What do you do for a living? If you answered construction worker, landscaper, nursing aide, or any other type of work that requires a lot of lifting, walking, standing, and/or operating heavy equipment, then chances are you get a lot of physical activity in during your day job. Of course, even sedentary jobs pose their own challenges to the body (how many have had super sore backs after sitting all day?!). But physically demanding work can really take a toll. If you don’t look after your body, then you may be at risk for an acute or chronic injury that can disrupt your daily life and force you into disability and time off work.
So, make your health a top priority. Clearly, a big part of that includes regular exercise. But for those of us with physically demanding work, we may find ourselves way too exhausted at the end of the day to even think about going to the gym. Plus, with all the moving around we do at work, doesn’t it seem like we get enough exercise while we’re on the clock?
Here’s our short answer: Going to the gym is beneficial for anyone, no matter their age, sex, occupation, or health history. If you are super active during your typical work day, simply approach your exercise routine with a few considerations in mind.
The Do’s & Don’ts of Exercise for the Physical Laborer
DO Get Good Sleep.
Whether you go to the gym or not, you will never be able to function close to your maximum potential if you don’t get enough sleep. Better rest equals better gains in the gym, better body composition, and better productivity on the job, too (hello raise!). Commit to getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night in a pitch black room. Keep the internet and TV out of the bedroom, and avoid consuming too much alcohol, food, or media right before bed.
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DO Drink Enough Water.
We need water to stay hydrated, energized, and physically fit. But as someone with a demanding job and an active gym life, you probably need even more water compared to the rest of us. Aim to drink at least half your body weight in fluid ounces per day, or more (hint: never let yourself feel thirsty).
DON’T Believe in That Outdated Saying “No Pain, No Gain.”
There’s a big difference between the pain felt during a tough workout (lungs burning, muscles burning, etc.) and the pain felt when actual injury and tissue damage occurs. A good rule of thumb to remember is this: you know your body best, so pay attention to how you’re feeling at the gym.
If your body is sore and tired from a hard day’s work, a good pump or sweat may actually rev up your energy and help you sleep better. But, if your body is injured (whether from work or otherwise), rest as much as you can for a few days before hitting the gym again, and consult with a healthcare professional if need be. Don’t ignore true pain: this could turn a small problem into a big one that may eventually keep you out of work (let alone disrupt your workout plan).
DO Set Realistic Weekly Goals for Yourself.
If you decide that you “should” workout every day after work, you may be setting yourself up for failure, discouragement, and decreased motivation.
Be realistic with yourself. You know your work schedule. If certain days of the week are super demanding, don’t workout that day. Maybe take a walk around the neighborhood after dinner instead. On your less tough days, go ahead and hit the gym–and feel free to hit it hard if you’re feeling good. A workout schedule of 2-4 times a week is a reasonable frequency for people with super demanding jobs. Modify this based on your goals and ability level. Just don’t assume you it has to be “all or nothing” when it comes to maintaining a regular workout routine.
DO Perform Exercises That Can Help You Function Better at Work.
If you lift heavy objects, work on your core strength (think planks, crunches, and squats). If you use your arms a lot, make sure your rotator cuff and scapula stabilizers are healthy (think Ts, Is, and Ys, seated rows, and lateral dumbbell raises). Add in some stretches for your shoulders, lower back, hips, and ankles, too, in order to prevent a flexibility-related injury on the job.
DO Ask Your Co-Workers, Friends, and Family for Their Support.
A big part of staying motivated is finding the right support system; people you can talk to when you’re worried that you’re slacking, hitting a plateau, or losing interest in your workout plan. Let your loved ones know that you’d like their encouragement. That way, if you’re thinking about skipping your workout, they can be there to help you get your butt in the gym–or if you actually need a day off, they can remind you that rest day are just as important, as well.