Having been socially distanced now for more than 8 weeks I am appreciating more and more the value which I am personally deriving from physical labor. I have dug extensively in my garden, filled countless holes in my driveway, moved and stacked over a dozen cords of wood, hand pounded a good number of cedar fence posts and in general, got away from the office and the associated seat time.

I couldn’t help but the think of my Uncle Jim at one point when my blistered hands and tired back caused me to take a moment of pity for myself. You see my uncle was a dairy farmer his entire life…….I believe from the time he was in seventh grade. He was not a corporate farmer like many today which contract large numbers of migrant laborers and have extensive machinery. The type which manage thousands of cows which never leave the cover of the barn. I am certainly not saying that there is anything wrong with this. His farm simply functioned and looked dramatically different those of today.

Uncle Jim was the type of farmer that woke up at 5 a.m and headed to the barn by himself or possibly with one of his children to help him with the morning milking. I will always remember shaking his hand. It was like placing your fingers in a vice as it clenched down and around mine. The type of strength which can only be developed by years of grasping, lifting, swinging, hauling, and in general…..doing work!

There are many labor jobs which elicit a similar outcome of strength and fitness gains. Watch sometime as a mason lays concrete block all day for several consecutive days or as a carpenter frames a 7,000 square foot structure, or a roofer removes 24 square of shingles, including 3 layers made of asphalt and one layer of cedar shakes, from an old home. There are certainly many other examples of occupations I could have mentioned, all of which have the potential to increase a person’s strength and fitness.

As physical education teachers and coaches we often encourage and attempt to motivate our students and athletes to exercise so that their performance or health will improve. Running, biking, lifting weights, plyometrics, body weight exercises, agility work etc. are generally part, or most of our prescription. How about simply doing some kind of labor, or work around one’s house? A quick “Google” search of the definition will elicit the following verb, ” 1. be engaged in physical or mental activity in order to achieve a purpose or result, especially in one’s job; do work.” If this is the case, how then is labor different from physical training or exercise? How is an athlete any different from a laborer? My argument is, they have far more similarities than differences.

Take my Uncle Jim as I mentioned earlier, I have never seen him out running or at a local gym lifting weights to get exercise…….although I have seen him jump in the pool on a hot summer’s day! What I do know for certain is that he is one of the strongest people I have known. His children, all of whom were raised on the same farm, are every bit as strong as he is. They are also very successful professionally I might add given the expectation of work ethic which they were raised with.

My point to this article is, if you want to gain strength or “get in shape”, find some sort of physical labor and get to work! You don’t need a membership to the gym or specialized equipment or knowledge of the latest fitness trend. Simply find a task which requires physical exertion or effort and get after it!! Your body will thank you for it…..after a couple of days possibly….. you may make a few bucks and simultaneously accomplish a task for yourself or another. At the end of the day, work works!

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