I really should employ Mick, the life-long plumber, as a trainer. Because, without intending to, he gives great little sermons. Hot on the heels of his ‘all it took was 10 more minutes on a 4-hour job’ talk which inspired this article, he casually dropped another beauty yesterday.
The back story here, is that I could tell he’s been a bit flat. The normal wise-cracking, mercilessly piss-taking character has been subdued of late. But this morning he was noticeably brighter.
‘I probably have been a bit depressed’ he said. ‘Work has ramped since just before Christmas and I’ve been at-it pretty hard. I reckon I was going on pure adrenaline for a while there. But then the aches and pains started: my lower back, both shoulders and my hips. The first few hundred meters after I got out of the car were being done on gritted-teeth and pure willpower. It’s a bastard for a few reasons: it buggers my sleep; and it makes me worry that I might not be able to keep working for the next twenty years. Plus, working hard is a big part of who I am. To think that I’m not up for it any more makes me a bit sad.’
The worrying little picture he just painted didn’t explain his chipper mood this particular day though. He elaborated.
‘The last two mornings I’ve just been a bit more diligent with my stretching.’ (He is my mate after all so over the years he’s had plenty of free training on what to do.)
‘I’ve been paying a bit of lip service to them. Just doing my hamstrings in the shower. But a few days back I made sure I got on the floor and did everything properly. Lo and behold, I’m straightening up easier, things hurt less and I’m moving easier. It just made me realize that I can probably keep working as I get older. I’ve just got to change my lifestyle a bit.’
Mick? If you are reading this? No. I’m not paying you for that content. Consider it payback for all of the free advice.
We are an ageing population and it seems that every time I check, the retirement age is pushed back a few more years. We all need to be thinking about extending our working lives well beyond 60. Those of you who’ve sorted your finances and won’t be needing to work that long? Come back and talk to us after you’ve grown bored with fishing, cruise-liners and golf. Making a worthwhile contribution is a pretty fundamental human need.
So how do we extend the ‘plant life’ of the human body? Here’s a few ideas.
Quality rest and active recovery
I’d said a few times to Mick ‘if you recovered on your day off like a footy player: went for a swim, did some yoga, got a massage etc, I wonder how you’d go?’
‘I’m not jumping in an ice bath mate. I don’t care how much you pay me.’ Is one from his repertoire of blunt replies.
But there is something in this approach. Most tradies I know fill their weekends with either love-jobs or cashies that keep the load on the same muscles; then if they do partake in some leisure they invariably go fishing or play golf which both also involve twisting and bending of the spine. If they instead had a designated active recovery day that didn’t involve slumping on the couch watching sport: a nice long walk, a swim, some stretches and some quality rest – they’d feel much different.
The habits we’ve picked up in modern life seem to prevent us fully shutting down: in our nervous systems, which is one explanation for the anxiety/depression epidemic, but also the muscles, which often retain the tension that we hold them in with our working postures. Doing the right things to fully shut-down once a week or so can make a big difference.
So much of what we do in life now is either repetitive or static or both. We inhabit this learning organism that is constantly adapting to how we use it. Muscles that are used statically or repetitively start to see that movement as normal and become short and tight. For people who’ve grown used to the idea that we get stiffer, weaker and tighter as we age – doing the right stretches can feel like magic.
Eliminate the dumb things
In the Strong Spine program, we talk about the four main ways that we’ve seen people hurt themselves: flexion then force, lifting with twisting, big levers and torque through the shoulders at full reach. It’s a pretty simple exercise to just comb through your work and look for the worse examples of this that you do regularly and eliminate or modify the way you do these. Think that you haven’t got the time? Let me refer you again to what Mick has to say about this.
Interested in a 1-hour seminar on this topic?