By John Amtmann and Brian Schwarzkoph
As industrial athletes, we have to stay in good physical condition to safely perform arborist work in an efficient manner. For various reasons, many people are not interested in going to the gym for their workout. Some tree workers just don’t get into the typical commercial gym atmosphere, and for others it’s simply inconvenient to travel to a gym because of heavy traffic or long distances. Some have families and want to spend time at home with their spouse and children. This is understandable, and, although being physically active together as a family can strengthen the bond of the family, many would rather do home workouts. The following are some home exercise options that are practical, efficient and just as effective as any program completed at a commercial gym.
Although body-weight-only exercise programs are possible, having access to basic equipment will allow for some variety, and we recommend the following as a minimum for your home gym:
Bench. A bench is inexpensive and can be used for many exercises. Your local sports store will have one.
Stability ball. For a home workout we usually use a stability ball, as it can be used in a more multi-purpose fashion than a bench. If you can’t afford both a bench and a ball, go with the stability ball.
Surgical tubing (resistance bands). Surgical tubing comes in different thicknesses to give you different levels of resistance and can be purchased at any sports store.
Mat/pad. Actually you don’t even need a pad, a carpeted floor would do just fine, however if you are exercising for prolonged periods of time in one area, the carpet will absorb sweat and the odor will eventually become noticeable.
Dumbbell set. If you have the money, you can purchase individual sets of dumbbells, but that gets really pricey. Dumbbells from stores that sell used equipment, pawn shops, etc., will end up saving you at least 50 percent off full retail price; and, what the heck, it’s just weight.
Pull-up bar. They fit in doorways and are inexpensive.
Home cardio options. Include, to start, simply jogging/biking around the neighborhood. But chances are pretty good that if you are interested in home options, exercising out in the neighborhood may be just as uncomfortable for you as going to the gym. Some good home options for cardio range in price from inexpensive to much more expensive. Inexpensive: walking laps and jumping rope. More expensive: cross country skiing machine, treadmill, elliptical, rowing machine.
Whenever you are exercising at home, you have to make sure safety is your top priority. Weight training at home means you will be performing strength training exercises, and with many lifts a spotter is recommended for safety purposes. The exercises that are of primary safety concern are those that can trap you under the weight in case you can’t complete the last repetition. The barbell bench press, barbell overhead press, power clean (and derivatives), and the barbell squat are notorious for causing serious injury and death, and will be avoided in the home programs we recommend. There are many safe and effective alternatives to these exercises and these are the exercises on which we will focus.
Note that in a gym you have spotters available and machines that may allow you to push yourself to complete exhaustion. With home exercises, you have to be selective regarding which exercises can be safely taken to failure. Some — such as abdominal exercises, push-ups, pull-ups and curls — are safe to train to failure with, while others — such as bench press or overhead press — are not. Use caution when performing these exercises and end the set short of exhaustion if your safety is in question.
Additionally, anytime we work with athletes who have never used a stability ball before, we cover some basic guidelines for use. Stability balls come in several sizes and your height should determine which size to use. When you purchase a stability ball, the size is indicated on the package along with an easy-to-use table that guides you in determining which size would fit you best. When sitting on an appropriately sized stability ball, the angles at your knees and hips should be about 90 degrees. The stability ball requires balance, so pay particular attention to what’s happening with your body (where your feet are placed, where your torso is relative to the ball) to maintain balance and prevent falling.
Also, unlike metal weights, wear and tear can damage the stability ball and surgical tubing, so inspect these items on a routine basis to make sure there won’t be a breakdown during one of your exercises.
Try the following 3 programs (work to a point of comfortable discomfort).
1. Any variation of push-ups
2. Any variation of pull-ups
3. Sit-ups (or a quality set of any abdominal exercise)
4. Five minutes of your choice of cardio.
Complete exercises 1 through 4 anywhere from two to six times (if you’re feeling chipper). Don’t be fooled by the simplicity; if you push yourself, it will be effective.
Your choice of home cardio for 10 minutes.
Seated reverse flies with tubing x 15 repetitions. Maintain good posture with slow movements.
Stability ball dumbbell bench press x 15 repetitions. Performing this exercise on the stability ball requires engaging muscles of the hips, low back and abdominals to maintain balance.
Lunges x 15 for each leg. As shown in the photo, maintain posture and do not let your knee extend past your big toe. Having a platform of 30 to 45 degrees is helpful in preventing knee injury.
Stability ball abdominal curls x 20-30 repetitions. Exhale as you rise, inhale as you return to the start position. Move slowly.
Stability ball back extensions. Exhale as you rise, inhale as you return to the start position. Move slowly.
Complete exercises 1 through 6 three times, and you will get 30 minutes of cardio and a well-rounded strength training session.
Your choice of home cardio for 15 minutes.
Dumbbell lateral raise x 12-15 repetitions. Slight bend to the elbows and the arms move upward and slightly in front of the body.
Dumbbell overhead press x 12-15 repetitions. Sort of like an NFL referee signaling “Touchdown!”
Stability ball push-ups x 12-15. Engage your abdominals to maintain balance. The push-up with your hands on the stability ball is more difficult, so start with your feet on the ball and get comfortable with that exercise before progressing to the hands on the ball push-up.
Abdominal curl x 20 followed by knee ups for 20. Slow movements, eliminating momentum, increase the effectiveness of this exercise. Remember, do not hold your breath on this or any other exercise; inhale or exhale during the movement.
Shoulder bridge x 30 seconds. Maintain controlled breathing while holding the position.
Stability ball dumbbell pullovers x 12-15 repetitions. Pay attention to engaging your abdominals, low back and hip musculature to maintain balance.
Dumbbell triceps extension x 10-15 repetitions. Again, pay attention to engaging your abdominals, low back and hip musculature to maintain balance.
Dumbbell curls x 10-15 repetitions (either standing or on the stability ball).
Complete exercises 1 through 9 twice and you will get 30 minutes of cardio and a well-rounded strength training session.
Repetitions should be performed under a controlled speed. To eliminate momentum raise the weight in about 3 seconds while exhaling, and lower the weight in about 3 to 4 seconds while inhaling. Though these are basic programs suitable for beginners, an advanced athlete and seasoned arborist could still benefit from this basic approach to fitness and conditioning, but the commitment to intensity would have to be different. These types of programs have been used successfully for years in training other athletes for the rigorous demands of judo, wrestling, boxing, grappling and mixed martial arts. The arborist is an industrial athlete, and must be dedicated to developing/maintaining fitness to continue to safely and effectively work in the industry. These programs are a good start for anyone who would simply like the option to train at home instead of at the gym.
John Amtmann is a professor of Applied Health Science program at Montana Tech in Butte, Mont. He works as an arborist during the summer, and can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com. Quarterback for the Montana Tech Orediggers, Brian Schwarzkoph is an Applied Health Science student at Montana Tech, and is a tree worker in his spare time. He can be reached via e-mail at BWSchwarzkoph@mtech.edu.