Cross training comes in various forms and has many health benefits

I have never been much of a gardener. To be honest, I have never seen the appeal.

But until recently, when I spent five hours on the end of a mattock as we overhauled our backyard, I never really appreciated the physical and mental benefits garden work provided.

I was less than 10 minutes into my slog when I realised this could be exactly the cross training I needed as I prepared for some upcoming long runs I have signed up for in an attempt to be Fit at 40 this year.

Cross training is basically challenging your body and firing up muscles that may not be specifically targeted when you run, for example.

This could be cycling, swimming, hitting the gym for a fitness class and there are many benefits, including adding a new challenge to training, breaking up the monotony of the same training sessions if you are starting to feel a bit stale, as well as improving muscle balance and possible injury prevention.

So, as I wielded the mattock and repeatedly sunk it deep into the soil, I could feel various parts of my body getting a good workout.

It did not take long before I could feel my whole core working hard. First it was my abdomen, back and hips. Then my hamstrings started to burn and the muscles of my shoulders were firing.

Then when I picked up the shears for some hand hedging, my whole arms felt the impact.

I felt invigorated as well as a touch worried about the severe case of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, also sometimes referred to as second-day soreness which generally has you walking pretty gingerly) I knew I was destined for.

It wasn’t just the muscular benefit I knew I was getting, I also felt a strong sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, and an improved mindset. 

There was something good about being outside in the fresh air while also achieving a household task that the whole family can essentially take part in.

INCIDENTAL EXERCISE: Mowing the lawn can achieve much more than keeping your lawn in order. It gets the heart rate up and uses plenty of muscles. Picture: Andy Zakeli

INCIDENTAL EXERCISE: Mowing the lawn can achieve much more than keeping your lawn in order. It gets the heart rate up and uses plenty of muscles. Picture: Andy Zakeli

It can be of benefit to all ages. The kids were helping lift things out of the way and moving clippings around the yard to various piles.

MANUAL WORK: Staying active does not have to mean running kilometres on end or lifting heavy weights at the gym.

MANUAL WORK: Staying active does not have to mean running kilometres on end or lifting heavy weights at the gym.

I found a great article at www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/, on the health benefits of having an “edible garden”.

It said, “Research shows that gardening is a healthy activity” and went on to list many benefits, including: “Enjoyment – from the physical activity; exercise – physical activity improves your endurance, strength, mobility and flexibility” and “relaxation – helps you relax and reduce stress levels”.

It also suggested things like having a warm-up before you start so you don’t hurt yourself. Treat it like a fitness session and ensure your muscles are warm and ready to work.

Drinking plenty of water and bending at the knees when lifting were also good tips. Gardening can involve a lot of bending over and, if not done properly, can cause strain on different parts of your body.

Not everyone likes running, or is able to run, but there are other ways to be active that are good for your mind and body.

Getting the right posture

I have enlisted the help of Wickham physiotherapist Felicity Dan, of The Physio&Pilates Co (www.thephysioandpilatesco.com), for some exercise tips for runners ahead of the Winery Running Festival on July 16. 

Her first tip is “Finding your running posture”:

Stand with your feet directly under your hips with your weight evenly distributed. Push your feet into the ground and spread the ground apart. Hold for three seconds, then relax. Keep your hips level, draw your shoulder blades down and back and lengthen through the back of your neck. This is good for abdomen, hip and knee muscles and for improving power and efficiency in your run.

Upcoming fitness events

Run With a Story, May 7, Fernleigh Track: Raising money for community members in need of assistance. 5km, 10km, 15km, 30km, 45km or 60km. Find out more at planetfitness.com.au/run-with-a-story/.

Memory Walk & Jog, May 21, Tulkaba Park in Teralba: Raising funds and awareness for dementia and offering 6.5km or 3km options. www.memorywalk.com.au/.

Raffertys Coastal Run, July 8, Lake Macquarie:  An 11km, 22km or 35km trail run along the stunning coastline of historic Catherine Hill Bay and the Munmorah State Conservation Area. raffertyscoastalrun.com.au.

Renee Valentine is a writer, qualified personal trainer and mother of thre. r.valentine@fairfaxmedia.com.au.