Functional Fitness: Should I Workout If I Have a Physical Job?

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As a farmer, you service and maintain your equipment. You tend to your animals. But when’s the last time you cared for your own body?

I mean, really… does having a physically demanding job excuse you from exercise? Is it enough that you spend most of your day on your feet- hauling hay bales, lifting buckets of milk and/or grain, and climbing in and out of tractors? Or should you be doing more for your health?

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By nature, farmers are often considered the caretakers of the world, tending to both the land and animals, yet are they perhaps forgetting to take care of the most important element to their business- that being themselves?

Let me give you a bit of a backstory to illustrate my case in point.

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Meet Margo (the Momma in the picture above). She’s a sweetheart of a cow, born on our small dairy farm five short years ago. Just last June she gave birth to twin girls, which we named Mercy & Marcy. Before that she delivered a very healthy (and extremely large) baby boy, and one year prior to that she surprised us with her first calf- a cute little heifer that bares a remarkable resemblance to Momma.

From memory, I could easily list off how much milk she has roughly produced per lactation. I could tell you the last time she’s been vaccinated; when she’s due to see the hoof trimmer next; and the last time she’s been visited by the vet. Give me a quick second to pull up records on my computer and I could give you any other detail of her life story that you’d want to know.

While Margo, holds a very special place in my heart- she’s not the only cow which I can rattle off this information for. In fact, if you and I were to walk through the barn, I could give you the rough details on nearly every animal that calls our farm, home.

Why am I so in tune with each animal? Well not only is it my job, it just makes good financial sense. Because if you think health care is expensive, try looking at a veterinary bill once… eek!

Similarly, my co-worker who prefers the mechanical side of things could probably tell you anything you wanted to know regarding the farm’s machinery. When was the oil last changed? How about hydraulic oil? Does it need fuel? Yep, he could tell you all about it, every last, boring detail. After all, a farm is only as good as the machinery that runs it- or so the saying goes;)

But ask me when was the last time I visited my own doctor or did something that gave me some sort of measure of my own health and I’d have to really think about it.

Like many who spend their days in more physically demanding jobs, I tend to take my health for granted. I assume that because I’m up and moving around that I’m simultaneously fulfilling my need for physical activity- you know, that magical 30-minute mark that health professionals tell us to aim for.

Raise your hand if you get that and then some just from doing your job… Yep! there’s a lot of us who fall into that category.

But don’t dismiss your need for exercise just yet…

You see, being able to safely perform the necessary movements of a physically demanding job requires a certain level of physical conditioning. For many of us in this line of work, we perform repetitive movements beyond our bodies’ natural ability. Think about it, when’s the last time you moved just one bale of hay? No, during peak hay season, you, my friend, are more likely moving hundreds over the course of many hours- from sunup til sun down, a task that is once begun must never be left until it’s done!

The same can be said for many of the jobs workers encounter on the farm- whether that be bending over to pick produce, twisting to care for sick animals, pushing or pulling to work on farm implements.
Whatever the job- it’s likely you do a lot of it!

And while that repetitiveness helps to build physical endurance, it also puts you at risk for developing muscle and joint pain- which left untreated, can ultimately lead to more serious injury.The problem with repetitive motion develops from the resulting microscopic tears that develop in our muscle tissue. Under normal circumstances and with proper rest, the body is able to naturally rebuild itself & repair the trauma to the tissue. However, when the body is unable to repair these tears as fast as they are being made, inflammation occurs, which we then decipher as pain.

To add insult to injury, many farmers often develop muscle imbalances later in life- another consequence stemming from the repetitive nature of the job. To understand this phenomenon, it’s important to realize that every joint in the human body is surrounded by muscles that produce and control movement. Muscles on one side of a joint that become too tight from overuse cause the muscles on the other side of that same joint to become weak from lack of use. This is what we commonly refer to as a muscle imbalance. These muscle imbalances serve as a potential cause of injury as they can not only affect the position of the joint at rest, but also change its path of motion during movement.

Have you ever experienced tight muscles that made it difficult to perform your normal tasks at work? It’s likely that in order to compensate for this stiffness you altered your movement in order to complete the job at hand. Seriously when is the last time you picked up twenty 50-pound bags of feed from the mill and threw them into the back of your pickup truck with perfect form? Not likely! …and I’m not judging, I get it. But by reinforcing improper movement patters, we are putting our bodies at risk to sustaining some pretty serious injury down the road.

So how can we correct these problems that result from having a physically demanding career?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to suggest you quit your job anytime soon. Rather, I’m encouraging you to reevaluate the importance of exercise in your life. Yes, your job may definitely be a workout, but it’s no reason to skimp on your time in the gym.

“When your job takes a lot out of you physically, it’s important to stay fit and build strength. Stretching can help loosen overworked muscles, while strength and stamina can help keep you performing well.”Click To Tweet

How can you add exercise into your life so it enhances, rather than hinders your physically demanding job?

Train for life, not just an event! Sure, it’s cool to boast to your friends your ability to bench press twice your body weight or to squat a fully-loaded bar- but how does it help your performance in day-to-day living? You’re not training for a Strongman Competition, so instead focus on functional fitness exercises.
A functional exercise, by definition, challenges balance and coordination while simultaneously improving strength and range of motion. The importance of functional fitness is that it trains your muscles to work together and prepare them for daily tasks by simulating common movements you might actually do on the farm.

Ideally, a functional exercise will be a multi-joint exercise that works both the upper and lower body. As Mike Donavanik, celebrity trainer and fitness enthusiast, details: It’s all about creating synergy within the body. In daily activities, we utilize our body as a whole — even though an activity may be more upper- or lower-body dominant, we still rely on the other half for stability and support.

So what exactly does a workout that utilizes functional exercise look like?

No worries, I have you covered. Check out the latest Farmgirl Workout developed by my dear friend, Sarah from The Army Girl’s Guide. It’s an effective full-body circuit you can complete right at home- because let’s face it, farming is kind of a full time gig 😉

Aim to complete this Farmgirl Workout three times each week and you’ll be feeling better (and stronger) in no time!

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I'm Britney,

Just a small-town gal with a passion for fitness + health- Using my little corner of the Internet to spread light and positive vibes. It is my mission to encourage all women to step into the best-version of themselves possible. After all- you deserve it, girl!

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