Don’t you love that feeling of finishing work at 5 and getting down the gym feeling refreshed and ready to hit a good workout? No? That’s because you have a physical job. You are more than likely feeling drained, tired and your body aches from a hard days graft.
I would love to say I can relate to your situation, but I chase a toddler round all day and show people how to repeatedly lift heavy objects in the evening (and occasionally fight crime at night). Whilst my job isn’t overly physical, I have trained many tradesmen with very physical jobs and have learnt how to overcome the difficulties of being in good shape and working hard.
I want to share with you a few tips on how you can get the most out of your training whilst having a physical job.
As you are probably used to having your body battered in the day during work hours, you feel the need to kick the shit out yourself in the gym as well. Whilst a good work ethic can often be commended, more does not always mean better. The principle of exercise is to put the body under a stress or stimulus, rest and recover to enable your body to adapt and become stronger/fitter/faster, and then repeat. If we are constantly hammering our bodies in every aspect of our lives, we do not have a chance to rest and recover and therefore will not be making progress. The three areas you will need to focus on is sleep, food and stress.
Sleep – If you want to get into the details of sleep, then read this, but if you want to brush over the details then carry on reading. You need to be giving yourself between 7 and 9 hours of sleep opportunity per night. This is hours in bed, not necessarily asleep. Try to limit your caffeine intake during the late afternoon as this will affect sleep quality. This may come as a shock to you, but there are other drinks than tea or coffee available.
Food – If you are pushing wheelbarrows around, lifting fence posts and laying patios, you are burning lots of calories in a day. And before you ask, I do not know how many ‘lots’ is. This will depend on your bodyweight, age, height and activity levels. I would recommend tracking calories and measuring progress to see how your results change. This could be measuring strength, body measurements or energy levels. If you are struggling to see progress, you may need to adjust your calorie intake.
Stress – Take time to chill out a little bit. If you are running around like a headless chicken all day, then take time to unwind, relax and have some time to yourself. I appreciate that this statement is almost laughable if you are self-employed, but self-care needs to take a priority. Stress is going to affect your sleep, recovery and therefore affect your results.
Bottom line: Get enough sleep, eat enough and learn to manage the stresses of life.
Reduce Overall Volume
If you normally train with Big Dave on a Monday, and you get through 25 sets of chest (obviously, it’s Monday) in a single session, it may be time to reduce your volume slightly. Volume is calculated by reps x sets x weight. Volume is one of the main drivers for building muscle but it also builds and accumulates fatigue. You need an adequate amount of volume to get bigger muscles, but more is not always better. There becomes a point of diminishing returns and you will begin to feel sluggish, progress will stall and you will become frustrated. The amount of work you need to build muscle/strength is different for each person. I would recommend airing on the side of caution and starting off low. Measure progress and increase volume slowly if needed.
Bottom line: Ensure you are doing enough work, but not too much work. The amount of work will differ for each person.
As most of the people I train with physical jobs are male, most of them also have a macho male attitude towards training. Training to failure in every set, drop sets, super sets and combinations of all of the above. Whilst all of the above techniques are brilliant for saving time and providing an added stimulus to our muscles, they are also great at adding fatigue. This is not just fatigue to our muscles, but also our central nervous system (CNS). This added fatigue, on top of all the fatigue you have accumulated at work, is going to hinder results and recovery.
I would recommend avoiding training close to failure and aim to stop each set with 1 or 2 reps left in the tank. You will still be making results, but you will be avoiding the accumulation of fatigue, and therefore avoid overtraining.
Bottom line: Stop kicking the shit out of yourself in the gym every single set/workout.
Increase Frequency (if possible)
Have you ever struggled to use the stairs after legs day or struggled to lift your arms above your head after a big shoulders session? This is called DOMS or Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness. DOMS isn’t normally an issue if you know you don’t have much planned for the next few days, but if you have a physical job, you know that this isn’t always possible.
One way in which we can reduce DOMS is by increasing the frequency you train. For example, if you normally train 10 sets on shoulders in a single session, try splitting this up over 2 or 3 sessions to reduce the likelihood of DOMS. The results will be the same, as your total volume is the same.
Also, it be worth mentioning that DOMS is not an indicator of a ‘good’ workout. If you ache more, it doesn’t mean you will make more progress. There is no direct link between pain and progress.
Bottom line: Split your workouts over a few days if possible to reduce the likelihood of DOMS.
I hope you have found these tips helpful if you have a physical job and you enjoy training. Just because you work hard all day, doesn’t mean you have an excuse to sit on your arse all night. Learn to listen to your body and adapt your training schedule as necessary. Don’t be afraid to have a rest day but also don’t be afraid to push hard when you are feeling good.
The brains, brawn and beauty of Dackattack (basically it’s just me). A personal trainer with a private gym in Norwich, dedicated to giving out simple, actionable advice that will give you outstanding results.