Where we get fit and spin (wool)

I was thinking about this yesterday as we were bringing down firewood. My husband cuts logs into 18 inch chunks, we throw them in the trailer and bring them down to where he splits them and I stack them. Not to give myself a pat on the back, but I did surprise myself at the size of the pieces I could lift. This is the major goal of why I lift, to be able to do things like that. There were no pieces that I couldn’t lift that my husband could.

I know people who say that they don’t need to go to the gym since they do hay, or firewood, or whatever. I have to politely disagree. The only people who I would say might get away with that argument are postal workers who walk their route or garbage men who throw the stuff in at least three days a week. Even they would benefit from rounding out their activities with some planned exercises.  Everyone else, in my opinion, would be doing manual labor sporadically, which not only doesn’t build muscle, it increases your chance of injury. Even farmers, who do a lot of manual labor, could benefit from regular exercise. If you are rolling your eyes at that, let me explain. When you do things “as needed”, there is no plan about what it is doing for your body, good or bad. There are no guarantees that when a farmer is lifting a bale he is using good form. He is not thinking about building up the antagonist muscles that would support and balance the muscles he is using. Bracing your core is not instinctive, and can make a huge difference in protecting your back. Most work movements are done in front of you, just like computer work and can lead to rounded shoulders and weaker backs. I saw this guy walking out of Walmart and he made me wince. He had a huge gut and was walking almost bent over at the waist. That told me he has a weak posterior chain and tight hip flexors. He got into a truck with a farm logo. Could he do his chores? Probably. Did he do them in a lot of pain that could be remedied? Probably.

If you work out only when you are working, there is no plan, no progression, no goal. As in any area of your life, if you only react, instead of thinking, planning and acting, you will only achieve things randomly, instead of purposefully. The results of working out comes from planning, consistency, and progression. Oh, and I should mention- when I say working out, I don’t mean going into the gym and randomly picking up pieces of equipment and using them. You do need a plan and a goal. They should be realistic and balanced. Obviously, since I am a trainer, I think you ought to have at least one or two sessions with a trainer to teach you the basics, and ideally, you should work  with one to create and achieve your goals. I should also mention, you don’t need a gym. You can achieve quite a lot with body weight and a few cheap pieces of equipment. If you are going to do that, I would say to get a book or DVD with a program on it to follow. Most are fairly well written and good for the average person. The downside to doing that is if you can’t follow them, you can’t ask them how to modify their program.

Regular, planned exercise helps your manual labor by:

  • Balancing out your muscles, so some aren’t over developed at the expense of others.
  • Maintaining a level of fitness to prevent injuries during sporadic labor.
  • Teaching you proper movement patterns, to prevent injuries.
  • Progressing your strength, making your daily chores easier.

I hope this convinces some of you to either give it a try, or recommit to regular exercise. I could give you countless examples of people I know who work hard, but aren’t in shape. Most of it is basic education about exercise, which really makes me wonder about our physical education in schools. Maybe we need to spend a little less time playing soccer and a little more educating people in how their bodies work and how to maintain them. Oh well, I guess I have the topic of my next post.

Speaking of my next post, I have two other topics that may get their own treatment, but I don’t want to forget them. First, I have been blending kale and adding it to my oatmeal. I don’t know what else to do with it, to get decent amounts. I wouldn’t recommend it to others, since it is an acquired taste. Considering the level I am working out at, and how little soreness I have, I think there is real benefit. I am using it in salads and sauteing it as well, but I agree with those who say you can never get to much greens in your diet. If anyone has great kale recipes, or how to sneak it into other foods, please comment.

Second, I saw this article on Paula Deen, and while she only changed when she had to, at least she changed. Of course, how she lived before is how she got the diabetes, but that describes much of America now. Maybe the fact she is changing will inspire all those who follow her show to change with her.

Comments on: "Why you Need to Exercise, Even if you Do Manual Labor." (11)

  1. Lauren @ Powered by Oatmeal said:

    AMEN! It’s so hard to convince ANYONE that they really should be working out, nevermind people who come home exhausted at the end of the day from working hard at their job, but the benefits are huge! Now, how we can find a way to be persuasive on a national scale? That is the hundred billion dollar question!

