Bartending is a physically demanding job, but often in all the wrong ways. Hours of standing and mixing drinks can leave you with a tight and achy back, shoulders, wrists, knees, feet and joints, but also lacking energy for working out post shift or even the next day.
Enter our team of fitness experts, many of whom have done time behind the stick, with some tips for sneaking in mini workouts while on the job.
Why work out on the job?
“Fitting in additional movement all day can help prevent strength imbalances that may develop from standing in one posture for extended periods of time,” says Megan Lyons, a Dallas fitness instructor and owner of The Lyons’ Share Wellness, a personal health coaching company.
“While standing does burn more calories than sitting, it does not involve any increases in intensity, which are helpful for heart health, aerobic fitness and circulation. We tell desk warriors to change their stance by standing or pacing around the office and we tell runners to incorporate upper body and core strength training to balance out their strong legs. Bartenders and those who stand all day need to balance that with short bursts of strength exercises throughout the day,” she continues.
Just like any well rounded exercise program, you’ll need a warm up, a mix of cardio and strength, a few dashes of creativity with on-the-job props, and a proper cool down to get the most out of your “work” workout.
Just like athletes warm up before they train or compete, bartenders should approach their marathon-like shifts with the same mentality. Whether that means a few gentle stretches or doing a few jumping jacks or parking lot sprints to get the blood flowing and loosen up your muscles, find what gives you energy and focus pre-shift and make it a routine.
Boston’s Kirsten “Kitty” Amann, a former bartender, ACE (American Council on Exercise) certified personal trainer, and 200 hour RYT (registered yoga teacher) says “the first half of a sun salutation is great for warming up the hamstrings and easy to do pre-shift or in a bathroom or wait station if you have a few minutes.”
Another 200 hour RYT, Meghan Ann Martin of Atlanta, suggests a few spinal twists and side stretches for improving circulation and increasing lung capacity before a long day behind the bar.
Even a few simple stretches can help keep muscles limber during a physically demanding shift. Photo: Jodi Cash.
Bust out some cardio
“Ever watch the valets and how they sprint back and forth to cars all night long? We can all incorporate that kind of burst speed and movement into our work days” says veteran bartender and Atlanta-based TRX trainer Bobby Arnold.
While proper footwear and the undesirability of sweating into guests’ drinks all night make all out sprints impractical, it is fairly easy to incorporate mini cardio bursts into your everyday tasks.
“Take the stairs two at a time … Or do walking lunges, or run from station to station or to the storage room and back,” he recommends. “A few thirty-second intervals are enough to get your heart rate up and give you a burst of energy to get through the night,” he says.
Arnold often pops on a pair of latex gloves and knocks out mountain climbers, spiderman push-ups, planks and even a handstand or two on breaks.
Don’t want to get that close and personal with your bar floor?
“Do wall or floor push-ups or dips using a chair or bench, up to fifteen repetitions of each,” says Kim Bouldin, NASM-CPT, CES, FNS. “You’ll work the same muscles you would if you did them on the floor.”
If you don’t feel like getting up-close and personal with your bar floor, try incline pushups or dips on any raised surface. Photo: Jodi Cash.
Make movements functional
Functional training is all the rage in fitness — what better way to practice proper form then by applying it to the physical aspects of your work?
“All that lifting, shaking, and carrying can wreak havoc on your back — unless you’re engaging your abdominals and using proper form,” says Lauren Maniscalco, Pilates and barre instructor and author of the book, “Skinny Jeans?”
Arnold agrees. “We’re constantly bending over and reaching all shift long, so remember to bend with purpose and proper form. Or, instead of bending, trying squatting or step back lunges to vary movement and build strength.”
To add more of a challenge, Maniscalco suggests pliés, with feet wider than shoulder width apart and turned out to 45 degrees.
“Lower your bottom straight down and grab whatever you’re picking up with both hands on the side, keeping the abdominals pulled up and in the whole time,” she recommends.
Similarly, Martin says alternating leg lifts are a great way to “perfect your posture” and keep your core engaged while working.
Use your environment
Both Arnold and Maniscalco recommend using workplace props such as brooms, bottles, beer or wine cases, buckets, benches and chairs for executing quick strength movements.
“Look at your surroundings and see what you can use. Everything has potential,” says Arnold. “Tricep dips and push-ups work from any raised surface. Or pick up a 20 pound case of beer and use it for double or single arm curls.”
“Or use two bottles of equal weight for some quick arm rows,” says Maniscalco, who also suggests the “Pilates saw,” a full body twisting exercise, to wipe down counters or pick up objects off the floor. “Keep your hips square, slightly rotate your body to the right and wipe the bar forward to the right diagonally. Repeat on the other side. It’s a great workout for the obliques.”
Building a fitness regime into your bartending practice can help you stay happier and healthier. Images by Jodi Cash.
Just like you want a pre-work warm up, you want to cool down and make a clean transition from work to home. Amann and Martin recommend a standing forward bend (Uttanasana) or half forward bend to stretch out the backs of the legs and release tension in the lower back.
Arm and shoulder stretches, like simply clasping the hands together and stretching the arms overhead or behind you can help ease sore muscles after a long night of shaking and stirring.rn
“For after work, I recommend all my bartenders do ‘legs up a wall’ or on the headboard of the bed,” says Amann. “It’s easy, calming, and they can safely do it even if they have had a few to drink post-shift.”
It’s all about balance, right?
That fancy library ladder on your backbar can prove to be a great surface for calf stretches, too. Photo: Jodi Cash.
Ready to give it a shot? Check out these six quick and easy exercises you can do behind the bar:
1. Calf Stretch on the Ladder
Calf stretch on the ladder. Lower one calf slowly without sinking in the torso and keeping shoulders and hips square. Imagine growing taller in both directions.
2. Step-back Lunge
Back lunge. Step back to engage glutes, hamstrings, and core. A great way to break up the monotony of standing.<a
3. Bicep Curl
Bicep curl. Lift elbows almost to the height of shoulders, core engaged, hips and shoulders square, shoulder sliding down the back so you can engage the back body.
4. Lunge to Reach
Lunge to reach. Square hips and shoulders, soft knees, core engaged, using glutes and hamstrings of back leg to propel you forward.
5. Twist to Reach
Twist to reach. Instead of bending over and collapsing or twisting simply from the arm and neck, use the entire torso to twist. It keeps your core engaged and works your obliques.
6. Shoulder Stretch
Shoulder stretch. Clasp your hands together behind your back, keeping elbows soft to avoid hyperextension. Shoulder blades squeeze together and core stays engaged as you take a slight hinge forward to stretch out the arms, shoulders, and upper body.