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367-How to Maintain Your Ultimate Gardening Tool, Your Body, with Movement Expert Katy Bowman

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Of all the tools you use in the garden, your body is the most important, and maintaining it is pivotal. To explain how gardeners can make small changes in their gardening routines to protect and strengthen their bodies, movement expert Katy Bowman joins me on the podcast this week.

Katy Bowman is a biomechanist by training and a problem-solver at heart. She teaches how to align the body properly, use it effectively and address the stresses that repetitive use can cause. She hosts the “Move Your DNA” podcast and blogs at NutritiousMovement.com. She is also the author of eight books, including the best-selling “Move Your DNA” and “Movement Matters,” a collection of essays in which she continues her groundbreaking investigation of the mechanics of our sedentary culture and the profound potential of human movement. Her latest book, “My Perfect Movement Plan,” comes out July 30.

 

Katy Bowman

Katy Bowman is a movement expert and author who hosts the “Move Your DNA” podcast. (Photo Credit: Mahina Hawley Photography)

 

Katy says that no matter what tools we use to grow things, we have to remember to think about the body operating the tool as part of the larger machinery — and care for its parts too. No matter where we are in our gardening experience or age-wise, how we use our bodies in the garden is a big deal. “As we age, we become more aware of that,” she says.

What Is Biomechanics?

“‘Bio’ is living system. ‘Mechanics’ are the physical forces of the universe,” Katy explains. Biomechanists explains how physical forces — created through gravity, pressure, the way we move and the way we position our body — affect our living tissue.

While engineering looks at the way metals, woods and other objects that can’t regenerate themselves wear down under certain loads, biomechanics is a little different because human tissue can respond to loads, Katy says. “It can respond by becoming denser. It can respond by becoming greater in mass. It can respond through inflammation. It can respond by reducing in mass. So we are living and responding. We’re like a garden in of ourselves. And so, I have spent a lot of time helping people recognize how to optimize their movement diet.”

Thinking about how you position your body when you do a task is practicing ergonomics. It’s about being in the best position to do a task efficiently both in the moment and sustainably, Katy says, so the movement can be repeated again and again as years go by.

“That’s one level of mechanics. Another level is to look at the movements that your body does all day long, all lifelong, and how to better support the individual tasks that you want to do with your body physically by considering your physicality all the time,” she continues. 

While we may consider a moment how we will lift a heavy sack — Do I lift with my knees or my back? What’s the best foot position? — we tend not to give as much thought to how we sit when we’re watching Netflix at the end of the day. Katy says.

 “The more you learn how to pay attention to form and your movement choices all the time — not just when you are thinking you’re doing something physical — the easier doing those more-physical bouts will be on your body.” 

Katy encourages seeing the body as a living machine that has patches of weeds and a lack of watering, and other patches that are well fertilized, well weeded and well watered. Some areas of the body will flourish while others could use more attention. 

When we get into a habit of performing a task a certain way, rarely do we pause to consider whether it’s the best way to use our bodies. We tend only to give it thought once we’ve been made aware that there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Or maybe we’re coping with an injury, and coming up with a new approach becomes unavoidable.

Katy says coming up with a new way of moving becomes front of mind when dealing with an injury or a slowdown in physical ability. “If you’ve been fortunate enough to never have to deal with that, that’s great, and we usually can get by with what we get by with until we can’t any longer,” she says.

She recommends considering how we move whether rehabbing or “pre-habbing” your body in the garden, so those tools will be in your toolbox whenever you might need them eventually. 

We may become injured from repetitive use or by something that comes on suddenly. Bouts of stress can also set us up for injury, Katy warns.

Stress can manifest itself in our muscles tightening, and we may not be as flexible in the garden as we are used to.

“The way our body physically feels is a relationship between how we use it physically, but also what’s going on with us,” Katy says.

 

My Perfect Movement Plan by Katy Bowman

Katy Bowman’s next book, “My Perfect Movement Plan,” will be released in July.

 

 Getting Back in Gear for the Growing Season

Jumping off from the more sedentary season of winter to the growing season is when a lot of injuries can happen or, at least, our bodies will more readily become sore.

“You’ve gone from a period of time of not doing much to high levels of activity,” Katy says. You’re not just one body. You’re a body that’s adapting to what you’re doing, and that changes seasonally.

Think About the Shapes a Task Requires

Gardeners tend to think of the task that we’re doing and not the shapes that that task requires, Katy says.

“The more you can think about the tasks you do in terms of the body shapes that they use, the easier it is for you to diversify throughout your body and make sure you’re distributing the movement well throughout the body.”

Think of the difference between planting seeds in rows or in one pile. Better distribution will yield better results. 

