Digging Safely


Digging is one of the garden chores that causes the most aches and strains, both of which may be avoided by following a few simple guidelines.

Warm Up

Take some time to warm up before digging; carry out a few gentle gardening tasks or take a quick walk around the garden a couple of times.

Keep Warm

Keep your back warm. You may be tempted to remove some layers once you've worked up a sweat, but this will mean that your back muscles will become chilled. Consider investing in some clothes that are specially designed to 'wick away' sweat to keep the surface closest to your skin and back warm and dry.

Vary Your Tasks

Do not overestimate the amount you will be able to dig, especially on your first session. Aim to divide your gardening chores so that you don't spend too long working with one group of muscles. Vary your activities so that you spend (for example), 15 minutes pruning, 15 minutes weeding, 15 minutes digging, before going back to the pruning. This way, you'll be working and resting different parts of your body in turn.

Use the Correct Posture

Make sure that your hand and wrist are not strained by holding the spade unnaturally. Hold the spade as far up the handle as you can so that you are as erect as possible. When you're ready to dig, keep your spine as straight as possible - your spine is weaker if it's twisted - face your spade as you work and avoid jerking your back to either side. Keep the blade vertical as you push it into the soil; this will give you better leverage when you pull back on the handle.

Use the Right Tools

Make sure that you are using the right spade; it should be a comfortable weight and an appropriate length for your height. A good guideline is for the spade (blade plus handle) to be between elbow and chest height.

Use the Right Technique

  1. Place one foot evenly on the spade and push the blade vertically into the soil using your leg muscle. If the blade is vertical then the handle will be slightly sloped away from you giving you valuable additional leverage.
  2. With the blade in the ground, push the handle downward and pull back to break the soil loose.
  3. Slide one hand down towards the blade and keep the other at the top of the spade.
  4. Bend your knees and elbows to evenly lever out the soil.
  5. Slowly raise the weight of the blade and the soil, taking the strain by gently straightening your legs - NOT by jerking your back straight.
  6. Never lift more than you are comfortable with.