Blue Collar Brawn

If you’re a tradesman, the physical demands of your work can sap your strength and hinder your ability to build muscle. The MF Tradie Workout factors in your day job so you get stronger results — ensuring it will be the ladies who do the whistling when you walk past.

Research in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that a day packed with mentally taxing tasks can have a big effect on your post-work gym session, reducing your exercise endurance by upwards of 15 percent.

Spare a thought, then, for the men whose hands built this country — the tradesmen. Almost 70 percent of Australian blokes work in some sort of blue-collar job that has a physical element to it. It might be wheelbarrowing sand, wielding a drill or driving a heavy-duty vehicle.

The common factor is that all these jobs cost you strength and energy and, come knock-off time, you’re not just mentally exhausted, but physically too. With this in mind, pairing a tough day on the job with a conventional muscle-building workout can actually be counter-productive for a lot of tradesmen.

“I see it all the time,” says Joseph Coyne (, an exercise physiologist on Queensland’s Gold Coast, who trains several professional athletes. “Plenty of guys do a gruelling eight hours of serious labour and are finished by the time they get into the gym. This means they begin training with little to no energy and lift smaller weights than they would have if they’d had a day off. To get around this, we tailor workouts to accommodate their day job so they can build muscle without being too stiff to work.”

If you’re in a profession that involves manual labour, overtraining is a threat to your muscle-building ambitions. Working a trade doesn’t always give your body enough recovery time, because your system sees your day job as exercise, and not enough recovery time means you can lose muscle instead of gain it. Fortunately, Coyne’s high-intensity programs focus on keeping your workouts short and intense so that your body is always building muscle, because it gets enough time to recover. Here’s how you can do it so you keep yourself in the building trade — whether you’re on-site or in the gym.

How your day job can sap your muscle

Your body always strives for balance. It loves hard work, but also needs down-time to recover when the tough stuff is done and dusted. “Most gym programs ply your body with a huge volume of work, using several sets and plenty of reps,” Coyne says. “This is called volume training and has you doing the bog-standard 4-6 sets of 8-12 reps. However, when you combine this with a physical job, your body thinks it’s been worked in the gym all day and hasn’t been given enough rest to grow. This can result in your growth stagnating rather than accelerating.”

Research in the journal Sport Medicine supports this. It found that overtraining caused by a volume approach had the same effect as overtraining through aerobic exercise, such as running or cycling. So the aerobic activity of your day job, such as walking around a building site, combined with the volume training of your gym workout, makes your body think it’s running a marathon all day, every day. Fortunately, there’s a simple fix: do the opposite to volume training. This is called intensity training and it has you training exceptionally hard for 45 minutes or less.

“Making the switch to high-intensity training, which gives your body more rest, will build muscle faster than any other method, while still leaving you with plenty of energy for every session,” says Coyne. After all, you don’t grow when you’re in the gym, you grow when you’re resting.

How ‘The Tradie’ Works

The Tradie Workout consists of two parts done back-to-back. Part 1 is a high-intensity, muscle-building circuit of 12 exercises with little or no rest, followed immediately by Part 2: 15 minutes (including warm-up and cool-down) of fat-burning interval sprints on a treadmill or stationery exercise bike.

For the muscle-building circuit, use a weight that’s around 70-80 percent of the most weight you can lift, push or press just once — this is called your one-rep maximum (1RM). This weight should allow you to complete 8-12 repetitions. Pay attention to the tempo of each rep: each should take you four seconds to raise and four seconds to lower.

When you can do 12 reps of an exercise with that weight, it’s time to increase the weight by five percent. That way, you’re constantly challenging your muscles. Don’t rest between sets — the time it takes you to put away the weight you’ve used and set up the next weight is sufficient rest.

If you feel that at the end of your set you can do another rep, go for it. The idea is to exhaust all your muscles in a short time (30-45 minutes), which you’ll be able to do by following up your weights workout with the high-intensity cardio workout directly afterwards.

A study in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that short but intense weight sessions gave lifters some of the biggest surges of testosterone — your chief muscle-building hormone. With this in mind, stick to doing three workouts a week, leaving at least a day’s rest between each one. Remember, the idea is not to cruise through your workout, but to feel totally buggered at the end of it, as if it was the very last gym session you’ll ever do.

Click here for the Tradie Workout.

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