How To Balance A Labor Intensive Job & The Gym

A Guide To Prevent Burnout: If you have a labor intensive job here are some key elements you need to know in order to stay healthy at the gym.


It’s exhausting. You’ve just finished up a long shift for the day. But the day is not quite over yet. You look forward to hitting the gym. At work, you’ve been pushing, pulling, climbing, bending and walking for the whole shift. Then you have to go to the gym right after. I’ve been there. I’ve done it for 6 years, the better part of a 9 year career working in a labor intensive role for UPS.

This article is for those men and women who work in the fields of: construction, cable installation, delivery and warehouse, field engineering, tow trucker drivers, the list goes on. Many of these fields have you on your feet all day and it’s hard to get to the gym after a long shift. But if you want to do it successfully, I have a guide for you.

During my time working a physically demanding job and strength training simultaneously, I’ve come up with some tips and gems on how to work a labor intensive job while making continuous progress in the gym.

Nutrition

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Nutrition, as always, is the most important thing to consider when it comes to your strength training and fitness goals but it is especially important when you’re working a blue collar, labor intensive job. When it comes to nutrition, you want to make sure you’re optimized each and everyday so that you don’t burn yourself out in the long run.

The focus of nutrition when working in a labor intensive field is adequate calorie consumption. You’ll be setting yourself up for failure if you don’t adhere to the basics of proper nutritional protocol.

Remember to follow the proper protocols for application of basic nutrition outlined below:

Everything You Need To Know About Strength Training And Nutrition(Part 1: Nutrition)
I want to start this off by saying thank you for reading this hefty article because it took a long time to write. I…medium.com

A Special Reminder For Hardgainers

Hardgainers, you have to be especially cognizant of nutrition, especially in the way of caloric consumption. You’re already in a position to burn energy at a much higher rate than the average person. When you factor in working in a labor intensive career, it makes it that much harder to succeed in reaching your strength training goals.

When strength training and working a labor intensive job, it is important to remember to track your calories. Don’t leave your caloric consumption up to guess work. You also don’t want to leave it up to satiation because feeling “full” has nothing to do with hitting your caloric goals.

In other words, you might finish up your last meal for the day, feel “full” but failed to hit your caloric needs for that day.

Utilize the plethora of calorie counting apps that are out there. These apps can also be used to track movement such as steps which are factored into your caloric expenditure for the day.

As we’ve already established, energy management by way of nutrition is the most important aspect of strength training while working a labor intensive job. What you want is the ability to perform your daily responsibilities at work in order to make a living while simultaneously reaching your strength training goals.

How can we insure this?

Start with a suitable macronutrient break down that contains a high carbohydrate option in order to fuel your efforts. But you don’t want it to be just any kind of carbohydrate, you want to consume COMPLEX carbohydrates, which are slow digesting, as opposed simple carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates are ideal for your daily physical demands because they allow for sustained energy throughout the day. Due to your higher than average physical activity, insulin sensitivity is on your side.

What Are Complex Carbohydrates?

A delicious bowl of oatmeal, slice of banana and various nuts.
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Complex carbohydrates are multiple molecules of sugar strung together.

When we have these large chains of sugar, complex carbohydrates, it takes longer for this molecule to be broken down. One by one these sugars are broken off. While they are broken off, energy is released steadily. It’s like stoking a flame in a furnace by adding logs one by one.

Some examples of complex carbohydrates are:

Keep in mind that the added nutritional benefit of consuming complex carbohydrates such as mentioned above is that they contain fiber which is necessary for proper digestion as well as controlling cholesterol.

What Are Simple Carbohydrates?

Home baked chocolate chip cookies.
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Simple carbohydrates are are digested by the body quickly which causes a rapid boost in energy.

When consuming simple carbohydrates, we have a much larger spike in insulin than if we were to consume complex carbs causing us to experience a “crash.” It’s like lighting a stick of dynamite. You get a short burst of energy then it’s over just as fast. It’s not sustainable.

You don’t want that. You want sustained energy throughout the day without crashing at any point.

Some examples of simple carbohydrates are:

When figuring out your macro nutrient breakdown for a specific phase in your training goals, such as a muscle gaining phase, you can allocate your macronutrients using percentages of your daily caloric intake.

If you’re considering a high carb option, you can go with 30% of calories coming from protein, 20% of calories coming from fats and 50% of calories coming from Carbohydrates.

