Spring into yardwork–mindfully!

If you’re anything like me, the first warm days of spring have you itching to get into the garden. But gardening can often take its toll on our backs. Too much forward bending can be hard on discs. Here are some tips to help you do what you love without stressing your back.

First of all do your daily core strengthening exercises to support the spine and help it withstand stress. Here are two basic ones:

Bridging: lying on back, bring knees up, feet flat on floor.  Press hips up in the air so that your body is a straight line from knees to shoulders-flat back.   Hold as long as comfortable (build up to  2 minutes) then lower. Or alternately, press up for the count of 5 and lower for 10 reps.

Bracing:lying on your back, press your lower back into the floor and lift your legs up so that your hips and your knees are at right angle (like sitting on a chair).  Hold this position, continuing to press low back into the floor-build up to 2 minutes. Alternately, with feet flat on the floor, press lower back towards the floor and hold for a count of 5 for 10 reps.

Include some back extension exercises after a day of gardening:  for example-the sphinx-lying on your stomach,  raise up onto your elbows with forearms flat on the floor. Or the cobra-pushing up higher on your hands, arching your back.


  • Try to do activities such as raking from both sides.
  • When weeding, use non-dominant hand also to balance back rotation.
  • When raking leaves out of garden beds in the spring, try picking up a bunch of leaves between your rake and another tool (like a child sized rake) and putting them in a large trug tub to carry to the compost.  You will avoid bending over as much. Or just rake the leaves onto a tarp.
  • Balance forward bending in the garden with standing up and arching your back: hands on hips, press the hips forward and lean backwards.
  • Vary activities, so that your body is not just working in one position for a long time.
  • Use long handled tools in the garden to minimize bending over.
  • Look for a “Dutch Hoe” or Diamond Hoe with small, sharp diamond shaped head for close weeding while standing. You can also use long handled cultivators from a standing position.
  • Another helpful tool is a long reach clipper, such as the Corona Long Reach Pruner
  • Try sitting on a low stool while weeding, if you can’t squat or kneel comfortably. There are padded kneelers with handles to help you stand up, that can be turned over for use as a seat.
  • Some people enjoy raised bed gardening to avoid back pain.
  • Remember when lifting heavier items, use your legs, not your back; hold the item close to your body and tighten your stomach muscles while lifting; pivot from your feet if turning, rather than twisting your knees or back. Plan ahead and get help lifting those heavy fertilizer bags rather than hurting yourself.
  • If you are a tall person with a walk-behind lawn mower, consider extensions for your mower’s handles, so your back can be straight while mowing.
  • Take breaks and lie on your back on the grass and do some cloud watching.
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