Your Gardening Body: How to Rake and Sweep Without Strain or Pain

Anne Asher, a movement specialist from The MOVE! Blog,  has been kind enough to answer some common questions about how professional and/or passionate gardeners can reduce the strain that comes from repetitive gardening tasks. Here’s this month’s installment:

Dear Anne,

By November, fall leaves are piling up around perennials and shrubs. I like to rake up my leaves and shred or compost them before re-using them in the garden so they don’t cause delicate perennials to rot. Do you have any tips for all the raking and sweeping that we do this time of year?

Hi, Gen!

Have you ever done Tai Chi?  If you have, you’re acquainted with the concepts of moving your whole body from the pelvis, and also weight shifting.  These skills are what you need for body-successful raking and sweeping.

Raking and sweeping are much the same in that they require a tool with a long handle, and you are gathering the materials that are on the ground with the tool.  If you go about the work in a conscious way you can apply weight shifting and moving from the pelvis to each.

Most of us approach this type of task with power arms – that is, a continual bending and flexing at the shoulders, and especially elbows, with a little upper body reach from time to time.

But when you work this way, you have a lot of unused potential power in your pelvis. When it comes to efficient movement for repetitive tasks, the pelvis has a lot going for it: It is located in the physical center of your body, which promotes balanced action.  It’s circular, which like being in the center, helps to balance you as you work.  And, many muscles controlling posture and locomotion pass through this area, providing power and support for heavy chores.

Think of your whole body action as though the pelvis were leading, or initiating it. Try this on for size and once that’s comfortable, focus more on letting the body follow as the pelvis leads. Try it in different directions and notice yourself.  (But don’t do this if it causes pain or strain.) Then take this idea into the raking/sweeping.

The other helpful technique is to use weight shifting.  Like moving from the pelvis, weight shifting is about moving your whole body.  If you are sweeping on a forward and back trajectory, you might bend your front leg, get the stuff under your tool, and then gradually lean back onto your back leg, shifting the weight of your whole body back. Lo and behold, the tool and its contents go with you!

It’s like rocking back and forth.

It might be easier and more efficient to rake or sweep in a little semicircle.  In this case, there still is a front and back leg, but those positions are not as pronounced.  They are placed in a more side to side relationship with one another.  You would initiate the movement at your pelvis and shift weight from the “front” leg to the “back” by a rotary action at the hips. Think about drawing a circle in the air with the “back” hip to get the weight shift to happen. This will save you from twisting your spine, which has been shown to cause disc injuries.

I hope this helps.  Happy raking!

***Do you have any areas that hurt you when you garden? Let us know in the comments, and Anne can answer your questions in future articles.***

Anne Asher has been in the bodywork and holistic health field for over 20 years.  She has worked in chiropractors’ offices, physical therapy clinics and in her own business.  She taught Pilates based exercise to people with chronic musculoskeletal pain for 5 years in Humboldt County.  Anne is now the Back and Neck Pain guide on is a New York Times web property.

If you like this post, you may also enjoy:

Your Gardening Body: Digging Without Strain or Pain

Your Gardening Body: Using Loppers Safely Without Strain or Pain

How to Weed Without Strain: Effortless Gardening with Cathy Butler