Warm up for gardening

By Tamsin Westhorpe

Suffering any aches and pains? Gardening might be good for us mentally and physically but if you do too much without warming up it can lead to injury.

Having struggled with a hamstring injury for some time I thought it sensible to investigate how to stay supple and warm up before I hit my outside green gym.

I’ve discovered Pilates expert Emma Caldwell Lewis on Instagram (@montymeandpilates) who lives just up the road from me in Herefordshire and encourages exercising in a garden setting. Emma has gardening running through her veins as she is part of the well-known Caldwell family who ran a successful nursery in Knutsford for over 200 years. She knows what muscles and movements we all rely on to garden.


After attending one of her online classes and chatting on the phone she has kindly put together some exercises perfect for gardeners. I’m new to Pilates but the benefits are clear – it increases core strength, prevents injury, improves balance and mobility and enhances flexibility (all the things a gardener needs). Whilst gardening Emma suggests that we use each side of your body and swap knees as we kneel to weed, as this will avoid overworking one side of the body. When lifting and digging she advises that gardeners keep their spine in its natural length and aim if possible, to take rest periods from gardening and alternate between heavier and lighter work and stretch after working.

Pilates for gardeners

Before starting your Pilates take a five-minute walk around the garden. Emma suggests that while doing these exercises you relax your shoulders, breathe evenly - breathe in through the nose and exhale through your mouth. The following repetitions are merely a guide and it is important you listen to your body and enjoy.

1. Standing forward fold

This is to warm up the spine and is ideal for doing before and after gardening.

Please avoid if you have osteoporosis (osteopenia).

Stand feet hip width apart, breathe in to prepare and on exhale from your head begin to nod your chin to your chest, and continue to articulate vertebrae by vertebrae through upper, mid and to lower spine. Breathe in as you are in fold and exhale as you slowly rise again to a standing position. 6-8 repetitions suggested.

2. Tiptoe squats

Rise on tiptoes (you can stand rather than tiptoe if you prefer) then step as if on an imaginary tightrope taking one step and then squat. Now reach your arms in front of you at shoulder height, pause, stand up and repeat with the behind foot to lead the movement. 8- 10 steps each side.

3. Cat/cow

Position yourself in a four point kneel. Carefully stack shoulders over wrists. Your spine should be in a neutral position and tuck in your tail. Hip bones should be directly over your knees. Breathe in and start to send your gaze to forward and slightly upwards. Allow the upper, mid and lower spine to extend into a smile shape. Breathe out and reverse this spinal motion moving to flex from the upper through middle to lower spine tucking tail end under feeling the spine curving to the sky. Keep your arms and legs stable throughout.

You might want to put a cushion under your knees. 8 - 10 repetitions.

4. Squat and scissor arms

Stand feet hip width apart, keeping spine in natural length. Ensure your pelvis and hips are level then flex at the hips and knees as if sitting on a high stool. Breathe in and on exhale squat to a safe depth ensuring no joint pain - make sure knees don’t go beyond your toes. Squat and hold. Use your arms to make a scissor and really swing from the shoulders feeling the arms scissor through the air. 8-10 repetitions suggested.

5. Seated or standing overhead stretch

Breathe in, prepare and allow arms to stretch over your head. Can you do this without tension in your neck & shoulders. An optional move is to gaze gently up to your arms feeling upper mid spine extension. Breathe out and release, float the arms down by your sides, making sure you control the arms to release. 8-10 repetitions suggested.

6. Lunge and spine twist

Excellent for the lower body - legs, glutes, hips, knees, and ankles. Exhale and lunge your right leg forward. Your front knee should be over the front foot. Keep feet slightly apart and pelvis and hips stable. Now raise your arms level with your shoulders and slowly swing them to one side and stretch. Keep your gaze on the moving arm. Breath in, sweep the arms to the front and repeat. 8- 10 repetitions each side.

7. Plié squats and lateral flexion

Great for legs, glutes and hips and will warm up the larger back muscles. Stand with your legs apart, keep the pelvis girdle still and externally rotate the thighs at hip socket so the feet turn out - keep spine in neutral focus. Keep the knees turned out and as you squat down keep your left arm bent against the body and your right arm raised over your head and then switch arms. 8-10 repetitions each side.

If you would like to learn more about Pilates, then visit https://www.caldwellpilates.co.uk/

Tamsin Westhorpe

With over 25 years’ experience in the horticultural industry, Tamsin has plenty of practical, hands on advice to share. Her career has seen her edit The English Garden magazine for six years, write scripts for TV gardening, lecture at Kingston Maurward College in Dorset and care for parks and gardens. She is now a freelance writer and curator and gardener of Stockton Bury Gardens, Herefordshire (listed by The Times in the top 20 gardens to visit July 2017). Tamsin is also an RHS Chelsea Flower Show Judge, co-Chair of The Garden Media Guild and a prolific speaker at many high profile events. She has recently written her first book ‘Diary of a Modern Country Gardener’ published by Orphans Publishing and is the voice of the popular Candide Gardening podcast ‘Fresh from the pod’.

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