Baseball legend-in-the-making Mike Trout, NBA MVP Stephen Curry, tennis star Serena Williams, and the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, all stretch before hitting the court, field or track.
So why shouldn’t a hard-working, sunrise-to-sunset construction worker do the same? Carrying a tool belt, climbing a ladder and handling heavy equipment are physically demanding. Just ask anyone whose work attire includes a hard hat.
“Obviously, there is a difference in that construction workers don’t earn the same money that athletes do, but from the physical component, they are loading their spine, joints 8, 10, sometimes 12 hours a day in much the same way as a professional athlete,” says Juan Cisneros, physical therapist at the U.S. HealthWorks Empire Central Clinic in the Dallas region. “You’re repetitively using your muscles, sometimes more than an athlete.”
“When I say they have probably more physically-demanding jobs than professional athletes, their eyes get big and they start listening,” says Karen Danley, a sales consultant for U.S. HealthWorks in the Dallas region.
Danley, a former co-owner of a construction company, coordinates onsite Stretch and Flex training sessions for construction companies and their employees.
The U.S. HealthWorks’ training sessions, led by its physical therapists, reached 650 workers in the Dallas-Fort Worth region during Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) National Safety Stand Down Week in early May. More than 2,000 construction workers, many on high-profile construction projects such as the Liberty Mutual and Toyota headquarters, have been trained during the past year.
“We know their business and we want to help them,” says Danley, who often hands out hard hat stickers at the training sessions. “We are being pro-active, rather than reactive.”
A few minutes of early morning stretching and flexing can make a big difference, says Cisneros, who encourages employees to also stretch when they return from lunch or hit the road at the end of the workday.
“It establishes a healthier, safer workplace and a stronger workforce,” says Jose Rodriguez, owner of Crew Management Services. The Fort Worth, Texas-based company provides onsite safety consultants and managers for large construction projects throughout Texas, and they engage U.S. HealthWorks to conduct Stretch and Flex training sessions for hundreds of workers. “You have to build an environment, a culture of safety.”
“Occupational medicine is a key part of preventive medicine,” Cisneros says. “We’re trying to prevent and manage occupational hazards and injuries. The companies are looking at us for help in that area.”
Just as a construction worker wouldn’t enter a job site without wearing a hard hat, they should also never start the work day without stretch and flex exercises beforehand.
“It does help quite a bit, and it’s very beneficial to their employees,” says Cisneros, who adds that employees who embrace a healthy lifestyle, including exercise and a Stretch and Flex Program, will likely enjoy longer and more productive careers.
The workers will have fewer injuries, especially back and shoulder problems, the most common in construction – and in the overall workplace. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, more than 1 million employees suffer back injuries every year, which translates to about one in five of workplace-related injuries.
It’s recommended that all active employees should follow some form of a Stretch and Flex Program to curb the likelihood of injuries.
U.S. HealthWorks shares some helpful tips for an effective – and relatively quick – Stretch and Flex Program:
- Abdominal bracing: Tense your abdominals before starting the following exercises, much like if someone was going to punch you in the stomach. The tensing of the abdominals prepares you for the exercises.
- Hip circles: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, hands on your hips. Circle your hips in one direction for 10 counts. Relax. Then, go the other way for 10 counts.
- Trunk rotations: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Twist gently side to side. Let arms swing freely. Make sure you stand straight. Repeat 10 times.
- Calf stretch: Stand with one foot out with the front leg bent. Step the other leg back, keeping the foot straight forward and the leg straight. Place both of your hands on your front thigh. Hold for a count of 10. Then, switch legs.
- Hamstring stretch: Place one foot in front of the other, alternating between lifting toes and heel off the floor. Keep the front leg straight. Bend over slightly from the waist and place hands on both thighs. Hold for a count of 10. Then, switch sides.
- Side bend with arms up: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart. Bend your trunk to one side by lowering your shoulder. Remember to tighten those abs at the same time. Run your hand down the outside of your thigh and reach up with the opposite arm overhead. Hold for 10 counts. Slowly straighten up. Now, repeat on the opposite side.
- Back extension: Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Place your hands above your hips with your elbows pointing back. Bend back slightly from waist and return upright. Repeat 10 times.
- Shoulder circles: Bring your shoulders up to the ears and gently roll your shoulders back. Repeat five times.
- Shoulder stretch: Stand straight with your feet hip-distance apart. Bring the right hand to the left shoulder, elbow elevated, just about in line with your chin. Using your left palm, press into the right elbow, stretching the shoulder. Hold for 10 counts. Repeat on the other side.