    • I operate on the “chipping away” principle. If you hear the same message over and over, someday it will affect behavior. Tell me that isn’t what’s happened with tv and the dumbing down of America. I just want all of us fitness people to spread a better message.

  2. […] Why you Need to Exercise, Even if you Do Manual Labor. (funandfiber.wordpress.com) […]

  3. I have to disagree with this article. I have worked for UPS for 15 years doing almost every manual labor job the company has to offer including package car driver and i can tell you that hard physical labor and vigorous exercise do not mix. One of the basic principles of physical training is that you need rest for any beneficial change to occur in your body. Without it you will just be over training which absolutely does exist despite some fitness gurus claims. Through the years I have done mountain biking, weight training, hiking and sports but in the end you have save yourself for your job or end up exacerbating the tendon ligament and joint damage I have seen so many contractors and fellow coworkers end up with. I can see some light cardiovascular training being beneficial but not much more. Unfortunately daily vigorous exercise might be a luxury those who work with their hands can’t afford. By the way I have a B.S. in Exercise Physiology from UMass and i still try exercise 1-2 times week although it kills me sometimes.

    • While no blanket recommendation can fit all situations, as you pointed out, I stand by the idea that functional work can benefit from gym training. You make an excellent point about needing recovery time. Not all gym training need be vigorous to complement a physical job. I would suggest that the gym be used to do complementary exercises, for example, if you lift all day, some I,y,T&W, reverse flies and push ups to equalize the muscle development. Some stretching and foam rolling, to ease the strain of work as well. Of course, the “gym” can be your own home, but most of us don’t have all the space and equipment a gym does.

  4. Tim Braciszewski said:

    I’m up and down ladders all day. Carrying windows or doors to install, myself by the way. On my feet all day long. Walking up and down steps constantly. Do you think that’s not enough exercise? That’s an eight hour cardio/weight lifting day.

    • I don’t know if you read the whole article, but I was making the point that while you are getting sufficient quantity, you might also be setting yourself up for problems. Most of us are right or left handed, and we tend to use that dominant side almost exclusively. Also, we tend to find the most economical way of doing things, which means we use the same muscles, over and over, leading to imbalances. I’m not saying you need to go to the gym to do a weight lifting workout. I’m saying you need to balance. Because you do all that lifting, you may be too tight, especially in your hamstrings and lower leg. You personally might need to stretch more, or you may need to work the opposing muscles, so you don’t injure yourself. You don’t even need to do balancing in a gym, but it is extremely helpful to get guidance (hello youtube!). Most of us don’t even think about this kind of thing until we are in pain.

  5. […] (2012). Why you Need to Exercise, Even if you Do Manual Labor. Retrieved from https://funandfiber.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/why-you-need-to-exercise-even-if-you-do-manual-labor/ on 5 May […]

    • I appreciate your using my comments in your article. I do agree for top physical fitness, doing more than an hour a day in the gym is superior. As I mentioned in my article, it isn’t that you need to add more quantity from a gym experience, it is to find someone with the expertise to help balance your activity. There is ample evidence that manual laborers suffer from overuse and repetitive stress injuries, osteoarthritis and tendonitis. If we can get some of the concepts from the world of physical therapy and professional training out into everyday use, we may be able to prevent or mitigate some of that.

  6. What is your occupation? I am curious to know if you have or have ever had a job that requires one we manual labor.

    • I was a personal trainer when I wrote this, and am now a physical therapist assistant. I still stand by it. Even though I do a lot of walking and have to assist patients to stand, walk, roll over etc., I still need to exercise the muscles that do those activities, and those that support them. I do squats and deadlifts to support what I do on the job, and I do hip flexor and hamstring stretches to prevent hip pain and counteract all the positions I am in all day. We have since given up the hobby farm we had when I wrote this, so I am no longer stacking firewood or putting up hay. When I wrote this I led 5 classes a week, as well as doing chores and having private sessions.

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