26 Apr Why workers at work need to act more like athletes: Part 1
What do workers such as trades persons, labourers, production/warehouse workers, health care workers, and delivery drivers have in common with athletes?
They depend on well-functioning bodies to perform well. Failing to take care of these bodies can impact both their performance and the body’s ability to tolerate the physical demands of the activity/work, which may lead to pain and injury and ultimately be career-ending. The athletes who have long successful athletic careers (and those who strive for this) take proactive measures to optimize performance and ensure longevity in their sport. This means that not only do they do the competition-specific movements of their sport (e.g. playing hockey games and doing hockey drills for a hockey player), but also:
- A structured warm-up before every training session and competition.
- Training to improve relevant areas of fitness (e.g. strength, power, work capacity), usually with movements that don’t exactly resemble the competition movements (e.g. a football player performing weighted squats).
- Activities to improve/maintain mobility and stability of the body’s joints.
Does Warming Up Actually Help?
Employers are hesitant to get workers to do a warm-up before working as it costs time and money without an obvious return on investment in terms of increased productivity/revenue or reduced injuries. Indeed, research on whether pre-work stretch routines reduce work injury risk has produced mixed results [1, 2] (likely partly due to differences in methods and contexts). However, an effective warm up is NOT just stretching muscles or moving the joints around as suggested by many recommended before-work stretching routines, such as this resource from Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Prevention Services.
Ultimately, warming up serves to:
- enhance performance, and
- decrease injury risk.
To achieve the above, a well-designed warm-up does the following, as described in the above diagram:
- Increase body temperature
- Increase blood flow to the muscles, heart, and lungs
- Improve coordination and movement efficiency
- Increase work capacity
- Increase flexibility
- Decrease discomfort associated with the activity
- Provide psychological benefits
Just like how athletes have tailored warm-up routines to optimize their performance, workers should do a warm-up to optimize their work! For those with physically-demanding jobs, pre-shift and intra-shift warm-up routines can help reduce injury risk and improve work performance—but only if it is designed well [3, 4]. Not only does a warm-up have immediate positive effects, but it is also an opportunity to enhance function and injury resilience in the long term when performed regularly enough to create lasting progressive improvements in strength, work capacity, and movement mechanics.
Puzzled on what would be an effective and short warm-up routine to suit the needs of yourself or your staff? Engineered bodies can help.
Acknowledgements: Thank you to Daehan Kim, MSc. Kinesiology, CSCS, and Samantha Agtarap for providing feedback on earlier drafts of this article and the accompanying diagram.
- Costa, B. D., & Vieira, E. (2008). Stretching to reduce work-related musculoskeletal disorders: A systematic review. Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine, 40(5), 321-328. doi:10.2340/16501977-0204
- Jennifer A. Hess & Steven Hecker (2010) Stretching at Work for Injury Prevention: Issues, Evidence, and Recommendations. Applied Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, 18:5, 331-338, DOI: 10.1080/10473220301367
- Balaguier, R., Madeleine, P., Rose-Dulcina, K., & Vuillerme, N. (2017). Effects of a Worksite Supervised Adapted Physical Activity Program on Trunk Muscle Endurance, Flexibility, and Pain Sensitivity Among Vineyard Workers. Journal of Agromedicine, 22(3), 200-214. doi:10.1080/1059924x.2017.1317683
- Holmström, E., & Ahlborg, B. (2005). Morning warming-up exercise—effects on musculoskeletal fitness in construction workers. Applied Ergonomics, 36(4), 513-519. doi:10.1016/j.apergo.2004.10.015
Resources on Warm-Ups
Jeffreys, Ian. (2007). Warm-up revisited: The ramp method of optimizing warm-ups. Professional Strength and Conditioning. (6) 12-18. Professional Strength and Conditioning [UK Strength and Conditioning Association]. 12-18.