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Manual Labor is not the President of Argentina

June 3, 2002 01:20 PM

Having spent the past thirty years or using my hands to make a living I can really appreciate the concept of hard work. My various incarnations have included machine operator, martial arts instructor, metallurgical technician, bodyguard, fitness trainer, motion picture grip and finally Theatrical Technician. All of them have included long hours, labor, and lack of sleep. Working hard and being on your feet for up to twenty-four hours can leave a tremendous deficit in your recovery budget.

There is an uncharted science in the art of progressive physical training and manual labor as a component of your profession. Having an irregular schedule, be it military/LEO, surgeon, or even doorman at a nightclub constitutes incomplete sleep patterns, training irregularity, and a lack of flow that dot com desk jockeys cannot fathom. The strategy needed for training should deal with these negatives, and add positives like more practical strength, injury resistance, and a carefully controlled metabolic price tag.

The first fitness module that represents opposite ends of the metabolism opera is low back function and sleep. Training your low back and using it on the job is a common sense scale of justice that requires daily feed back and a carefully scribed training diary to maintain the balance. Let it be said that deadlifts represent the gold standard for a sound injury free back and a hot-wired metabolism. The flip side of that coin is the kettlebell snatch. It is a simple yet elegant tool for seat of power mobility and aerobic/anaerobic pathway stimulus. Those two tools alone have made my 6-men lifting of a 900 pound Yamaha PM 4000 sound board an act that does not make my life flash before my eyes.

The combo of on the stress and calibrated training makes sleep a commodity as rare as an honest politician. I have personally lived on three hours of sleep a night for two weeks. I don't suggest this. In fact, really set yourself up for restful sleep, in a quiet cool room, devoid of caffeine infected blood, and a good mattress. Sleep is the strongest recovery drug you will ever use. The same advice goes for taking a nap. If you have spare hour or so sprint for the opportunity. To quote comedian Dennis Miller, --You should be moving faster than Gary Bussey looking for the restroom at the House Of Blues.

The second module of manual labor crossover training is composed of grip and abdominal training. The need for a strong grip is immediately apparent if you use your hands for a living. I grew up with metal workers and coal miners in my family tree. Both branches were soldiers. My childhood did not expose me to the soft hands and manicured nails of an office worker. My personal need for grip training other than fitness and martial arts is survival. Clinging to a suspended rope ladder seventy feet above Frank Sinatra's concert stage and 15000 fans made an indelible fingerprint on my brain. I want the ability to hold my bodyweight with one hand ala Sly Stallone in Cliffhanger.(Actually it was his double, German rock climbing legend, Wolfgang Gullisch).

Training with Kettlebells and thick unwieldy objects may lengthen your life. In fact, I can see the chronological clock advance on co-workers as the abdominals weaken and the back gets injured. The inability to brace the gut during lifting translates to less firepower being delivered to the muscles, and a weaker human being. Exercises like suitcase deadlifts, full contact twists, and Swiss ball situps, train the belly and protect spinal mobility. The lowly kettlebell Pass Between the Legs exercise is kind of a blue-collar panacea, teaching bracing, grip, and posterior chain toughness.

This leads us to the third and last area of focus, and frequently the most neglected. These would be the neck and feet. Very few people outside of football players and grapplers train their neck. This can be deadly. WWF wrestlers like Steve Austin and Chris Benoit have only their neck muscularity to thank for their lives. Take a look around and notice what a country of video game addicted, pencil necked geeks we have become.

The fairer sex is incredibly guilty of this fatal flaw. Many women through fad diets and cardio-bunny classes have whittled away any neck musculature that existed. All that is left is hardly enough to hold their head upright. The forward projected head complete with the beginning of a dowagers hump has reached epidemic proportions amongst baby boomers. Minimal maintenance and development could be achieved with an ample weekly ration of heavy deadlift, cleans, shrugs, and direct work with a neck harness.

Putting in a 16-hour day while standing on concrete is not my idea of a good time. If you want to try it, call me afterwards from your podiatrists office. The simple solution is to train certain exercises without shoes. This allows the muscles in your feet to respond to measured stress and grow stronger, rather than being held in suspended animation by athletic shoes. Try some deadlifts, pistols, and walking around supporting kettlebells overhead sans footwear. The pressure responsive sensors in your feet will fire up your central nervous system as well. You will end up with soles of steel rather than Mortons Neuroma. In fact barefoot pistols and walking with kettlebells locked out will take care of those other middle class woes like shoulders, elbows, knees, and ankles.

All of the listed exercises can be plugged into the Power To The People! or Grease the Groove format. High volume, long duration is out for anyone participating in a rugged profession with less than optimum sleep. Train with quality, focus, and leave some effort in your energy bank to insure life long progression and a bombproof immune system.