Gardening: The Unconventional Summer Workout Stretching Your Muscles In New Ways

Summer workouts may tend to look more like long hikes, swimming in cool lakes, pickleball with friends, or bike rides through town, but one of your favorite outdoor hobbies might be overlooked when it comes to unconventional warm-weather workouts: gardening. If you have a green thumb — or even if you don't — following a few steps to engage your body in new ways when doing yard work or planting veggies could greatly benefit your physical health.

Gardening also has added benefits to our mental health and emotional well-being, providing a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment and lowering stress levels (via LA Times). Spending some time around blue and green spaces in the sunlight seems to do the trick when it comes to a mood boost and when you're stretching your muscles in new ways while tending to your garden, it's truly a win-win. You may already be embracing gardening as a mindfulness exercise, but here's how the unconventional summer workout can benefit you this summer — body, mind, and soul.

Warm up with stretching

Just as you would before a jog, begin your gardening session with some stretching. This may not be part of your typical yard work routine, but you will be moving your body and doing so in a more intentional manner, so loosening the muscles and stretching is key to staying limber and avoiding injury. When you garden with a workout in mind, you'll be using muscles beyond just your forearms and biceps. So, it's certainly important to stretch your arms, but be sure to stretch your legs and neck also.

And as long as you're warming up prior to your gardening session, be sure to do some cool-down exercises too. Massage your muscles if they're feeling tense afterwards and even a quick walk around the block to ease out any arising soreness is a wise move. About ten minutes of stretching beforehand and ten minutes of winding down once you're wrapped up in the yard should do the trick.

Pay attention to your form

Form is a large part of what takes gardening from a hobby — or even a chore — to an unconventional summer workout. Bending at the knees rather than the waist is the top rule on form to keep in mind. You'll be moving your body in unusual ways to get the job done when it comes to the actual production of your garden, as well as getting a workout in, so be sure to mind your posture.

Spending extended periods of time bent over in the garden is one of the main culprits when it comes to injuries from yard work, so if you can use a long-handled tool rather than a short one, opt to do so. Wearing proper shoes will also go a long way regarding your form and posture while gardening, as will focusing on your core and alignment. The way you reach, bend, twist, spin — be mindful through it all.

Make it a routine, just like the gym

In order for gardening to meet the criteria for an unconventional summer workout, it needs to be a consistent activity. Maybe you head out into the dirt Monday and Wednesday for a set amount of time, knowing you'll hit the key areas you'd like to address across those two windows. While remembering to be mindful of your form, warm up, and cool down afterward, this hobby will begin to feel a lot like a wellness routine.

While planting, raking, and digging will undoubtedly strengthen your muscles, you likely won't get a ton of cardio from your time in the garden — unless you use an old-fashioned push mower. But, that still may not cut it, depending on your fitness goals. You could break up your gardening hours and add in some jumping jacks or even a quick jog or walk around your neighborhood. You are in charge of the flow of your workout, so use the flexibility to do what you need to do in order to feel satisfied.

Garden with the family

Perhaps you already engage in a few family-centered wellness activities like bike rides or hiking, but teaching the little ones how to take care of a vegetable garden while also focusing on physical movement can boost the overall wellness and healthy vibe in the home. As they say, children do as we do, not as we say. So, while you get your unconventional summer workout in for the day, take advantage of the opportunity to show your kids what something as simple as planting some tomatoes or sunflowers can do for your health — both physically and mentally.

You may not make as much progress as you would in the garden solo, but the lessons passed on will be well worth it, and you'll all be able to reap the rewards of fresh vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Spending time together outdoors while stretching your muscles in new ways could be the perfect avenue to summer health and wellness.

Use manual tools

While there are plenty of modern conveniences to make tending to a garden infinitely easier, you may want to go old school to get the best workout. A push mower will give you a great arm workout, plus some cardio. Pulling weeds, trimming bushes, chopping wood, raking leaves, digging, and planting all require your manual labor and can give you decent exercise.

If you're finding that you primarily use one side of your body more than the other to accomplish these tasks, you'll need to intentionally switch it up, even if it feels a bit awkward at first to use your non-dominant hand. This will ensure that you get an even workout, just like you would at the gym or in a yoga class. 

Treating gardening as a workout will require more intention when it comes to form, posture, alignment, and balance. The twisting, bending, and turning you often do to get your garden to its prime are all part of what will stretch, tone, and strengthen the body.

It's free, fun, and productive

If you aren't sold yet on gardening as an unconventional summer workout, take a moment to pause and consider the perks: it's cost-effective, produces fresh veggies and herbs, and most people tend to enjoy the hobby. We aren't necessarily suggesting you cancel your gym membership or quit attending pilates class, but if working out is something you don't look forward to, integrating some intentional movement into the hobbies you already spend time doing can be a wise move.

If you're motivated by quick results — which don't typically emerge for a while when it comes to exercise — then perhaps the beauty and bounty of the garden will be motivation enough to keep up with the work. And if you've ever pushed a lawn mower or spent time weeding a flower bed, then you know that the sore muscles are proof enough that gardening is a super valid form of exercise.