Finally balance your hard labor job and your workout routine

February 17th 2019

For our lifters out there who need to do a hard labor job, should you adjust your workout if you had a physically demanding day?

The true answer is that there is no one size fits all solution. Everyone responds differently to stress and it would be foolish to idealize that there is one solution that works for everyone. There are several alternatives to adjusting to a hard labor job and workout schedule, including picking a different program, manipulating training variables, and experimentation.

Try to experiment with your volume, intensity, and frequency

Working 8-12 hours at a physically demanding job is no walk in the park. It can be very difficult and you may never find your groove at the gym. Feeling drained after work, the last thing on your mind is to go to the gym and get a good workout in.

And you know what? That’s acceptable! You do not need to be perfect. However, since this is a constraint on your energy and time, what can we do about it? It is easy to just succumb to lethargy but it takes greater strength to push through adversity.

Reduce your volume

One option you can try is by decreasing your overall workout volume. So, for example, if you have a workout program that has you doing chest day on Mondays with an overall set amount of 20, try to reduce it to 15 sets.

You may find that reducing a volume just a tad bit may allow you to still train hard while not being completely miserable at the gym. It may still suck to train after a hard day’s work but at least it is manageable.

But what if I reduced my volume drastically and I still feel horrendous? This is a possible situation since we cannot determine with 100% certainty that this training variable is the determinant for whether or not you can train with sufficient energy levels. Well, here is the next suggestion I can offer to you.

Reduce your intensity

If you are strength training, you are probably training around 75-85% of your 1 rep max (RM). Your program may also include high-intensity sets (85-95% of your 1RM), which is fine since we are all lifters are looking to build both strength and power?

But if you are working a physically demanding job, what do you do now? So, for example, let’s say you were doing 5 sets of 5 reps (5x5) of 315 lbs squat, which is 85% of your 1RM. This makes your 1RM around 370lbs. You reduced the volume down to 3x5, but you still feel gross.

After reducing your total workout volume, why not try 80% of your 1RM? So, instead of 3x5 of 315lbs, try to do 3x5 of 295lbs. I can almost guarantee that you will feel much better before, during and after your workout with reduced intensity.

We accumulate training fatigue by increasing volume and/or intensity to provide our body with enough stimulus to adapt. If we are working a hard labor job, our ability to recover is diminished and our bodies do not have as many resources to recover from hard workouts. So, to adapt and be better, if quitting the job is not an option, lifters would need to decrease volume, intensity or a combination of both in order to achieve a balance between how much stress is accumulated and how much the body can recover from.

But what about reducing frequency?

Depending on your goals, this may not be a viable option for you. If you are looking to gain as much strength as possible and possibly break personal records (PRs), you would probably be training 3-5x a week. Going from 5 times a week down to 3-4 times a week may not be a terrible change since there is still enough gym time to get in enough training stress to force your body to adapt.

However, dropping from 3x a week down to 1-2x a week may not work well. In the strength training world, there are very few lifters who get away with lifters so infrequently. Why? A number of reasons.


  1. There are not enough days to gather sufficient training volume. Going once or twice a week forces the lifter to perform high volume and intensity days to make up for the lack of frequency, which is the opposite of how we can eliminate pre-training fatigue from a physically taxing job.
  2. There are not enough days to practice the movements. If you are a powerlifter or compete in any competition, you know how vital it is for a lifter to have perfect form. Practicing form and good technique are critical for the long term success of any lifter. By decreasing your workout frequency down to 1-2x a week, it places unnecessary stress for you to be absolutely perfect on days where you are not feeling 100%.



There are other options. Not as plentiful as if you had a less stressful job but we will make do with the resources we have!

Training at different times of the day

Reducing volume and/or intensity is one way to go about adjusting your workout to a hard labor job. Experimenting with what your body can handle is crucial because it will give urgency to learn and adapt.

Another strategy to consider is to train at different times of the day. For example, try to train in the morning before work. There are many pros and cons that I outlined for you, and why the best time for you may not be the best time for someone else.

However, in that article, I did not go over what someone, who is performing a physically demanding job, should do for their case. I will address that here - there is no need to worry. You can still read my guide and be informed about the benefits and drawbacks about training in the early mornings or late at night.

Depending on your work situation, you may not have the luxury of choosing when to workout. Rather, you are looking for alternatives to make training a bit smoother. While I advocate for training before your workday starts, it may not be appropriate. For example, if your workday starts at 6 AM and you need to take an hour to get to work. You would need to wake up around 2-3 AM and be done before 5 AM. This hectic schedule may be unrealistic for some people. Though it is possible for people who are willing to prioritize their gains, it is up to the lifter to decide whether or not this is their fate.

Do not forget to get enough sleep: At least 7 hours

You hear about this rule in school; it is necessary to sleep in order to learn effectively. Did you also know that you need to sleep for your body to repair and grow? Sleep and strength training go hand-in-hand and it is vital to get enough sleep so that your body can begin to adapt to the training stimulus.

In addition to those additional benefits, let us not forget that our body needs sleep in order to correctly maintain a proper internal environment for our cells. Our cells, organs, and metabolism depend on sleep so that they can self regulate and repair itself so that we can better adapt to our environment.

Make sure to eat but do not get careless

For many people who work a hard labor job, you run into two issues: those who eat too much and those who eat too little. Let us dive into why both of these situations are dangerous to strength development.

If you eat too little, your body will not have enough nutrients to maintain and build muscle. You need to remember, your body needs food to self regulate and one part of the body’s self-regulation is to maintain your body weight. If you eat too little food, your body will be prompted to catabolize your muscles, causing you to be weaker and look thinner.

If you eat too much, your body will have an excess amount of calories to work with. Without properly maintaining a structured diet, excess calories are stored as fat and you will have a double duty to both lose fat and gain strength. Fortunately, there are ways to make sure you can eat enough but not too much. You would need to calculate your metabolic rate, which there are many calculators for. However, it may get tricky since we are also adding in the stress of having a physical labor job.

Here is what we can do if you are looking to gain muscle. Take your bodyweight measurements daily and measure your waist every 7-10 days. Reevaluate your plan. If you are not gaining weight, add 100 calories per week. Ideally, we should see a half a pound to a pound gained per week. If you are eating too many excess calories, you will be adding on more fat than you anticipated.

If you want to lose fat while working a manual labor job and strength training, do not just cut your calories in half. Again, take your bodyweight measurements daily and measure your waist every 7-10 days. Steadily decrease between 100-200 calories per week and adjust accordingly. A less aggressive plan is much more sustainable than cutting down 600 calories and seeing what will happen.

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