The daily stress of manual labor can take its toll on anyone’s joints and muscles, but there are ways to reduce the damaging effects of repetitive motion and prevent serious injury. Doctors state that stretching prior to working can properly warm up your muscles for repeated stress, as well as increase your flexibility and range of motion.
This is especially important for lifting and carrying heavy loads throughout a shift, which can directly cause severe back injuries if improperly performed.
1. Neck Stretch
A neck stretch is an easy way to begin the day, because it requires very little movement. Simply sit or stand looking forward and slowly turn your head, first to the right, then to the left. After you’ve turned a few times, aim your chin toward your chest and begin rotating your head clockwise. The key to each of these stretches is the controlled movements, as well as the time you take to hold a stretch before releasing it.
2. Calf and Hamstring Stretch (Lower Leg)
Stretching your legs is essential for a day of standing, carrying and lifting. To stretch your calf muscle, simply stand up and press your arms straight onto a wall. Keep your heels on the ground and your legs straight as you slowly bend your arms, causing you to lean closer to the wall. To stretch your hamstring, stand up on one leg with the second leg propped up on a stable surface. Keep your toes upright and hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds before repeating the stretch on your other leg.
3. Quadricep Stretch (Upper Leg)
This stretch also requires you to stand on one leg, so if you are worried about balancing yourself, then bring a chair over for stabilization. Keeping one leg straight, bend the other leg backward and rest your foot into the hand on the same side. Use your hand to lift your foot higher until you feel a stretch in your thigh and hold that stretch for 15-30 seconds before repeating this stretch for the other leg.
4. Tricep Stretch (Arm)
Your arms need stretching as much as your legs will because they will carry and hold tools throughout the day. One muscle group often neglected is the tricep, found on the back of your upper arm. This muscle is usually weaker than the bicep, because it gets less use from regular daily tasks, but is necessary for lifting and holding up weight. In order to stretch your triceps, raise one arm above your head and bend your elbow so that your hand can reach behind your head, toward your opposite shoulder. Using your opposite hand, pull your elbow toward your opposite shoulder until you feel a stretch. Hold that stretch for 15-30 seconds and repeat for the other arm.
5. Pectoral Stretch (Chest)
Engaging your core and chest prior to manual labor will help with holding and carrying heavy loads. To stretch your chest, lean your arms and shoulders backward and lace your fingers together. Pull your hands away from your back until you feel a stretch, and hold that for 30 seconds while breathing deeply.
6. Shoulder and Back Stretch
By stretching your shoulders and back regularly before a day of working, your posture will improve and your risk of injury will greatly decrease. One way to stretch your shoulders is to lift your arm straight in front of you and hinge it across your chest, holding it there with your opposite hand. Be sure to hinge your torso with the stretch, to prevent too much stress on your joints, and repeat this stretch on both arms.
To stretch your back evenly, it’s best to stand up, place your hands on your hips and slightly arch your back, pushing your shoulders back. Only hold this stretch for 10-15 seconds before resting, to avoid straining your back.
After that, slowly bend forward, letting your arms hang in front of you to reach toward your toes. This stretch works your hamstrings as well as your back, so don’t push yourself to touch your toes if you feel the stretch before you reach them.