Again, your carbohydrates should becoming from fruits, vegetables and multi-grains(if you can tolerate it). This is essential because consuming these types of carbohydrates facilitate adequate fiber intake.

A general rule of thumb I like to go with for fiber intake is 10–15 grams of fiber per 1000 calories. Keep in mind that fiber is a type of carbohydrate as well.

Low Carbohydrate Option

If you decide to go with a low carbohydrate option, I wouldn’t recommend it unless in the case of medical concerns(in which case you shouldn’t be taking advice from this article).

If you have medical concerns, such as diabetes, you might want to choose a low carb option while working with your doctor, nutritionist or dietician.

Water Intake

Some dude chugging what looks like a gallon or two of water.
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Sources say, 60% of your body is made of water. Most people are under hydrated. It’s important you get adequate water intake because of your increased chances of becoming dehydrated throughout the day.

While working in a hot and humid warehouse, I made sure I consumed 1 gallon(3.7 liters) of water per day.

If you cannot imagine drinking that much water everyday, consume what I like to call “8 of 8,” which is 8 glasses of 8 oz of water. This adds up to about half a gallon or 1.8 liters of water.

What ever you do, be mindful of your water intake, I can’t stress this enough. Lack of adequate water intake, especially with your level of activity, will lead to all sorts of ailments including:

  • lethargy
  • dizziness
  • dark colored urine
  • confusion
  • less frequent urination
  • headache
  • muscle cramping
  • constipation

Fatigue Management

Stress and fatigue.
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Yet another crucial factor to consider is fatigue. As we’ve established above, it is important to do everything within our power to manage fatigue.

You’ll need to manage fatigue in a few ways:

  • oscillation of training volume
  • sleep
  • tissue maintenance
  • deload weeks

In the following sections, we’re going to look at some things to consider in order to manage fatigue.

Training Volume

First and foremost you have to set training goals using specificity in order to figure out how to prescribe volume, what movements to do as well as which aspects to emphasize.

Once you’ve figure all of the above out, it’s advisable to arrange your training days as follows: “High, Low, Medium.” Now, this is just one of the many ways to control volume for fatigue but I find that this is what worked for me.

Each day you’re going to focus on a specific aspect of training.

For example, you can have a high volume day with focus on high volume or work capacity, then have a low volume day with focus on bar speed then a medium volume day with focus on technique and form. This is all within the context of progressive overload. The point is to take into account the stimulus, recovery, adaptation(SRA) curve.

I’ve embedded a solid video explaining the SRA curve by one of the top coaches in the industry:

Hardest Workouts On Your Days Off

You can schedule all of your hardest, high volume days on your days off. That way you don’t have to worry about economizing energy on the days you have to punch the clock.

When I was working for UPS, I scheduled my heavy deadlifts and squats on the weekends while my bench pressing and overhead pressing was reserved for the days I work at the warehouse.

There’s also some auto-regulation that can be had when you feel good on a particular day such as a Friday. You can choose to engage a high volume session on the last work day of your work week when you’re able to sleep in late the following day to recover properly.

Or if you know what your workloads at work are going to be, you can intuitively move your training volume to a light work day.

For instance, while I was working for UPS, Thursday’s were always light work days. So I could manage to train a heavy squat session that day.

It’s all about using proper discernment. Get in tune with your body. That way you can easily auto-regulate your training while still making progress.

As always, you can’t go wrong by implementing the basics of proper training including progressive overload as outlined in the article below:

Everything You Need To Know About Strength Training & Nutrition(Part 2: Training)
So here we are. Part 2 of Everything You Need To Know About Strength Training & Nutrition.medium.com

Sleep

A man relaxing on the train tracks.
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Sleep is of utmost importance in hormone regulation, glucose tolerance and metabolism in general which accounts for 80% of your fitness efforts. Improper sleep undermines all your efforts.

Many people do not realize that muscle is built outside the gym while resting and sleeping. Remember the SRA curve? “S” Stands for stimulus.

The gym, and everything that imposes external stress on the body, is a stimulus. In order to recover(R) we need to get adequate sleep in order to adapt(A).

Not only that, if we insist on not getting enough rest, our nutrition will be all for naught. For example, sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on glucose tolerance which undermines your nutritional efforts.

