Mindful Mulching: 8 Ways to be Pain Free in the Garden


Swinging a spade is one of the oldest and noblest occupations for fitness and mobility. You could lift weights to pop music or induce pain with gym machines that do a poor job of imitating natural, functional movements… or you can get out in the fresh air with the shovel and compete with Rafael Nadal or Tiger Woods for the best core strength.

Shovels can induce back pain, but not when you are using the amoči way of functional movement

Shovels can induce back pain, but not when you are using the amoči way of functional movement

Whether you’re throwing a ball, swinging a bat or hitting a punching bag you are engaging the same muscles as shovelling mulch but all too often it’s the one activity which causes damage and pain to the lower back and shoulders.

One of my clients, a concreter didn’t have any back problems until he left the tools for a desk job. But you would think it more likely his body would be under more duress from the heavy physicals of lifting and shovelling?

His uncle taught him how to swing his tool the very first day on the job. Wouldn’t that be a good lesson to teach desk-bound workers their first day? “This is how you sit on a chair”… but I digress.

Knowing how to rotate your body and use the momentum of your pelvis will not only turn the hard work into joy but your body into a driving machine (golf that is) and stronger throughout your whole body than any number of pilates workouts could ever achieve.

So here are the secrets:

1. Without the shovel, stand evenly balanced. Step forward about half a metre into a lunge position with your left leg(if you’re right handed). Important: Front knee is not bending beyond toes.

2. Start with small movements of your whole body forward and back over your feet, arms aren’t doing much yet. This is getting your hips, knees and ankles free well before you try lifting anything as well as keeping the weight evenly balanced over the feet, not overly in the toes at the front.

3. Introduce an alternating rotation to the side each time. Forward and back and side and back and forward and back and side. Feel the rotation and letting the arms swing with you.

4. With the shovel, don’t lift with the shoulders. Keep them level and let the momentum of your body and the swing through the arms lift the weight.

5. Don’t reach down through your back, but rather tilt from the hip joints only.

6. Take small steps forward as you dig, avoid reaching beyond the even balance of your feet. Bring your whole body to the task.

7. Count to 5 shovels and stop. Come into upright and start again. Resetting regularly helps to break the old habits from taking back over.

8. Breathe through your nose. Apart from protecting lungs from dust and microbes your nose is injecting nitric oxide(gas) into your inhalation which dilates the arteries allowing for greater blood flow and therefore stamina and muscle recovery. (olympic marathon runners train at altitude with their mouths closed…cool huh?)

Discover how at my new func®Shop for Gardeners with back issues…or knees… or hey, pain in general when in the garden. Located at the EcoVillage in Currumbin Valley, this is a 3hr event for strategies on self-treatment and self-care based on a f_unctional u_nderstanding of n_atural c_oordination. More info and tickets here.

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