Last weekend, my wife and I were outside digging up a large number of day lilies along with a range of old tree roots buried deep in the dirt, all followed by digging out 4 holes for our new shrubs. As I was digging the holes and sweating like crazy, I thought to myself, how good of workout is this? How much will I be hurting tomorrow once muscle soreness sets in? I knew time would tell soon enough.
To my surprise, the following day I felt no muscle soreness (although my hands were killing me from the shovel). I had been keeping up with my normal back exercises like dumbbell rows and pull-ups which seemed to relate closely to the primary muscle groups used for digging. I also thought my legs may be affected by the pulling of roots as I was using them to provide the majority of force to yank out the roots, but there was no soreness there either. It appears the combination of lunges, squats, and running have kept my legs in adequate enough shape to not be affected by the work.
My wife on the other hand did not have the same experience that following day. She was in terrible pain, mostly in the legs from bending over and pulling roots out. Due to her busy work schedule, she had not been keeping up with her leg exercises for a few weeks. Her legs were so sore, even standing up from a chair turned into a painful chore. This led me to one inevitable conclusion: yard work is and is not a good workout.
It all depends on your personal situation. If you stay consistent with your weight training, you are less likely to be affected by an out of the ordinary activity such as intense yard work and this will not be a substitute for a legitimate workout at the gym. For any of you that do not stay consistent with your workout routines (or do not workout at all), this will most likely feel like you blasted your muscles at the gym so be sure to thoroughly stretch before and after attempting such strenuous activities. It will reduce the potential for injury as well as aid in recovery times.
Side note: I do understand I had previously written about the effects that moving day had on my muscles and this article may seem to contrast that one. As I stated in the moving day article, there were only certain parts of the muscle groups in pain, it was not a full body soreness. These were also unnatural motions unlike digging where an exercise like dumbbell rows is nearly the exact same motion. That being said, all effects of manual labor can be accounted for with proper weight training and the right variety of exercises.