A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Proper form for fall yardwork: Dance with your rake

Mom raking leaves, while sons playing in background.

Raking is like dancing, and the rake is your dance partner. Keep the rake close and step forward to reach the leaves.

Raking leaves can be a great workout. Thirty minutes worth can burn about 150 calories. But if not done correctly, fall leaf clean-up can leave you with an aching back, shoulders and wrists.

What can you do to reduce risk of injury? Start with a good warm-up and then dance – with your rake. Yes, dance with your rake.

Warm-up your heart and muscles

“Like a cold engine, your body needs to warm up before doing vigorous activity, including yardwork,” said Dave Smith, a Marshfield Clinic physical therapist. “Before you start to rake, take a quick 5-minute walk or jog to help get your blood moving and muscles warm.”

Stretching, too, can help prepare your body for the movements involved in raking.

Smith recommends trying five repetitions of these stretches and holding each for 2-3 seconds:

  • Pull your shoulder blades back.
  • Cross your arms in front of your chest.
  • Raise an arm and bend to the opposite side from the hips. Alternate between left and right side.
  • Rotate your torso left and hold, then right.

Instead of reaching – step

“When you rake, avoid pulling with your back,” Smith said. “This means if you’re reaching out further than your arms and bending forward to rake, you need to step forward and keep the rake close. Raking is like dancing, and the rake is your dance partner.”

Imagine a box of space that goes from shoulder-to-shoulder and extends out to arm’s length. When you rake, keep your hands within this imaginary box, said Smith.

“If while holding the rake, your hands move outside of this imaginary box, then you need to step forward with the rake and not just reach with it,” Smith said. “Keep your rake handle close just like you would a dance partner and step with the rake. This shifts the muscle exertion from your back and shoulders to your legs and knees.

Raking is a motion comprised of weight-shifts and steps.

“Your lead foot should step with the rake,” he said. “You can apply these body mechanics to other lawn and garden activities, like hoeing.”

More tips for safe raking

  • Switch from right to left hand every couple of minutes.
  • Rake when leaves are dry.
  • Rake leaves onto a tarp and then drag them to a disposal site.

If the leaves are falling, snow can’t be far behind. Get ready for what’s to come and practice safe snow shoveling.

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