Physical Labor Versus Structured Exercise

How similar is hard physical labor to a structured exercise program?

As I write this column, I’m feeling just about every muscle in my body and I’m dog-tired.

Why? Well, I’m preparing to open a new fitness training studio (more on that next week), and have been painting and preparing the flooring.

And let me tell you about that flooring! The carpet that was in there, underneath the most recent layer, was 18 years old, nasty and glued to the concrete sub-flooring with an adhesive that Superman couldn’t tear apart. But Jose, with his trusty industrial scraper (and five blade changes) was able to make quick work of it – if you call four hours quick work.

So what was I doing all this time? I was on hand-scraper detail, digging up the worst of it around the edges of the space; bending, shoving, cutting, pulling, huffing and puffing. I also pulled the strips of rug Jose plowed up as he mowed his way across the floor and gathered up the heavy, sopping wet strips to throw them away. They were wet because we had to water the carpet like a thirsty lawn about a dozen times to soften the glue. That was the only measure that offered us even a prayer of being able to pull it up with the monster scraper.

About 11:30 a.m., after we were done and the beast was loaded into a flatbed truck, I went to teach my multi-format group exercise class, which is also a pretty respectable workout for me, even when I’m fresh.

Now, after training three clients in a row this evening, I’m pretty much trashed.

In the morning, we get to lay 700 square feet of laminate flooring. I’m pretty sure I’ll be getting to bed early tomorrow night.

So all this got me thinking about the people I meet in passing who, when the subject of exercise comes up, insist to me that they don’t need a formal fitness program because they have a physical job. Is it true? Does hard physical labor provide an adequate substitute for structured training?

Let’s look at the similarities and then the differences between the two:

Similarities between hard physical work and a formal exercise program:

  • Difficult/challenging
  • Burns calories
  • Strengthens muscles
  • Engages core


  • Exercise program should be balanced between cardio, strength, core and flexibility
  • Movements should be symmetrical
  • Course of the program should be progressive to planned maintenance stage
  • Core exercise should strengthen and support, rather than stress unevenly, the back
  • Cardio training thresholds should not be limited by muscle soreness, back or joint strain

So, the answer should be obvious. The benefits of a structured training program that includes a healthful eating component, and it should, are myriad and unique.

But if you spent all day working in the yard yesterday, you may want to wait a couple of days to get back into working out full-steam.

Want more useful information on how to eat well and get in shape? Contact Dan at http://trivalleywellness.com.

Dixie Wood August 03, 2011 at 08:18 PM
I liked your article on quick, nutricious foods. I'm anxious to know what "health bars" you recommend. Dixie dixiebee99@comcast.com
Dan Taylor August 04, 2011 at 03:05 PM
Thanks, Dixie (that's my mom's name!) Go to Safeway and Trader Joe's and buy three or four protein bars that have between 20 and 30g of protein, and try them out. So much is about taste and texture preferences. My favorites are Power Bar Protein Plus Chocolate Brownie and TJs Think Thin Chocolate Brownie (I like chocolate!)
Georgia Choate August 16, 2011 at 10:24 PM
Dan & Dixie, have y'all ever tried the Larabar at Trader Joe's? It is not a protein bar. I would consider it a dessert bar for anyone looking for natural ingredients. The Larabars I buy are only sweetened with dates which make a great substitute for sugar. The cashew "cookie's" only two ingredients are cashews and dates and easy to make at home, 3/4 part finely chopped cashews to 1/4 part finely chopped dates. Mix well! For those avoiding actual sugar, you would avoid the chocolate flavors. I know I sound like a commercial, but I like 'em, and you can see their flavors at larabar.com ~ Georgia C.


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