Tissue maintenance

Someone getting a massage.
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Needless to say, if you work a labor intensive job, you’re going to be pretty banged up. Add to the fact that you’re serious about your strength training goals and your body is always going to be in pain. Take care of your body. It’s how you make a living and you use it for recreation.

Here are some things to consider in order to maintain optimal tissue quality:

  • Massages– This is not only a luxury item, it is a form of physical maintenance. There are many different types of massages you should try but you should definitely invest in sports massages. This is a form of massage that aides in the prevention of and treats injuries.
  • Yoga-This is something I personally need to do more of. Yoga is great for mobility. It increases blood flow to areas that are locked up and tightened. It also strengths the muscles without overloading day in and day out. This is a great practice for deload weeks.
  • Foam Rolling– I’m not too sure what the conclusive science behind foam rolling is because there are conflicting studies but foam rolling makes for a great “self-massage.” You can succeed in rolling out all of the knots you develop while constantly pushing, pulling and lifting on a daily basis.
  • Use Variation Lifts– Use variation of movements to avoid pattern overload and ultimately tissue degradation over time. For example, when training the squat pattern, be sure to switch from back squat to front squat variation frequently enough in order to avoid overuse injuries.

Deloads Weeks

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Deload weeks are one of your most effective tools for fatigue management. A deload is a pre-planned, prescribed week of reduced volume. You can reduce volume up to 100%(which means you don’t train at all). A majority of people who train consistently do not take a deload week. Some don’t even know what a deload is.

I knew this guy who went to a gym I would frequent who, no matter what, would never take a deload week. He would even train through injuries that were probably caused from lacking deload weeks in his programs. He is the only person I’ve ever met who fit the definition of over training. Plus, he was working a physically demanding job.

He worked overnight, barely ate properly, didn’t sleep well and ran his body into the ground with insane amounts of volume on top of every other transgression.

It’s important to take deload weeks because fatigue builds up over time and it “masks” fitness. Meaning that over the course of time you train, week after week, you start to experience diminishing returns on the amount of stimulus you apply to your body.

This means that although you’re using progressive overload, getting stronger each week, there will be a point where applying more load will be of little use to your progress. You have to take a deload in order to “clear out” that fatigue to resume making strength and fitness gains.

I don’t want to get too technical here but you know you’re fatigued and overdue for a deload when you notice that you aren’t getting stronger or making progress in training. But it’s not for the reason you think which some people attribute to things such as: needing to add more frequency(ironically, this is the last thing you want to do), not consuming enough calories, stress, etc.

Another tell tale sign that you need to take a break from the gym is that you just don’t love to train anymore. This is especially true if you’re an avid strength training, gym rat like myself.

If all else is in check: sleep, food, stress and you’re following the program the way you’re suppose to, then you’re definitely due for a deload.

All of the above was a mouth full. So! How does this play into working a labor intensive job?

When you’re working, you’re accumulating fatigue at a MUCH faster rate than someone who works at a desk all day. This is why using deload weeks is a MUST for a blue collar worker who’s on his/her feet all day.

How To Deload

Deloading is simple. Either take the whole week, reducing the volume by 100% or you can reduce your volume to 25–50% every 3–4 weeks.

Some people like to auto-regulate which means they simply get a feel for the amount of fatigue they have and decide when to take a deload and how much of a deload based on how they feel during the current week. These are more-so the casual gym goers/trainees.

MOST people who are serious about lifting have their deload weeks already built in. This is the method I recommend for people who work labor intensive jobs.

Divergent Weeks

This is similar to a deload week with the respect of training volume decreases. The difference is that you’re not going to be using the same exercises you normally train with. You’re going to be doing something different to keep the blood pumping and to entertain you. This also serves the purpose of “active recovery.”

When you train consistently, the last thing you’re going to want to do is take a break.

You can mix it up by doing the following:

  • Train a different iron genre such as: Olympic Lifting, Powerlifting, Weightlifting.
  • Play sports such as: Basketball, Soccer, Football, Tennis.
  • Hike
  • Yoga

Anything that keeps you moving and keeps you from getting bored is a win.

Stress Management

A man who looks super stressed out.
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I probably could have included this in the fatigue management section but I decided to make it a section of its own because it requires special attention.

Stress management is important because if we allow stress to run rampant, it could destroy us, inside and out. There’s no other nicer way for me to put that.

We need to differentiate between types of stress.

