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Functional Training for Gardeners

Try these functional moves that keep gardeners in the dirt without the hurt.

woman watering vegetable garden using functional training

Gardening is an endurance activity whose compulsory moves are best primed through a good functional training program. With shelter-in-place orders the rule in 2020, homeowners planted gardens in record numbers, according to research from Axiom Marketing. A follow up survey by the Minneapolis-based group indicates that 86% of homeowners are continuing the trend in 2021. With so many newbies plunging their hands into the dirt, the time may be right for you to market special programming for the gardening enthusiasts in your community.

See also: Functional Fitness Training: Is it Right for You?

Functional Training Follows Form

Serious gardeners can easily spend all day in their flower and vegetable beds doing an array of physical tasks. These include bending, squatting, lunging and stretching to pull weeds; raking debris; shoveling and tilling soil; transferring loads of all sizes, shapes and weights; pulling, pushing and lifting flats, wheelbarrows and trash cans. Amid all the fresh air and sunshine, a day in the yard can be a demanding full-body workout that opens your gardening clients to injury and delayed onset muscle soreness.

See also: Functional Exercise Progression

George-Anthony Dulal-Whiteway, founder and owner of Brainstorm Fitness in San Diego, and Patrick Kissell, a coach and trainer at Brainstorm, developed this Gardener’s Functional Training Program to help prepare your clients’ bodies to move and maximize their gardening performance.

“Design your workout around your life, not the other way around,” says Brainstorm’s head coach Dulal-Whiteway. The NASM-certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist reminds us to think outside of the gym for programming that is personalized to each client’s lifestyle.

“More often than not, we tend to focus on setting goals in the gym that have little or no carryover to our lives outside of the gym,” he says. “If last year taught us anything, it was the importance of self-reliance and sustainability. Enter gardening, which asks us to learn not only the ins and outs of growing and caring for plants, but for our bodies as well! The carryovers that we should be seeking include, but aren’t limited to, mobility (owning your range), agility, grip and hand strength, as they all translate into getting those fresh turnips out of the ground—or cleaning up that flowerbed.”

Colleague and co-creator of this workout, Brainstorm coach Kissell agrees that full body, functional strength is essential for gardening and daily life. “Lifting heavy bags of soil, pushing wheel barrows full of rocks and sloshing watering cans around all put the body into awkward, abnormal positions,” he observes.

“Whether it’s lower body strength for pushing load around the garden, upper body strength for carrying buckets and raking, or rotational strength and mobility for moving flats of plants and heavy bags in and out of the car, we need functional strength and mobility to do this with little to no risk of injury. “We tend to “muscle” objects around in order to achieve the task at hand,” says Kissel, who also owns Prime to Perform Fitness in San Diego. Practicing functional strength moves specific to tasks we do in the garden will pave the way to smoother, more efficient and enjoyable time tiptoeing among the tulips and turnips.

Functional Training Program for Gardeners

Here are several functional exercises and drills to try with your gardening clients. After a solid dynamic warmup, run through this series 2-3 times for 10 reps each (or whatever makes sense for your client’s fitness level and goals).

Wheelbarrow Lift and March on SandDune

Wheelbarrow Lift, Split Stance

Lift and Shift High to Low

Lift and Shift, Low to Low

Loaded Lift and Thrust

Loaded Bag Drag

Loaded Raking Drill

Lunge Weeding Drill

ViPR Shovel Drill

Isometric Weed Pull


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Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster is the editor in chief of IDEA’s award-winning publications. She is Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified and is a Rouxbe Certified Plant-Based Professional cook.

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