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Don’t Hurt Your Low Back with Gardening this Spring!

As springtime has finally hit us the season, at least in the mid atlantic region that is. I was preparing to plant my veggie garden this weekend, when it hit me. Do people actually know what a hip hinge is? Better yet, do they actually do them outside of the gym or away from their physical therapist or personal trainers?

It is basically all the things your mom told you about, “don’t lift with your back, use your legs, do be careful dear.” At some point most of us had the ability to actually perform a hip hinge, whether it was done correctly or not, that is up for discussion at a later time.

For those of us that have never heard of it, I decided to write up a few key tips to help protect your low back this spring.

The hip hinge is simply sticking your butt back behind you. Like many of us did as kids while helping to unload the car with our hands full, only way to close the door was to bump it back with our butt. Usually this required one thing, often carrying some awkward box, bag or set of bags that forced us to create an internal pressure, stiffening or bracing in order to be able to quickly thrust our hips back without our parents seeing us slam that car door!

The ability to actually perform this basic, yet tricky, move is another great topic. Without creating that stiffness in our core and midsection to stabilize our vertebrates then the movement comes through our spine most likely, versus movement from our hips.

I like to think of an accordion when I explain this to my clients. If you take a loose soft accordion in a vertical position and try to move the top and bottom parts side to side away from each other, then you have access movement or play within each spring. If you try to fold it in half with both palms facing up, then that would be very easy and it would simply collapse on itself. This is the complete opposite of what we want during the hip hinge.

We need to be able to generate a stiffness and bracing pressure from our core so that little to no flexion (bending) or sideways shifting movements come from our spine, rather from the hips!

It’s all in the hips.

“Improving your hip hinge”


Check out these great tips from my friend Andrew, from Fitness by Andrews post. Andrew is a TPI golf certified performance coach as well as personal trainer in the Phoenix area. Be sure to head over to his site: to check out some other great tips as well as his newly launched online personal training subscription.

Why not bend from your back? What is the risk? Well, an extra load is placed on your intervertebral discs. This places you at greater risk to suffer a disc bulge, slip or even worse, a herniation. When this happens sever pain may follow as the fluid within the disc makes contact with your sciatic nerve. Additionally this also sets up for poor muscle firing patterns since the muscle tension length is overly stretched. This can cause other muscles to strain in an attempt to help us get out of a position.

Muscles like to have a certain length in order to fire when called upon. If they are too long or too short (hence the importance of stretching) they will not respond quickly enough to get us out of a position safely.  In this case it would be from a rounded back position to an upright standing tall position. See the pictures my wife took of me in action over the weekend.

In the picture on the left, I show how not to bend from your back while doing your springtime gardening or yard maintenance.  On the top right I show how to properly get into a position of safety. In this picture I had already performed the hip hinge, then I simply just bent my knees so I could reach my peppers. Lastly, the bottom right picture is a modified version of the hip hinge, only it is done in a three point stance. I am supporting myself with my right hand on the box, my left hip is in a hinge and my right leg is straight behind me allowing me to also reach my peppers.

The main reason I added another version of how to hip hinge was simply because some people cannot bend very deep in the knees. This way it is minimal knee flexion (bend) and more focused on the hip and other stabilizing hand.

Aside from the variation of stances, this brings me to the point of time under tension (TUT), that I wrote in more detail in my past post.  In case you missed it, you can read up on that one here.

“What do I do when I have low back pain?”

Staying in a new or seldomly used position can cause havoc on your low back and other joints. This is why I recommend alternating positions if possible every five to ten minutes to avoid prolonged static positioning and extra added stress on tissues, not to mention the dehydration we get while working often under the sun.

Easier said than done. I get it, we often look at yard work as, “it has to be completed” or “lett’s get as much done while we can.” We rarely look at a yard work day as sets and reps like we do in the gym or miles if we are running. But since we don’t count out how many reps we are doing in the yard, we lose track of how many times we bend over to reach for something, repeat movements or pull out weeds that were harder to pull than we expected.

BAM! Just like that we strain a group of muscles that were not ready to engage properly due to the lack of endurance with time under tension and poor body mechanics bending over at the low back.

In order to prevent this, stay tuned to my next blog as I discuss how to load this hip hinge position properly that may prevent any unnecessary pain or injury.  In the meantime please check out the awesome people behind Ultimate Sandbag, as they have broken a few ways of how to do the hip hinge or deadlift. Before you get turned away, deadlift is not a bad or scary word. Performed correctly under the right supervision and proper creation of tension it can actually save your back from further breakdown.

Until next time, remember it is all in the hips!