There are two I’m going to emphasize here:

  • Eustress — Eustress is beneficial stress. It is a form of stress that has a good psychological impact motivation, health and performance. Some examples include: spending time with family, exercise(of course), going into nature and other leisure activity you enjoy.
  • Distress — Distress is a negative, destructive form of stress. It has harmful impacts on your health and well being. It causes anxiety, depression, confusion and a host of other mental health disorders. Some examples include: abuse, workplace toxicity, dysfunctional home environment, grief, etc.

Some commonly known ways to reduce distress are: meditation, yoga, running, weight lifting, speaking to a therapist, free associative writing and more.

I want to point out that it’s better to focus on ways to expand eu-stress while nipping the weeds of dis stress at the root rather than taking a reactive approach and simply “managing” the dis-stress.

Mainstream focus is to treat the symptoms of stress rather than getting rid of the root cause. Here, we want to get rid of the root cause while expanding ways to enjoy life.

Supplements For Energy Management

I don’t put too much stock into supplements when I write about general fitness but for this case I will emphasize it.

As a person who worked a labor intensive job for 9 years, supplements meant the different between making it to the gym and going straight home to sleep.

It made the difference between hitting my volume for that particular day and falling short by 5–10%. Those missed volume numbers add up. Eventually you’ll get weaker and weaker. The main utility of supplements is to facilitate proper application of stimulus in order for you to grow.

Now this does not mean to put supplements over nutrition. Not at all. In fact, my hierarchy of nutritional aspects still apply in this case.

Supplements insure you have that edge over your training. If you emphasize supplements too much, you’ll be burning the candle at both ends of the stick because the supplements I’m about to recommend, without proper nutrition, will cause you to overestimate your true strength which will lead to injury.

I also want to add that if you’re doing shift work, working overnight, you should DEFINITELY look into quality supplementation.

The supplements I recommend you get are:

  • Caffeine — You need some sort of stimulant to keep you awake and ready to go after a rough shift.(expand on this, coffee, Red Bull, etc. Be sure that you can tolerate caffeine.)*talk about cycling caffeine, it’s half life, how it affects sleep, etc.
  • Grass fed Protein Powder — I don’t consider this a supplement but it is essential for hitting protein goals. Especially after an unexpectedly long shift.
  • Creatine Monohydrate — Important for ATP production. Helps you to hit all your reps.
  • Vitamins and Minerals — Getting a basic vitamin and mineral supplement is beneficial for general health if your diet isn’t up to par on a specific day.
  • NSAIDs — Anti-inflammatories can increase muscle attenuation but sometimes you need something to relieve the pain and soreness in order to train. This is something to keep in mind if your body can tolerate it because there are days when you will be sore as ever.

Summary

Men hard at work.
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Working a labor intensive job is not necessarily exercise within itself because it’s work. You don’t want to associate exercise with work. This is why I’ve written this article because some will use working a labor intensive job as an excuse not to get adequate exercise thats tailored to their goals.

Truthfully, if you do work a labor intensive job it’s hard to get to the gym after a hard days work BUT an effort still has to be made to get in the gym for your overall health and well being.

Sources

A Complete Guide to Complex Carbohydrates | Livestrong.com 

Sleep and Metabolism: An Overview Examples of Simple and Complex Carbohydrates — Sugar Addiction Sleep and Glucose Intolerance/Diabetes 

Mellitus Sleep Deprivation and the Effect on Exercise Performance — PubMed

The Effects of Sleep Extension on the Athletic Performance of Collegiate Basketball Players — PubMed


Originally published at https://www.badbuddhism.com on May 7, 2020.

About Anthony Boyd

I go by the alias Anthony Boyd & this blog is my series of theses on philosophy, spirituality, physical expression of strength & human behavior through self-reflective spoken & written word. I’ve been a Union Delegate for 6 years. During this time I have developed countless leadership skills that I’ll be sharing with you all on this blog. Leadership is something I’ve develop through hours of research, strength training & personal application of growth strategies. I started this blog with the intention of disseminating the leadership & developments skills I’ve attained over the past 6 years as a leader because there is a huge need for male leadership. It has developed into a conduit for sharing these ideas in hopes that others can gain insight from them as well. Two things have always been constant in my three decades of life on Earth, my ability to express myself through the word & my unquenchable curiosity of everything around me. Combine that with my obsession with strength training, personal development & we have this blog. It is my hope that I can provide endless value, insight and perspective gained through experience as a leader to the readership I have developed here.

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