It may still be warm and summer-like as you read this issue of HLN, but before you know it, fall will arrive with cooler weather and shorter days. After that, it won’t be long before our local deciduous trees start shedding leaves and area homeowners have to dust off their rakes and get to work.
Though raking isn’t as arduous as snow shoveling and doesn’t involve the use of equipment with razor sharp edges or whirling blades, it’s a chore that requires a lot of bending, lifting, and reaching. Thus, it can still lead to injury if it’s done incorrectly. So, before you take rake in hand this fall, consider the following safe-raking suggestions:
#1 Choose the right tool for the job
It may seem insignificant, but using a rake that is inappropriately sized or has missing, loose, or rusty parts can significantly increase your risk of muscle strain or injury because it will cause you to double your effort. Start out right by making sure your rake is the correct size for your height and strength and is completely intact and functional. Using a model with a padded handle will result in fewer blisters, as well.
#2 Use proper body mechanics
While raking, maintain proper posture. Position your feet so they form a wide base, and place one hand near the end of the rake handle and the other approximately three-quarters of the way down the handle. Maintain an upright position, and try to keep your back naturally aligned, taking care not to twist your spine.
Instead of remaining planted in one position and extending your rake in all directions to reach the leaves, change your position frequently and try to avoid overreaching. Also, avoid overloading your leaf bags or tarp, and when picking up leaves, bend at your knees and lift with your leg muscles. To distribute the strain on your muscles evenly and to prevent overuse of the muscles on one side of your body, it’s important to switch sides frequently—raking right-handed for ten minutes and then left-handed for ten minutes.
#3 Rake when leaves are dry
Mother Nature—or your city’s leaf-collection schedule—may not cooperate in this regard, but try to choose a dry day to rake your leaves. Wet leaves are significantly heavier than dry leaves and also pose a greater slipping hazard.
#4 Dress for leaf-raking success
You may feel cool when you start raking, but all that exertion will have you perspiring in no time. Dress in several thin layers so you can shed layers if you start to overheat and add them again if you start to chill. Wear work gloves to protect your hands from blisters and splinters, and make sure your footwear has a good slip-resistant tread so you don’t lose your footing on damp leaves.
Fallen leaves can quickly turn moldy, making life miserable for allergy sufferers—not to mention the fact that ragweed plants are pumping out pollen at a remarkable rate at this time of year. If you’re sensitive to fall allergens, be sure to wear a dust mask while raking.
#5 Special considerations for leaf blowers
If you use a powered leaf blower instead of a rake, you’ll need to consider several additional safety issues. These devices can produce powerful air currents and move debris at considerable velocity. They also generate a great deal of noise. So, when using a leaf blower, make sure children and pets are removed from the area and that you protect yourself with goggles, hearing protection, long pants, and a long-sleeved shirt.
When using a plug-in electric blower, keep in mind that electricity and water are a dangerous combination. Never operate a plug-in blower when it’s raining or when the ground is wet from rain or dew. Of course, as with raking, proper body mechanics should be employed when using a leaf blower.
#6 Break it up
Every athlete knows that it’s important to get back in the game slowly after a long hiatus. You should take the same approach to raking leaves. After all, it’s likely been a year since you did it last, so your body is unaccustomed to the exertion. Taking frequent rest breaks in between short work sessions will give your muscles a chance to relax and help prevent an overuse injury. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you have to carry a heavy load of leaves, don’t approach it like a “weekend warrior.” Get someone to assist you with the burden.
#7 Rake for exercise
When done right—i.e., using proper body mechanics and not pushing yourself too hard—raking can be good exercise that strengthens your upper body and core. It can also burn up to 240 calories an hour. By heeding these safe-raking tips, you can make the most out of this annual activity, and your body will thank you for it