I live on a hill. Well, to be more accurate, I live on the side of a hill. It was a dream my wife and I had for many years to have a home on a hill. We wanted to enjoy a birds’ eye perspective of our property, and there was something exciting and pleasing about looking at a hilly piece of ground with its wavy contours and the way sunlight plays around the slopes of the land.
We were euphoric when we moved into this house, and perhaps in our excitement, we ignored the extra physical effort it takes to negotiate even simple walking about our property. I guess we should have gotten a hint on moving day when we saw six movers heaving as they were carrying the piano up the slope of the front yard to bring it in the house. Even to this day, we remain sheepishly silent when guests grunt and groan during a “stroll” through the yard. We try to remain positive by telling them such things as “just think, you’ll pick up some speed on the way down!”
A recent yard project brought all this to light. I took on the job of clearing a steep bank which fronts the road. The bank is easily a 45 degree slope, and was covered with nasty brush and weeds. My plan was to use a weed-whacker to take down the brush, and then we could start to replant the bank to keep soil from eroding. It sounded simple enough. Soon after I started, it was apparent how demanding this work was. I was struggling to keep my foothold by leaning into the bank while moving the weed-whacker back and forth. I could feel my calf muscles stretching to the maximum, and my upper back muscles were getting quite a workout with the extra reaching forward to control the machine. Not to mention the challenge of keeping balance and avoid rolling down the hill into the road below.
This got me thinking about the muscles I was using, and how you really need to be prepared to do this kind of work (I was thinking about this, because I realized that once the bank was cleared, it would need to be planted). So, if you are facing work on a hill doing some landscaping, or perhaps just doing some hiking when you go on vacation this year, here is some advice to prepare you.
Start conditioning these muscles now so you are ready and in shape for this very different type of physical challenge:
1. Your calf muscles really need to be flexible. This will allow you to lean into the hill to maintain your footing. Place both hands on a wall or counter; keep one foot back, flat on the floor. Lean forward by bending the forward knee until you feel a stretch in the calf of the rear leg. Hold this for 30 seconds and do 4 times on each leg. Then, in the same position, stretch the lower part of your calf by bending the knee of the rear leg as if you were trying to kneel down with that knee. Again, hold for 30 seconds, 4 times.
2. To strengthen your upper back muscles to do all of that forward reaching, try this. While standing, lean back against a door jamb so it is against your spine. Pull your shoulder blades together, as if you were trying to pinch the jamb with the shoulder blades. Hold for 5 seconds. Do this 20 times.
3. Try this great hip muscle stretch. Your hip muscles are critical to provide you with support and flexibility to manage walking or standing on a slope. Sit in a straight backed chair. Cross one leg over the other so the ankle of one leg rests on the knee of the other. Gently pull the knee of the top leg toward the opposite shoulder until you feel a good stretch in the buttock area. Hold this for 30 seconds. Do 4 times on each leg.
These simple drills will go a long way to helping you stay vertical on hills and slopes (especially on my property!).