Just as every job requires a specific educational path (you don't study accounting to become a doctor), every lifestyle requires a tailored physical path. My advice is to train for your job as an athlete would train for an athletic event. This way, you can reduce opportunities for injury and work-related aches and pains and improve performance.
For standing jobs
"Standing jobs" exist on a continuum from those requiring minimal manual labour (checkout clerks) to those requiring bouts of heavy lifting (nurses and servers). Regardless, standing for hours on end is hard on the body. It frequently results in achy legs and feet (especially if you are repetitively bending, lifting and twisting with bad posture), a sore back and a feeling of all-over stiffness and physical depletion.
- At work: Stand equally on both legs. Keep your knees slightly bent. Invest in appropriate footwear and orthotics if needed.
- At the gym: Strengthen your ankles, glutes, upper back and core. Try bridge toe taps to strengthen your glutes and guard against shin splints (a common complaint of those who stand). Lie on your back. Use your bum to lift and lower your hips. After 15 reps, hold up. Lift and lower the front of your feet 30 times. Also try calf raises, squats, bent-over rows and lunges. If you twist repetitively to one side (eg, cashiers), do exercises that rotate you in the opposite direction.
- Daily self-care: Stretch and mobilize your legs and back. Massage your feet. Try rolling out your feet. Place a small ball under your foot. Roll it lengthwise between your little toe and heel. Then, roll it lengthwise between your big toe and heel. Stop and put gentle pressure down into any trigger points.
For desk jobs
Sitting typically results in back and neck pain, tight hip flexors, a rounded posture and poor core engagement – not to mention decreased cardiovascular health, decreased energy and alertness and low mood.
- At work: Get up regularly. Walk around. When sitting, sit tall, engage your core and sit equally on both sit bones. Consider a SitFit (a small inflatable cushion), which will provide feedback regarding pelvic placement. Ensure your work space is as ergonomically appropriate as possible.
- At the gym: Do cardio. Strengthen your glutes, upper back and core. Try lunge and single-arm rows. Stand facing the cable machine, right leg forward. (At home, attach a resistance band to something stable.) Holding the cable handle or band with your right hand, lunge. As you stand, use your upper back to row your right arm. Keep your pelvis stable. Repeat 10 times and switch sides.
- Daily self-care: Accrue as many daily steps as possible. Improve your posture: Stretch your chest and strengthen your upper back. Try wall Ys to Ws. Stand, bum and back against a wall, core engaged and knees slightly bent. Form a W with your arms against the wall. Keep your arms as close to the wall as you can as you straighten them until they form a Y with your body. Your spine shouldn’t arch as you move your arms, even if that means the back of your hands move away from the wall. Return to the W position and repeat five to 10 times. If consistent rotation is required for work (eg, dental hygienists), do rotational stretches opposite to your norm at work.
For jobs requiring manual labour
Running heavy equipment, lifting heavy objects and continuous physical exertion can lead to (at best) overworked bodies and (at worst) strained or pulled muscles, herniated discs and nerve impingements.
- At work: Warm-up before your shift and, while on the job, be mindful and alert. Exhaustion and poor form exacerbate the potential for injury.
- At the gym: Consider a session with an expert to learn proper lifting techniques. Prioritize cardio (to build stamina), functional exercises such as squats and strength exercises that offset the motions required for your job. If you’re constantly bent over, do exercises that force you to stand tall. Try single-arm farmer’s walks. Hold a weight in your right hand. Walk forward. Don’t let the weight manipulate your body. Keep your pelvis and shoulders stable and core engaged. Switch sides.
- Daily self-care: Physical labour is hard on the body. Give your body the ingredients it needs to recover – mainly sleep and a nutritionally dense diet. Consider regular massages. Daily, use self-care tools such as the foam roller or yoga tune-up balls for self-massage.
The workout guidelines are broken down into gym and self-care to highlight that, no matter what, daily motion is possible. Exhausted? Need a recovery day? Stuck late at the office? Do a self-care workout. Self-care workouts are short and can be done anywhere. They will always – even after a long day – make you feel better, not worse.