“Movement is food, fertilizer, nourishment for the body,” Katy says. When we repeat the same movement for hours on end, other parts of our body are not being nourished. For example, if you weeded all day by crouching down, your body will give you signals that continuing to get into that weeding position is not welcome. Mix things up by switching back and forth between weeding and some standing activities or walking. 

“We’re trying to diversify to make sure there’s not one section in our body that’s getting all of the nutrients,” Katy says. “… The thing about nutrients — and I know gardeners will know this — there is a right amount for every nutrient. You can’t just take something that’s good and then dump it on because then it becomes toxic.”

The same is true of movement, she explains. “If you dump too much of a good thing onto one area of the body, it becomes toxic. It no longer is the thing that it needs.”

As I often say when talking about applying nutrients to the soil, too much of a good thing is not necessarily a good thing.

 

Joe Lamp'l turning compost

Are you repeating the same task, in the same shape, for a prolonged period? You can mix up your tasks, or do the same task in a different shape, to use different muscles.

 

Cross Training in and out of the Garden

Alternating the tasks we perform in the garden will help us better distribute which parts of our bodies get used and how often.

I am guilty of setting about a task and sticking with it until it’s done. Like weeding. When I go to my garden to weed, I work on it continuously for an hour and a half or even two hours at a time. I also tend to reach in to get to weeds, stretching as far as I can, rather than using other parts of my body. I do this for the sake of efficiency, but in the long-term, this can be detrimental.

“It’s just a lot easier to hurt yourself,” Katy says.

She advises breaking up weeding into 20- or 30-minute sessions per day most days. “On that day when you go in for two hours, make sure that your weeding shape is not a single shape,” she says.

Do some weeding crouching, some standing and flexing at the hips, and some on your knees.

“Think about breaking up the shapes of a task,” Katy says. “You don’t always have to break up the task, but you need to break up the shape. The shape is the biggest thing.”

Mix up shapes outside of gardening too. Katy says that people with a very physical job or hobby have the mindset that they don’t need to get any more body work in the rest of the day. However, a lot of those shapes tend to be repetitive. Break up repetition by taking a short walk before or after gardening, or during a midday break. Getting some extra movement in during the day doesn’t need to be intense movement like digging, lifting heavy things and carrying things. A light movement, like swimming, also helps distribute movement.

“Don’t use your bout in a garden as a justification for sitting down the rest of the day, but be mindful of your physical needs,” Katy says. “You might not need to bend over any more times that day. Maybe the moving that you need should look completely different than what you did in the garden.”

Symmetry is another important consideration. Always throw a bag of soil on the same shoulder? Your body won’t have the same level of strength on both sides of the body.

Always using your strong side will get the job done a few minutes faster — but switching it up will help you make progress in strengthening your weaker side

“You have a big team of movement parts that you’re not using,” Katy says. “You’re using the same MVPs over and over again, and they need to retire or they need to take a vacation or something.”

She advises stopping to ask, how do I invite more of myself to do these movements to better distribute the movement throughout my body?”

As you plan your garden, think about your crops in terms of the physical movement it takes to plant, care for and harvest them. By varying your crops you can distribute your movements. Instead of crouching or kneeling all the time, choose some crops that grow tall and require standing and reaching movement and using your shoulders.

Tools Require Care

Your body is a tool, and tools require care. Taking some time to stretch before or after gardening is one way we care for our most important tool and keep it sharp and precise.

“Stretching out some of your parts is how you oil them and wipe them off and get the dusty bits that turn into rust that make it so they don’t open as smoothly,” Katy says.

 

Katy Bowman

Stretching out before and after gardening will help protect your body from injury. (Photo Credit: Mahina Hawley)

 

Mix Up Your Grip

We tend to hold a tool a certain way, always, but that risks a repetitive use injury.

“Humans are really good at getting a task done in whatever way works for our personal state of our body,” Katy says. “That’s what makes us such great generalists as a species. But what happens is we forget that we have a choice with how we use our body.”

Using a pruner, for example, with the same grip every time will strengthen the muscles in your hand that you are used to gripping with, but it will neglect your other muscles. Changing grip will distribute the workout, and it will help you go on when you are feeling overworked.

Protect the Body so You Can Garden into the Future

We tend to do things in certain ways to be the most efficient, but if we hurt ourselves and can’t work as hard as we once did, that’s the ultimate inefficiency. “You being able to show up again and again and again is part of the plan of your garden,” Katy says. 

Our gardening plans fall apart if we can’t get out and do the work any longer. You are not a replaceable tool, so taking care of your body is nonnegotiable.

“A lot of people leave farming and gardening because it’s too hard on their body,” Katy says. Gardening is beneficial for our physical well-being, the well-being of our communities and the well-being of other species, and it would be a shame to quit because it’s become too physically taxing.  

