Chilly weather is setting in and the leaves are falling. But that doesn’t mean that you have to go down with them. I see so many people coming in this time of year with achy backs and tight muscles from a weekend spent raking up the yard. And while I love the business, I’d rather see you avoid injury in the first place. So here are a few simple tips for surviving the onslaught of falling foliage.
Yes, warm up. I know you’re not running a triathlon here, but you should at least treat your session of yard work like a run around the block. Don’t just roll off the couch right into a marathon session of raking. A brief 5 minutes is all it takes to get you loosened up and ready to work. Do some simple arm circles and neck rolls. Add in some trunk twists and a few squats to get your blood pumping. You might not be on an elliptical machine, but raking is exercise. Treat it like such.
I know, you want your yard clear and you want it clear now. But if you don’t pace yourself, it will end up taking you more time in the long run than it otherwise would have. As a general rule of thumb, take a short break every 20 minutes or so to loosen up and stretch yourself out again. Set a repeating alarm on your watch or smartphone to keep you on task. Pay particular attention to straightening or extending your back and neck, and getting your arms behind you. The goal is to get your body out of that hunched, forward reaching posture that comes with raking. Speaking of hunching…
Use a Rake That Fits You
While there might not be a huge variation in rake sizes, it’s important to choose one with the proper handle length. If it’s too short you’ll be hunched way too far forward at the waist. If it’s too long it will become unwieldy and inefficient as you find yourself choking up on the handle. You want to use one that allows you to stand as upright as possible while still producing enough power at the business end of the rake. And where does that power come from?…
Use Your Legs!
Be careful to avoid continuously bending forward at the lower back. Instead, concentrate on keeping a slight bend in your legs and leaning forward at the hips while maintaining a flat lower back. Practice doing mini shallow lunges when raking forward and back rather than reaching way out in front of you with your back. Also, do your best to avoid excessive twisting at the low back, and instead focus on pivoting with your legs. Your leg muscles are big and powerful for a reason. Use them.
Working in colder weather can be tricky when it comes to staying sufficiently hydrated. You’re moving enough to work up a good sweat, but it’s typically cool and windy enough that any perspiration you produce evaporates pretty quickly. Therefore, it’s easy to underestimate how much fluid you’re actually losing. Keep a water bottle handy. Since you’re taking breaks to stretch anyway, you might as well use this time to replenish your water as well.
Work Smarter, Not Harder
The easiest way to rake is to not rake at all, Grasshopper. If raking is particularly troublesome for you, hire a neighborhood kid to do your raking for you. Using a leaf blower is another option, although leaf blowers can present their own physical challenges as well. Of course, you could just let your leaves go, but isn’t the point of raking to have a pile of leaves to jump into?