Gardening in a Lycra motion capture suit

How did I get talked into gardening while wearing Lycra? Apparently it wasn't just for a laugh (although there were quite a few)

Rebekah Mealey kitted up and ready to goEver heard the phrase 'gardening is good for you!'? Ha! It doesn't feel very good for you when you're aching from head to toe and all you did was a bit of digging. But what if there was a way to get an effective, safe whole-body workout and get results in your garden?

How do we really know what our gardening is doing to our bodies? How can we measure and record the effects of different tools and approaches, so we can decide what's best? Well, this is where the motion capture suit comes in...

The experiment, to further research into choosing the right gardening tools and using the correct methods to reduce the risk of injury and improve health, is a joint study with Coventry University, combining RHS horticultural knowledge with Coventry's hi-tech motion capture lab. The lab equipment records the stresses and pressures your body is put under as you perform certain tasks.

The fitted Lycra suit covered in reflective balls (see picture, above) allows the camera to record your movements. All this data is then fed into a computer program which produces an animated version of you, stripped down to a skeletal frame with muscles highlighted that are taking the strain. This allows you to see which muscles are working when, and how hard.

Mission possible?

Our mission in Coventry was to see if this technique could support research on gardening tools and techniques, (such as a current RHS-supported PhD titled 'A user-centred design approach to the design and redesign of gardening tools for the ageing population').  I was there representing young female professional gardeners - the theory being that since I have been gardening since I was 15, I should know how to handle a spade by now!

Testing muscle strain while using a wheelbarrowMy fellow guinea pigs were a mixture of ages, abilities and genders and we tried out various Lycra-clad tasks including digging, raking, hedge cutting, pushing a wheelbarrow, mowing and pruning. Our aim was to see if the scientific equipment could actually measure differences in the way different people perform different tasks and the effects of those tasks on their bodies. 

On the day, one point of interest was hedge cutting. Myself and a fellow professional used a completely different technique compared to the amateur gardeners in the group, refusing to hold the hedgecutters above a certain height as we would never do this in the garden (health and safety!). It will be interesting to see whether this leads to a difference in the muscle loading between us and the amateurs who seemed happier to stretch to undertake tasks.

Testing muscle strain during while using a lawnmowerWhere to from here?

The data is being analysed and results will be reported as soon as we have them, we will keep you posted. We hope that the research will help us advise gardeners on best practice so their enjoyment is improved beyond where it is now.

See other current RHS research projects

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  • hedge7

    By hedge7 on 02/03/2015

    This is way over due. I have always thought that a book about this would be good along with exercises we can do to counter the movements we make in the garden - for example counter stretches, pictures- a good bodywork book for the constant gardener. I have seen some of this in a pilates book but you have to search for it.

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