Do you need help pain-proofing your fall cleanup? The autumn leaves are a beautiful sight to see. That is, of course, until they start falling off the trees and layering up on your lawn. With the recent windy weather and cooler conditions, the foliage is beginning to pile up fast. And when the time comes to begin raking, bagging, and dragging loads of leaves to the curb, you’ll want to do it in a way that’s safe on your body.

Fall cleanup is often regarded as more of a chore than a workout. Yet, when you consider all the bending, lifting, and twisting involved, as well as the time commitment, you’re getting quite a challenging, full-body workout.

Bending and rotating can easily be botched when rushing or not being mindful. It’s for this reason that you’ll want to learn the correct form and warm up the muscles before diving into this strenuous physical activity, just as you would for a workout.

There are a lot of fun festivities around the corner. Don’t get sidelined by something as insignificant as a routine seasonal cleanup. Prevent pain and protect your body with the following seasonal safety tips:

Rules of raking

Your starting checklist:

  1. Purchase a rake that’s suited for your height so you’re not forced into awkward positions.

  2. Sneakers with a strong grip are a must.

  3. Avoid blisters and cuts from sharp pine cones and needles by wearing a pair of gloves.

  4. If it’s windy or soggy, wait for better weather. You don’t want to fight against Mother Nature. It’s a battle you won’t win. Also, dry leaves are lighter to lift than wet ones. When soaked, leaves pose a major slipping hazard.

Always warm up. Joints tend to feel extra achy in colder weather. If you have an inflammatory condition such as arthritis, venturing out for a chilly fall cleanup can be uncomfortable. Similarly, for those who have been inactive, jumping into this sort of high-intensity activity can be jarring on unprepared joints and muscles.

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By slowly increasing circulation, your body temperature gently rises and nutrient-rich blood lubricates the muscles and joints. A five-minute warm-up can greatly reduce your risk of injury. Here’s how:

Arm circles

  • With your feet hip-width apart, extend your arms out to your sides.

  • Rotate forward from your shoulders for 10 counts, then backward for 10.

Squat and reach

  • Stand with your feet wider than hip-width apart. With your weight in your heels, hinge back at your hips to lower into a partial squat. Push through your heels to stand and drive your left arm up overhead in a diagonal direction. Your left foot will point as you shift your weight to your right foot.

  • Lower your arm as you squat back down. Now stand and lift your right arm overhead. Continue this alternating sequence for 20 total reps.

Pocket twist

  • From a standing position, wrap your left arm across the front of your body and bring your right arm behind your back.

  • With your right hand, imagine you are trying to place something into your back left pocket. From here, turn your head to the right to stretch your spine, shoulder, and neck. Hold for 10 slow counts, then release and practice on the opposite side.

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Lift with your legs, not your back. When raking leaves or hoisting heavy pumpkins, you want to be done as quickly as possible, but rushing often results in sloppy posture. And, unfortunately, when it comes to your lower back, it takes only a single slip in form to experience pain in the days, and even weeks, that follow.

By training your brain to lift from your legs and not your back, you can avoid unnecessary lower-back problems. Your legs are home to the largest muscles in your body. That means they are designed to support the strain and demand of heavy lifting, unlike the delicate vertebra and easily tweaked muscles in your lower back. Always lower down into a partial squat instead of bending at the hips with straight legs.

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Try not to twist. It seems natural to want to twist when raking, but it’s one of the worst things you can do to your back. When you grow tired, your body takes a break by hunching. This poor posture, combined with what may be hours of repetitive twisting to transfer hefty objects, is the kiss of death for your lower back.

Instead, keep the feet wide, knees bent, back straight, and move with your legs. Don’t reach too far in front to grab leaves. You will also want to avoid throwing leaves over your shoulder, as this places too much pressure on the shoulders, back, wrists, and neck.

Pace yourself. If you begin to fatigue, switch hands or take a break. If your lawn is completely loaded with leaves, or you have a massive property to maintain, break this project up over the course of a few days.

If you’re in the habit of hurrying through fall cleanup, turn over a new leaf this season by making safety a top priority.

Ashley Blake Greenblatt is a certified personal trainer and wellness coach in South Jersey. Learn more about her virtual training program at ashleyblakefitness.com.