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Get Back in Shape Before Work Heats Up
Have you ever looked into the mirror as spring approaches and realized you’ve put on a few pounds during the winter? Some blame the holidays, while others blame the dreary weather and shorter days for a lack of motivation. But for many in the construction industry, being a little less active during the winter months is to be expected.
“Fewer daylight hours, extreme cold and winter weather all hinder progress on jobsites. Extreme weather can limit work to two or three days a week or less, leaving Laborers anxious to get back to a full schedule,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “This is especially true for Laborers in colder climates such as the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest.”
Returning to a normal schedule at a physically demanding job can be difficult, especially if your body has gotten used to a lower activity level.
What happens to your body during inactivity?
Unfortunately, our bodies don’t take long to start changing once reduced activity becomes the norm. Regular exercise causes small clusters in the lungs called alveoli to expand and contract more efficiently. Since alveoli exchange the air we breathe into a form our bodies can use, our lungs have to work harder if these clusters are not used regularly. When we exert ourselves, our muscles demand more oxygen, causing us to breathe more heavily. So if you have been less active than usual, returning to a full workload could leave you feeling out of breath because your lungs are out of practice.
The other common problem people experience within 24 to 48 hours of performing physically demanding activity is muscle soreness. Many people think this is due to lactic acid building up in muscles, but that’s a common myth. Muscle soreness is actually caused by inflammation and small tears in muscles that occur after strenuous activity. This is referred to as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and though it may sound like something to be avoided, this process is what causes muscles to get stronger over time.
But returning to a full schedule doesn’t have to mean being winded and sore for the first several weeks. By following a few simple steps, you can give your body a head start.
1. Start early
Try starting an exercise program when work slows and keeping it up throughout the winter months. If that’s not possible, plan on starting an exercise program 4-6 weeks before work gets busy again. This will give your heart, lungs and muscles the time they need to build up strength. Preparing your body in advance will help you avoid being out of breath and sore when your schedule ramps up.
2. Start slow
If it’s been a while since you’ve done regular cardio or strength training, it’s normal to not be able to do as much as you used to. But trying to do too much only increases your chances of sustaining an injury. So whether you’re doing cardio or strength training, start out at around 50 percent of the intensity you’re used to.
That might mean going for a 30-minute walk instead of a 30-minute jog or cutting your normal two-mile run to a one-mile run. Whatever the exercise, the key is not to do too much too fast. When starting an exercise program, working out two to three times per week is a good goal, with workouts lasting no longer than 45 minutes.
Each week, increase your exercise by no more than 10 percent – this includes the intensity, distance or weight being lifted. Experts refer to this as the Ten Percent Rule and cite that it lowers your chances of sports-related injuries. By increasing the difficulty of your workouts slowly, your body will be better equipped to handle the increased stress on your muscles, joints and ligaments.
3. Choose something you enjoy
When it comes to physical fitness, there are many components to keep in mind, such as cardiovascular endurance, muscle training and flexibility. But no matter what your goals, it’s important to choose an activity you find enjoyable because you will be more likely to stick with it. If running isn’t for you, consider walking or going for a bike ride instead.
Finding a routine that works for your schedule is also important. For example, if your workload goes down to three days a week during the winter months, plan to exercise on your off days to stay active. Having a workout partner that shares your interests can be an especially effective way to help you stay motivated and accountable.
Making changes for the long haul
Making exercise a normal part of your life comes with plenty of other benefits. Over time, regular exercise increases heart health, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress and improves brain function. However, you should always consult your doctor before starting a new exercise routine or program, especially if you have special health concerns, an injury or a chronic condition such as heart disease, arthritis or diabetes.
The LHSFNA online publications catalogue contains a number of resources to encourage and guide exercise, including Laborers’ Building Better Bodies and the more concise Build a Better Body, both of which review the physical tasks and common musculoskeletal injuries in construction and make recommendations for strength and flexibility training.