Not so innocent looking

Coach Izzy

The injury you happily inflict to yourself

I want to tell you about one of the best hidden and innocent- looking sources of injury and pain, call it a hidden threat if you will. Funny thing is we do not even realize it and we do it because we see it as fun and fulfilling, and it happens more often around this time of the year, every year without fail.

And yes I am telling you this because it’s happening again. I would like to call “’Tis the season to be achy, fa la la la, laa la la la, laa”; Ha, ha! Corny, I know.

So what is it?

Well, we know it as gardening.

Yep; fun, innocent-looking, addictive gardening. I cannot believe the number of my clients coming to see me because they suddenly developed new aches and pains, or their old pains came back mysteriously.

Now, many of us do not realize the tremendous amount of physical effort involved in gardening.

No, we do not have to be lifting heavy boulders or digging deep trenches to feel the effects of gardening. Believe it or not, it is the same mechanism as every overuse injury, which is applying small amounts of stress over extended periods. Think about it; kneeling, squatting, and rounding you back to reach for something or pull weeds all day; twisting yourself into funny positions to access all nooks and crannies and more. They all add up at the end of a long day.

I had a client who had overcome over a decade of back pain. She was having terrific results and excited at the prospect of returning to exercise and resuming a more active lifestyle. One day she came to see me gloomy and disappointed and when I asked her what the problem was, puzzled and upset she replied “I don’t know, the pain just came back. I don’t know what I did wrong; I did not do any heavy lifting, but the pain is back”

Personally, I did not know what to think of it, but I knew I had to get to the bottom of the problem. As I started treating her, we talked about the beautiful weekend and she mentioned how excited she was about working in her garden.

That is when it hit me.

I asked how long she’d been working on her garden, and she replied she did not know exactly, but she started at the dawn of the day and wrapped up as it was getting dark.  Mind you, this is the Pacific Northwest and we know how long the days get this time of the year.

I asked her if she ate, drank water, or took breaks and her reply was “Very little of them”. Finally, I asked her when it was the last time she worked on the garden and she revealed she had not been able to do so for nearly a decade because of her back pain.


Now, I am not telling you to neglect your garden, or that gardening is bad for you. I want you to understand that gardening can be a demanding physical activity and it must be approached as such.

That means you have to be physically strong to work on your garden. Yes, you heard me right; you must be in shape to work in your garden and prevent overuse injuries. Make sure to follow a structured strength training program, your strength is your greatest asset and best mechanism of protection.

Do not forget to warm up. Seriously, it is a physical activity so get your body into ready mode. Nothing fancy nothing complicated; some joint mobility, light calisthenics, light stretches, they all should be sufficient to help your body get started.

Hydrate and hydrate frequently. Have a water bottle with you for easy access to fluids. We all know about the effects of dehydration and it seems kind of redundant to go over them again. Suffice to say a dehydrated body is an unhappy body; your tissues will be stiffer, you joints will be drier, and you will be as pliable as beef jerky. Ouch!

Make sure to have good food around you. Remember, you’re doing lots of work for long periods and you need to keep the body fueled. Avoid refined, processed food products, and stick to items that can be easily digested, provide you with nutrition, but not overwhelm your body and make you sleepy. Fruits, light soups, salads without the aberrant, trashy toppings, and quality proteins. Choose what works best for you.

Feel like having a glass of wine or beer? Nothing wrong with that but it’ll serve you best if you wait until the very end.

Speaking of the end, take good care of yourself after you are done with the chores of the day. Stretch well and take a nice warm bath. A great bath mixture I learned from Dr. Holly Christy consists of four cups of Epsom salts in a bathtub full of warm water and soak up for 30 minutes; Ahh, relief!

If you have access to a Jacuzzi or hot tub they also work very well. If you want simplicity, a nice contrast shower will do wonders for your body. Two minutes hot water followed by one minute cold water three or four times, will perk you up and make you feel better. Make sure to get plenty of sleep and if you get too stiff, try to get massage/tissue therapy to help you recover.

Enjoy working your garden, more so this time of the year. It can bring you plenty of satisfaction but it doesn’t have to bring you pain and discomfort. Acknowledge that it is a physical activity and give it the respect it deserves.

Until next time happy gardening and safe training.

I’ll see you on the exercise floor!

About The Author


Coach Izzy has been part of the Strength and Conditioning field for over 25 years. He speaks of the advantages of self-sufficiency and the drawbacks of relying on the liner approaches the health world seems fond of.