Time to get up and start my day. But wait a minute, my whole body is sore. What have I done to myself? I feel as if I have spent hours at the gym.
No, yesterday was a warm and pleasant day, so I worked in my garden, mostly clearing out weeds and dead leaves and clearing the ground of sticks and debris from a recent wind storm. What a workout it was!
With the onset of spring, I am ready to skip the gym and keep my fitness on track by working outside. I love accomplishing two things simultaneously: working out while beautifying my yard. I analyzed the different things I had done while outside and made a workout plan for myself. If you like to work outside, please try my exercise plan. You will love it.
Moving bags of mulch gave my biceps a workout, as did picking up and arranging stones. These items are heavy enough to cause the biceps to flex, and then putting them in place releases the contraction of the muscles. You can pick up and then place the objects several times until the biceps begin to fatigue. I recommend doing 10 pick-ups and set downs and repeating at least one more set of 10. Digging also works the biceps.
I love it when these are sore. The triceps have to be worked regularly so as not to sag. I often sit on my derriere as I work and use my arms behind me to scoot myself forward. You can make this move forward and back 10 times; rest and then do 10 more. The triceps do the work. As a bonus, your core works, too.
These chest muscles look great in a tank top, so you want to keep them toned. Plus, they feel superb when they are strong. I know of no better thing to do for them than to trim the hedges or overhanging tree branches. Warning: This exercise can easily lead to sore muscles.
There are many ways to use your core as you beautify your yard. When you are on your hands and knees, do the cat-cow workout, where you arch your back up like a scared cat, and then curve it down like a relaxed cow. Then you can lower down into a child’s pose, which is a kneeling position in which you bend all the way forward and have your chest and face on the ground with your arms stretched out ahead of you. It’s a good idea to cushion your knees with a pad or pillow.
Another thing you can do is sit with your legs straight out in front of you and then lean back from your hips, but not so much that your legs lift off the ground. Hold for approximately 15 seconds and then return to sit upright. You can smooth out the ground on both sides with your hands as you do this one.
My quads were screaming the day after my backyard adventure. I realized it was because I had spent a lot of time in a squat as I gathered sticks, leaves, and tools from the ground. Squats are fantastic to strengthen your quads and hips. You can do them with your legs parallel (knees facing straight ahead) or turned out (knees to the side.) Be sure your knees go over your middle toe when you bend them so that they are protected.
Heel raises are the thing to do to strengthen and shape your calves. You will have many opportunities to rise to the balls of your feet with your heels lifted as high as possible as you reach for those high limbs and branches. Be sure to stretch them after doing 10 or 12. With legs parallel, put your leg that you are stretching straight behind you on the ground and bend your front (opposite) knee. Press the heel of the back foot to the ground, and you will feel a nice stretch in that calf muscle.
These muscles need to be stretched often, as it seems they tighten overnight. When picking up sticks or anything off the ground, bend forward with straight knees so that you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. If you can’t reach the ground, it’s OK. Go down as far as you can with straight knees, hover there for a few seconds, and then bend your knees as you pick up whatever. Do it at least 10 times, but you will probably find that you will do it more than that.
Be sure to stretch every way you know to stretch before you start working and intermittently between exercises and at the end of your incredible backyard workout. Be pleased with yourself for having simultaneously accomplished your yard work and your workout.
Donna Martelli was a professional dancer with the Harkness Ballet of New York, and faculty member at Butler University, Indianapolis, Ind. She was also director of fitness arts at LivRite Fitness where she taught ballet, barre, Pilates, and more. She is the author of “When God Says Drop It” and “Why the Dance.”