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 What Not To Do In Your Yard And Garden  
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Keeping Fit by . View all columns in series
Dr. Westcott Every year about this time, well-intentioned men and women commit themselves to sprucing up the yard and preparing the garden. Like me, you want your lawn to appear plush, your shrubs to look sharp, and your flower beds to be striking in appearance. You are determined to do it right, and to do it all by yourself. The amount of time it takes is irrelevant and you will spare no effort in achieving your landscaping goals for the year.

Actually you've tried this before, but every spring you seem to experience an injury that thwarts your progress and prevents you from receiving the Yard of the Year award. But this spring is going to be different. You have spent the past two months conditioning your cardiovascular system, strengthening your muscles, and improving your joint flexibility. You're in really good shape, and you're determined not to break down this time around.

While your attitude is great and your physical preparation most admirable, these factors may not be sufficient to avoid an injury. Putting yourself in poor leverage situations or using improper biomechanics can quickly undermine your conditioning efforts, and leave you sidelined as your grass grows out of control.

To prevent this from happening to you again this year, I have identified a half dozen yard and garden procedures that you should avoid at all costs for a safe and successful spring season. Please consider these recommendations carefully.

1. Do not bend forward at the waist when pushing your power lawnmower. While a slight forward lean may be acceptable, bending too far forward can place excessive stress on the low back. Try to walk with a relatively erect posture, with your arms at a comfortable level when pushing the mower. Be particularly careful turning the mower around, by staying close to the handle and avoiding abrupt trunk twisting movements.

2. Do not attempt to overpower your rototiller. Of course, there are rototillers and there are rototillers. Nonetheless, even the smooth-moving rear rototillers resent being pushed around. Set the depth adjuster to the appropriate level and just let the rototiller do its job, without forcing it deeper or faster than it wants to go. Basically, properly performed rototilling is like taking a slow walk while holding two handles. It is far better for you and your garden to till the soil twice under control than to strain both you and your rototiller trying to bite off more dirt than it can chew up.

3. Do not hold hedge-trimmers far from your body. Leverage plays a major role in how much stress an object places on your musculoskeletal system. For example, with your arm at your side, hold a broom or mop in the middle of the handle. It should feel very light. Now try to hold the same broom or mop at the end of the handle. It will feel much heavier due to the leverage disadvantage. Of course, the object's weight is exactly the same, but the unfavorable leverage position places much greater stress on your muscles. Basically, the same thing happens when you hold the hedge trimmer away from your body. As far as your arms, shoulders, and back are concerned, the hedge trimmer is much harder to hold in forward positions and can easily overstress these muscles, as well as their associated joint structures. Try to keep the trimmer close to your body, at approximately waist level, even if this requires using a stepladder on higher hedges and bushes.

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 About The Author
Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. He is strength training consultant for numerous national organizations, such as the American Council on Exercise, the......moreWayne Westcott PhD
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