Invite Your Friends

Katy says gardening feels less like a chore than other tasks because it’s meaningful and provides joy, connection and mental rest. But toward the end of the growing season, it can start to teeter more toward the chore category.  

When you have a big garden task to get done, many hands will make light work. Throw the word “party” at the end of any task, and you’ll find friends who are willing to help: a weeding party, a harvest party, etc.

“I live in an agricultural community, and a way a lot of these smaller farms and and bigger community gardens have been able to make it is by inviting people who don’t have the opportunity to garden or much knowledge about it, but want some knowledge about it.”

Put out some food, turn on some music, and let the kids play together. Katy says it’s a way to be social and convert more people into the hobby.

A few years ago I had a buddy come over to help me weed, and we had such a good time and great camaraderie that my wife had to come out at 8 p.m. and remind me we had dinner plans. It was such a wonderful time having friends there to help and commune. 

If you haven’t listened to my conversation with Katy Bowman on movement in the garden, you can do so now by clicking the Play button on the green bar near the top of this post.

How have you changed your gardening habits to strengthen and protect your body? Let us know in the comments below. 

Links & Resources

Some product links in this guide are affiliate links. See full disclosure below.

Episode 109: Garden Safety: When Shortcuts Have Consequences

joegardener Online Gardening Academy™: Popular courses on gardening fundamentals; managing pests, diseases & weeds; seed starting and more.

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Organic Vegetable Gardening: My new premium online course. The course is designed to be a comprehensive guide to starting, growing, nurturing and harvesting your favorite vegetables, no matter what you love to eat, no matter where you live, no matter your level of gardening experience.

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Seed Starting: Everything you need to know to start your own plants from seed — indoors and out. 

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Beginning Gardener Fundamentals: Essential principles to know to create a thriving garden.

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Growing Epic Tomatoes: Learn how to grow epic tomatoes with Joe Lamp’l and Craig LeHoullier. 

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Pests, Diseases & Weeds: Learn the proactive steps to take to manage pests, diseases and weeds for a more successful garden with a lot less frustration. Just $47 for lifetime access!

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Perfect Soil Recipe Master Class: Learn how to create the perfect soil environment for thriving plants.

Earthbound Expeditions: Discover South Africa with Joe Lamp’l

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joegardenerTV YouTube

Growing a Greener World®  

GGWTV YouTube

NutritiousMovement.com  

Nutritious Movement Newsletter sign-up

“Move Your DNA” podcast

Nutritious Movement on Facebook 

Katy Bowman on Instagram: @nutritiousmovement

Grow Wild: The Whole-Child, Whole-Family, Nature-Rich Guide To Moving More” by Katy Bowman

 “Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement” by Katy Bowman

Movement Matters: Essays on Movement Science, Movement Ecology, and the Nature of Movement by Katy Bowman

My Perfect Movement Plan: The Move Your DNA All Day Workbookby Katy Bowman

Cross-Training in the Garden: A Lesson From Alignment to Zucchini” by Katy Bowman | Experience Life

Proven Winners ColorChoice – Our podcast episode sponsor and Brand Partner of joegardener.com 

Earth’s Ally – Our podcast episode sponsor and Brand Partner of joegardener.com 

Dramm – Our podcast episode sponsor and Brand Partner of joegardener.com

Greenhouse Megastore – Our podcast episode sponsor and Brand Partner of joegardener.com – Enter code JG10 for 10% off your first order

Disclosure: Some product links in this guide are affiliate links, which means we get a commission if you purchase. However, none of the prices of these resources have been increased to compensate us, and compensation is not an influencing factor on their inclusion here. The selection of all items featured in this post and podcast was based solely on merit and in no way influenced by any affiliate or financial incentive, or contractual relationship. At the time of this writing, Joe Lamp’l has professional relationships with the following companies who may have products included in this post and podcast: Corona Tools, Milorganite, Soil3, Greenhouse Megastore, Territorial Seed Company, Earth’s Ally, Proven Winners ColorChoice and Dramm. These companies are either Brand Partners of joegardener.com and/or advertise on our website. However, we receive no additional compensation from the sales or promotion of their product through this guide. The inclusion of any products mentioned within this post is entirely independent and exclusive of any relationship.

About Joe Lamp'l

Joe Lamp’l is the creator and “joe” behind joe gardener®. His lifetime passion and devotion to all things horticulture has led him to a long-time career as one of the country’s most recognized and trusted personalities in organic gardening and sustainability. That is most evident in his role as host and creator of Emmy Award-winning Growing a Greener World®, a national green-living lifestyle series on PBS currently broadcasting in its tenth season. When he’s not working in his large, raised bed vegetable garden, he’s likely planting or digging something up, or spending time with his family on their organic farm just north of Atlanta, GA.

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