Gardening as a Workout?

Photography by  Tracy Sheppard
Photography by Tracy Sheppard

Anyone who knows me, knows how much I adore spending time in nature.

That includes spending time in my garden sanctuary. It provides hours of pure and simple enjoyment. Work? Yes, but a good kind of work. A satisfaction ensues, much like the afterglow of a good Strength Training Session, that surfaces after you’ve achieved your personal best. A ‘rolled up my shirt sleeves, and got it done’ kind of feeling.

This describes my morning. Oh, what a glorious morning. Low temps, fluffy clouds in an azure sky! Birds singing, what I believe to be the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ (at least that is my interpretation of their morning chatter).

And so, as often happens when I’m enjoying a ‘nature moment’, I start reflecting in terms of nature and her parallels in life. Those allegories that, if you really look closely, can be gleaned from the great outdoors. Nature provides an abundance of life lessons if we pay attention.

One thought that I enjoyed was how gardening is a satisfying workout! Exercise doesn’t always have to take place inside the four walls of a Gym. It can (and should) take on forms of movement that are not only effective and produce positive end results, but also provide enjoyment.

My week includes Strength Training (Weights, Resistance Bands, Body Weight movements) a minimum of three times a week on alternating days. On opposing days, I include some form of Cardiovascular Exercise (Power walking, Hiking, Plyometrics, Tabata, High Intensity Interval Training). One day of Rest and Recovery or Active Recovery finishes the week.

On days like today, I will include Walking and Gardening. Gardening as a workout? Yes. Here is why:

Gardening provides not only endurance, but flexibility and strength. It can burn up to 300 calories and hour. It also can work most major muscle groups.

-Mowing, raking, lifting and digging are excellent all-round exercises. But some gardening tasks are great for tackling particular “problem” parts of the body:

-Gluteals/bottoms: Weeding while squatting.

-Abdominals/ stomach and torso: Weeding on hands and knees, hoeing, trimming, picking, turning compost and starting a mower.

-Thighs: Pushing a wheelbarrow, weeding while squatting.

-Back: Weeding on hands and knees, hoeing, carrying water cans, picking, and starting a lawnmower.

-Arms and shoulders: Weeding on hands and knees, hoeing, pushing a wheelbarrow, pruning and turning compost.-


As with any type of exercise: Warm up prior to movement is a must.
Here are a few ideas:

-Do some body balancing exercises to target deep muscles that support the spine before gardening.

-Regularly change jobs; try to limit the time spent on any one activity to 20 minutes.

-Lift correctly (back in neutral, bending knees) and use your legs and abdominal muscles.

-To prevent tennis elbow don’t grip your tools too hard, but use tools with the correct grip size and keep your wrist in a neutral position, which is with the hand straight out.

-Keep hydrated, as dehydration can lead to increased muscle stiffness after exercise – don’t wait until you are thirsty before having a drink and keep fluids with you.

-Try to use both sides of the body when working in the garden, for example when digging, change the digging foot routinely.

-Do some post-gardening stretches and keep stretching regularly.

-Don’t forget the sunscreen and a hat.

I am a proponent of feeding the mind, body,and spirit. If you can enjoy an activity that provides all three; it’s a winner in my book. Gardening provides the body with enjoyable movement. It helps ‘clear the mind’ just soaking in the beauty of nature. It soothes the spirit by removing yourself from cell phones, electronics, social media, every day stresses,and anything else that robs the spirit of peace and balance. It provides solitude so that you can learn the art of ‘listening’.

Oh, and if you’re lucky….it produces some tasty and organic produce or lovely flowers!


Photography by Tracy Sheppard
Photography by Tracy Sheppard

Happy Gardening!

Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Master Gardener

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