teach your body to see those moves before you end up with the ice bag and 2 ibuprofen in your favorite recliner while everyone else is outside enjoying.

Lisa Byrne is the owner and chief creative officer at Pilates for Sport, LLC in Bucks County, Pa. She has her B.S in Exercise Physiology and is a Certified Pilates Instructor. Lisa has operated her fully equipped Pilates studio since 1999 and has been in the Health and Fitness Industry for 23 years. The studio space is home to private sessions, small group training, and the outdoor circuit buffet, sure to get anyone grooving. Visitors to the movement studio span the range and include average Boomers looking for diversity; young people with Asperger’s-Autism; hard core athletes looking to ‘loosen up’; and those in need of chronic pain management through movement. Learn more about Lisa on her site, Move More Today.