Buckets, chippers and chain saws … oh my! Struck-bys and ’lectric and falls … oh my!
The variety of ways we can hurt ourselves in this business is amazing. It makes sense that we ought to be obsessed with safety and promote a culture of safety that normalizes the philosophy of “See something, say something.”
But let’s take a minute and think about why we focus on safety. The obvious reason is, we all want to go home at night. Not only do we want to go home, but we want to go home whole. We all have lives and families and connections outside of our work that make our work worthwhile, and we want to be able to go home and enjoy those connections.
As I age a bit, I am impressed with the importance of not only going home and going home whole each day, but also going home well. Having spent my career striving to provide for my family, I want to be able to enjoy them when I get home. I don’t want to just limp in the door and say, “I’m home.” I still want to be able to strut for my wife, be able to bend over to pick up toys and play with my kids and grandkids.
Back pain alone is a huge issue for working folk in America and around the world. More than $100 billion is lost each year in the U.S. due to back pain. A Georgetown University study found that 25% of 18- to 44-year-olds (that means most of us) lose 10 days of work per year due to back pain – 264 million workdays lost!
Tree work is notorious for bad ergonomics. In case you didn’t know it, you weren’t designed to hang from a harness. Add in uneven ground, the varying sizes and shapes of the material we handle and the pressure of production demands – whether internal or external – and you have a prescription for pain.
Compound these realities with the remnants of a culture that continues to wrestle with the “Suck it up, buttercup!” mentality that discourages newbies from asking for help, and the aged among us not having been taught how to help even if we were asked, and it is easy to see there is a need to make a change.
How do we change this? Our days are already packed, and we have convinced ourselves we don’t need to go to the gym “’cuz we are wrestling trees all day.” We need to start with basics and build from there. One small change at a time, grafted into our lives until it is a part of the routine, and then another one, and another, improving the quality of our lives measurably, bit by bit.
But where do we start? This is exactly why I wrote Potty PT. This book outlines some very basic exercises that have helped me to remain active and working and playing, as well as the principles that I find many people benefit greatly from understanding how their bodies work. After working as a registered nurse for 10 years, I have seen the power of just a little bit of good information when it comes to the health and outcomes seen by people who are struggling with various health problems. We all can agree that we should stretch and warm up before strenuous exercise or work, but what does that look like, and how long should we stretch, and which muscles and which way?
And when will I find time to do this? This is the question my son asked when I was bothering him about doing his exercises to recover from an epic volleyball injury. Sections of the book can easily become part of a staff meeting, a weekly safety meeting or even a job briefing at the truck before you walk onto the property – and all the exercises can be done while seated, so you can even do them on a potty break!
Here’s a little exercise you can do almost anywhere.
Open one hand as far as you can. Hold for three seconds. Now relax. Do it again. Relax. Three more times. It starts to feel like work pretty quickly, doesn’t it? Now do both hands at the same time, just once. Stop. Which hand opened easier? The one you started with? Shocking – 20 seconds, five reps and there is a noticeable difference in how your body works. Whoa! This is awesome! Now do the second hand. Four more times. Now do them together again. The second hand caught up? Seriously. Who knew that changing the way our bodies work could be adjusted so easily? (Figure 2)
Now that you have built up some confidence, let’s do one more.
Stand up, head held high, feet flat and close together. (Figure 1) Keep hands at your sides, but shoulders pulled back and palms facing forward. (Feels weird, but that just makes my point.) Slowly lift your hands just a foot or so out from your hips, with your arms still straight and shoulders still pulled back. (If you can see yourself from the side in the reflection of a window, your ears, shoulders and hips should be aligned vertically.)
Now tighten your abs and slowly lift your straight right leg until your foot is 3 inches off the ground. Balance. Hold for 30 seconds. Put down your right leg, tighten your abs again and raise your straight left leg until your foot is 3 inches off the ground. Balance. Hold for 30 seconds. Oh, my goodness! You did it!
If balancing was hard, you will get it by the end of the day. Your abs probably don’t burn (if they do now, they won’t after doing this for three days), but you will notice it tomorrow. Rolling your shoulders back helps strengthen your upper back and combat the tendency to let your chest muscles win the tug of war over your torso. Turning your hands out strengthens your shoulders and helps balance your neck alignment, and the abdominal tightening, together with balancing, strengthens your abdominal muscles, which reduces the dependency on your back muscles to provide all your postural support.
It may not feel like much, but the trajectory of your life just changed.
This information is not just for climbers and groundies and drivers, but for office workers and salespeople and mechanics and mowers and landscapers and masons and carpenters and electricians and plumbers – the list goes on and on. The fact is, we all take a couple of minutes a day to sit, and we all depend on our bodies for work and play, so we all will benefit from using those few minutes to make a lasting and positive change to the trajectory of our lives.
Jesse Barry is owner/operator of Higher Ground, LLC, dba Higher Ground Recreational Climbing in Madison, Wisconsin.