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Working out on the road

Fitness expert Melodie Champion explains how easy it is to stay active on the road


TORONTO, Ont. — Choosing a salad over a cheeseburger, getting eight hours of sleep instead of staying up to binge-watch your favourite Netflix show, and visiting your doctor on a regular basis are all practices that most people do to stay healthy. Unfortunately, one healthy practice that gets swept under the rug – mainly because it’s time-consuming, challenging and sometimes unpleasant – is exercise.

The average Canadian is supposed to be getting 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise per day, according to the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines. That can be hard to achieve when you’re sitting behind the steering wheel of a truck all day and your eyes – let alone the rest of your body – are too tired to even think about working out when you finally get parked at the end of a long shift. But keeping your body active is something that all drivers should be doing to not only improve their overall health, but to remain a safe, efficient driver.

“Because they sit for hours at a time, we need to get drivers up and out of their seat to get the blood flowing, circulation going and we need to keep their heart healthy,” said Melodie Champion, certified health coach. “Staying active keeps them more alert, which makes them a safer driver on the road.”

Champion said that when working out while on the road, it’s all about time management and mixing both cardiovascular activities with strength training activities. Cardiovascular exercises are part of the 150 minutes of activity you need to get each week; that can be a brisk walk, a run or a bike ride. Strength training exercises, also called resistance exercises, are activities that induce muscular contraction building strength, like weight lifting, or exercises like sit-ups and push-ups.

Cardio

Since time is such an issue for drivers, Champion suggests breaking up the 30 minutes of cardio needed each workday (to make 150 minutes per week) into three 10-minute intervals. Before starting a new workout routine involving cardio, she suggests evaluating your current fitness level.

If walking is enough to raise your heart rate and makes your breathing somewhat laboured, then walking is enough cardio for you to start with, Champion said. If walking seems easy to you, and doesn’t get your heart rate up, you should move to a light jog or run, she said.

“If you need to challenge yourself even more, great cardio is using a skip rope or jump rope for 10 minutes at a time, three times a day,” she said. “Because that’s such minimal equipment for drivers and it’s easy to pack and store in the truck.”

Strength training

Statistics Canada says that close to half of all truck drivers are between the ages 45 and 64 – an age where a simple slip and fall could mean bone fractures and breaks. Combat this and make your bones and body stronger and less susceptible to breaks through strength training. The national guidelines suggest that these sorts of exercises should be added to workout regimes at least two days per week.

“Strength training is extremely important because we want to maintain an adequate amount of muscle mass on our bodies that does make us stronger,” Champion said. “We do have a lot of lifting and twisting that are a part of being a driver, so we want to keep our functional movements as part of our workouts as well. Muscle mass also helps us burn more calories throughout the day. For every pound of muscle you have, you burn another 50-75 calories a day at rest. So strength training is also important in maintaining a proper weight.”

Champion suggests mixing up your strength training exercises to work out as many muscle groups as possible. Three exercises she recommends for strength training are body squats, push-ups and sit-ups.

Body squats involve standing with your feet flat on the ground, shoulder-width apart, with your shoulders back to start. Next, put your weight on your heels and squat back and down at the knee – like you’re about to sit in a chair. Then go back to the starting position. Make sure to keep your head and chest up during this move. Champion recommends doing this for
10-12 reps.

If this move becomes too easy, add a kettlebell (another easy piece of equipment to pack in your truck, because unlike dumbbells, you only need one, Champion said) and make it a goblet squat but holding the weight with both hands at your chest while completing squats for 10-12 reps.

If you’re not sure how much weight you should be lifting when it comes to purchasing weights, Champion said to look at your form while performing the moves with the weight.

“You want to be able to maintain proper form at all times,” she said. “If the weight is too heavy, you’re going to be struggling to do that, so you have to decrease your weight. You want to be able to perform each exercise 10-12 times, and that number 12 should be a struggle but while maintaining proper form.”

Push-ups can also be modified. If you find a regular push-up on your hands and toes too challenging for 10-12 reps, then make it easier by completing the push-ups on your knees or put your hands on the bumper of the truck, said Champion. If you find a regular push-up too easy after 12 reps, increase the intensity by putting your feet up on the step of your truck, with your hands on the ground.

Sit-ups are the last strength training exercise Champion recommended for drivers because they target the abdominal muscles, where men especially (that comprises more than 95% of the driver population) carry most of their excess weight.

“And that’s simply just lifting your body up towards your knees and down,” she said. “If they have a sleeper cab, they can do it right in their bunk before they even get up in the morning.”

Getting an exercise regime started is half the battle but for most drivers it’s something that pays off.

Seven years ago, Mariusz Rozanski, 47, an owner/operator who drives for Verspeeten Cartage out of Ingersoll, Ont., noticed he was gaining weight at a pace he was uncomfortable with.

“I noticed I was gaining weight very fast because I was sitting all the time and I had to keep buying pants in a bigger size. Finally I decided I had to start doing something,” he said.

He, like Champion suggests, started off slowly.

“When the trailer was getting loaded and unloaded I would stretch gently or go for a light walk while I waited,” Rozanski said. “From there, depending on my schedule, I would wake up (before my shift started) and go for a walk at the truck stop.”

Today, Rozanski runs and trains for marathons with three of his other truck driving friends three times per week (he qualified for the Boston Marathon with a time of 3:24:39). He said he started running by slowly adding it to his routine by doing intervals (ie. walking for 10 minutes, running for one minute, then a week later, walking for nine minutes running for two minutes and so on).

He added that one of his favourite activities to do while on the road is swim, and said that technology has helped him on his fitness journey.

“On my iPhone I have an app called SwimRadar that helps me to locate swimming pools that are nearby,” he said. “So if I know I have time to kill, I can go to the app and find a nearby pool to swim at.”

Most of the time, he said, where there is a swimming pool, there is a gym with facilities so he can kill three birds with one stone – swim for cardio, complete his strength training at the gym, and then shower.

Gary Wilm, a driver in his late 50s, who has been driving for more than 30 years, said adding exercise to his day not only helps him physically, but mentally too.

“I find walking remarkably therapeutic,” he said. “It really calms you down and it’s low-impact, which is good for us old guys.”

Wilm said when he was in his 20s and 30s he was a gym rat, but fell out of that routine when he started driving long-haul because of how little time drivers get when they are on the road, while sitting for most of their day.

“I found it hard to get motivated,” he said, adding that he, too, like Rozanski, started off just walking around the parking lot of truck stops.

Today, Wilm brings barbells and kettlebells along with him in the truck so when he has free time before or after a shift he can perform basic exercises outside his truck, like bicep curls and lunges.

He admits sometimes he feels a little silly being the only driver at a truck stop working out, but said more recently drivers are coming up to him and asking about his exercise routine – which he thinks is an excellent start to making the industry more fit.


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