Safe Digs for Your Body Posture

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Digging a hole or five for spring planting? Be aware of what that means for your body.

By nature, we humans are creatures of habit. So if we dig planting holes with the right leg on the spade and the left leg in back, chances are we always dig in that configuration. Over time, this creates imbalanced muscle groups throughout the legs, pelvis, trunk and even shoulders and arms.

When we dig, it's like being in a lunge position. One foot is on the top of the spade and the other stays straight. The knee and hip joints of that front leg will spend time in a bent position. The back leg will remain extended. The pelvis supports both legs, no matter what they are doing.

In gardeners and non-gardeners alike, muscle imbalance is common throughout the body. Because of strength and flexibility differences on either side of, or between front and back of the pelvis, you may be closer to a back or hip injury than you realize.

Favoring one leg or the other when doing routine tasks often causes muscle imbalance in the pelvis. In other words, habitual digging in which you always grab the shovel with the same hand, and always stand and thrust the same way, builds strength in some muscles as others grow weak and tight. If for example, you always put your right foot on the spade, your right quadriceps muscle may be stronger than your left. And depending on how you use your shovel, you may have stronger quads than hamstrings (muscles at the backs of the legs). This can lead to reduced hip flexibility and tight back muscles, as well as other body problems.

Muscles imbalance can over time lead to a loss of support for certain joints. And then, with just one stressful movement, BAM! You get injured.

What to do?

The first thing to do is develop body awareness and core strength. We are lucky because we live in a time where there are many great holistic movement and body work practices to try. Yoga and Pilates develop core strength, balance and alignment. Feldenkrais helps you to unlearn habits and postures that tweak the joints. These are just a few mind-body techniques that can build up the type of body strength you need to sustain long hours in the garden.

Then, once you've become stronger in your trunk, pelvis and legs, think about switching sides every so often. If your left foot is usually the one on the spade, then try the digging action with your right foot and ground the left one behind you, for stabilization. A word of caution: start the side switching in small time increments. Don't demand that your weak side do the same level of work for the same amount of time as your strong side. This can result in an injury. Just try it out, and let your muscles get used to working on the other side. Little by little you can increase the intensity and the length of time you work with your weak side.

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Author: Anne Asher
Anne Asher, body worker, new gardener and health writer specializes in pain free posture at our most common and important tasks. She blogs at Your Gardening Body - You can also find her at Posturally! If you are tired of the way you feel at the computer, try Anne's new program called Clear the Blear.

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