HALEDON, N.J. -- Fall back into shape with yard work! There is no better inexpensive and effective cross-training than good old-fashioned raking and bagging leaves. When done properly, they provide you with a great total body workout.
Grab your rake and get ready to rumble! Start by engaging the core muscles (simply stated: your abdominals, back and glutes) and by pulling with your biceps, shoulders and upper back, drive the rake towards you while stabilizing through your legs. Most of us rake to our dominant side.
However, continually switching sides from which you pull will serve two purposes. One, you will not over work one side, lessening the chance of injury. Two, you are able to awaken weaker muscles and continue to build a stronger, more balanced foundation.
Tall recyclable bags can become heavy, especially with wet leaves. Use this as a chance to get in some deep squats. With good form, lower your body, with head and chest upright, and bend at the knees to where it feels comfortable. Bear hug the bag, brace through your abdominals and lower back and drive upwards through your heels. Carefully carry your bag to its final destination and repeat the squatting motion upon arrival to make the drop. Boom! You have successfully completed two squats.
If Hefty bags are more your style, you can engage the hamstrings and potentially the obliques (the side walls of your abdominals that allow for rotational and side bending movements) with the lift and throw! Upon filling each bag, set up by bending your knees ever so slightly and slide your hips and glutes backward behind your heels. Your lower back should flatten out and at this point, you will feel a slight stretch up the back of your legs, specifically the hamstrings and calves. Reach out and grab the bag with two hands. Work in reverse, lift from your chest and fire the hips and glutes forward to lift the bag off the ground. That is the stiff- legged deadlift.
An optional finishing move is the throw. Again, engage your core stabilizers as you carry the bag to the curb or back of your truck. With bag in hands and standing with torso upright, rotate to one side around your hips. By doing so, you are loading up on the backside to generate force, power and momentum. To complete the exercise, begin to swing the bag around by rotating to the opposite hip and pivot at the foot and knee of the back leg. Throw and release the bag at your target for what is called a torso-rotation.
Raking, filling 5-10 bags, combined with squatting and/or deadlifting and you have completed an excellent total body workout! Remember, always engage your core first, and lift with your legs and not your back!