When the snow is flying outside, too many farmers — especially those without livestock — may be spending too much time sitting in front of the computer. Others may have decided that the time is right to do a bit of exercise or rehabilitation before spring arrives.

“That’s a good thing,” says Tony Gallo, a physical therapist with Unity Point in Grinnell, Iowa. “Think of it (the body) like getting the machinery ready for planting. Now is a time to take it into the shop and get it ready to go.”

But getting the body ready to go isn’t going to be the same for everyone. And it involves more than just doing the same cardio or weightlifting exercises day after day.

“A lot of farmers I know are generally pretty stout, pretty strong,” Gallo says. “They probably aren’t lacking strength as much as range of motion.”

One of the keys of repairing and improving things physically over the winter is to understand your goals and your strengths and weaknesses, Gallo says.

“Be honest with yourself,” he says.

Talk to a medical professional if you have a specific health issue or haven’t worked out in a long time.

Tracy Keninger, who works with farmers through the Iowa AgrAbility program with Easter Seals, says farmers with and without handicaps need to be honest about how much exercise they are actually doing and about what exercise needs they have.

What often happens, she says, is that a farmer sits in a cab for 10 or more hours during planting or harvest and either gets little exercise or suddenly switches to hard exercise, like lifting seed bags or caring for livestock. That is a recipe for injury, she says.

Don Peterson, who works with Nebraska AgrAbility, says he sees a lot of back injuries, in part due to those sudden bursts of energy. Another problem, he says, is that many farmers spend years doing hard, physical work but then phase out of it without beginning an exercise program to replace that.

He joins Gallo in saying that stretching is a big part of any good exercise program for farmers. Nebraska AgrAbility put together a brochure detailing a number of good stretching exercises for farmers, found online at

The organization is hosting a national AgrAbility workshop on March 25-28 in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Gallo, meanwhile, says that moderation is key when starting an exercise program. Just as it isn’t a good idea to go straight from sitting in a tractor to tossing heavy bags of seed, it also generally isn’t a good idea to go from being sedentary to being extremely active.

And he says it is also helpful to remember that everything is connected. Just because a farmer may have back pain may not mean the original problem started in the back. A bad knee, ankle or pelvis could lead to back issues over time.

So he says now is an excellent time to rehabilitate and get in shape, but do so in a smart way. Talk to a medical professional. Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses, as well as your goals. Don’t just do the same exercises day after day. Don’t forget stretching as part of a workout program. And practice moderation.

Finally, when spring does arrive, don’t forget your exercise program and don’t allow yourself to get back into bad habits, Gallo says. It’s still a good idea, after all, to get out of that tractor cab and do a few stretches and exercises every few hours.

Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.