How Your Work Affects Your Workout

What you do for work affects your fitness, and it should change how you design your workouts. Manual laborers have different needs than sedentary workers when it comes to health.

As a coach and trainer, an aspect of a client’s time that always needs to be dealt with is what they do for work. There are countless obstacles that a person’s profession imposes on their fitness. Maybe they work many hours or work far away from any gym and are squeezed for exercise time. Maybe their job is stressful and they are borderline overtraining by just stepping into the gym. These could all be subject worthy of an article in their own right, but probably the biggest roadblock a job puts in front of success in the gym is how laborious the job is – or isn’t.

It might be common sense that a very taxing manual labor job can eat into your effort at the gym. It’s like that episode of Seinfeld where Jerry wanted his masseuse girlfriend to give him a massage on a date. When you’re done with work, you don’t want to go and work some more for free. So, who wants to work out after working out all day doing manual labor? Not me, I’ve been there, and many of my clients are there now. But what about those of us who work an office job and sit all day?

Believe it or not, working in an office poses its own challenges for your health and fitness. Probably the most significant challenge is on your posture and mobility. Sitting all day in one spot isn’t exactly natural for the human body, and side effects result, not the least of which is chronic back pain. But that’s not all, there are long term consequences too. A study published last month in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity (IJBNPA) demonstrated that those working in an office, or even some customer service settings, actually get less activity than they do when not working. That’s right – they got less exercise on average than they did at home, sitting in front of the TV.

Now that we’ve got the bad and the ugly out of the way, let’s talk about the good. Where’s the silver lining here? No matter which type of job you have, the key is to minimize the obstacles, and maximize the advantages.

Another study published last month in the IJBNPA showed that manual labor jobs were one of the biggest reasons behind long-term activity levels in adults, which promotes health. If your work requires a lot of physical labor it’s critical you adhere to all the safety protocols in place. Nothing is going to set you back like getting hurt. Next, you want to make sure you are properly warmed up prior to work and that you practice some form of mechanical tissue work, such as self-myofascial release (e.g. foam rolling) or massage. This will help to prevent repetitive motion and overuse injuries by promoting blood flow. Once in the gym, you’ll have an easier time than most. Half of your workout goals are probably accomplished right at your job, and your baseline fitness is probably above average. Focus on the aspects of exercise you don’t always get on the job, usually limit strength and pushing your aerobic system. Keep your strength sessions very brief, and avoid lifting until failure, and then hit thirty minutes of steady cardio. Not only will this type of workout not kill you for work the next day, it will even make your work easier (and healthier) in the long run.

If you work an office job, the bad news is being exclusively sedentary means you’re at risk for poor health later on. The good news is you will have the energy and strength to exercise hard, and you don’t have to worry about being physically drained from work. Spend time at the beginning and end of each workout stretching. In fact, stretch a lot. Focus on the ankles, hips and shoulders, and be ever aware of your posture. Make sure you also try to get some exercise in five or six days per week, even if it’s a light workout. Besides that, you are free to pursue any fitness goal and you can work hard without fear of being a little sore at work the next day.


1. Alicia A Thorp, et al., “Prolonged sedentary time and physical activity in workplace and non-work contexts: a cross-sectional study of office, customer service and call centre employees,” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 9, 128 (2012) 

2. Katja Borodulin, et al., “Leisure Time Physical Activity in a 22-Year Follow-Up among Finnish Adults,” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 9, 121 (2012) 

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