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Finding The Truck Driver Workout That Works For You

In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sent researchers to truck stops across the U.S., where they asked more than 1,000 long-haul drivers about their health. The resulting survey, published in 2014, made one thing clear: Truck drivers weren’t getting enough exercise. They were twice as likely as other workers to have obesity. Three quarters said they got less than the recommended amount of exercise (about 2.5 hours of physical activity per week).

The reasons for this health disparity aren’t too hard to find. For the most part, it’s sedentary work. Few truck stops have fitness centers. There’s no room in the cab for bulky workout equipment. And it’s hard to find fresh, healthy food on the road.

Staying in shape as a truck driver isn’t easy, but generations of healthy drivers prove that it is possible. You just have to commit to staying active, whenever and wherever you can. And you need a truck driver workout that fits your schedule, your routes, and your body.

Personalization is what’s lacking in most lists of the “best exercises for truck drivers.” There is no single “best” workout for everyone—you have to build a routine that works for you. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

The Four Elements Of A Great Truck Driver Workout

The CDC recommends three main exercise goals for adults: flexibility, cardiovascular health, and muscle building. Work on flexibility during warm-up and cool-down activities. Make aerobics the centerpiece of your workout routine. And try to exercise all your major muscle groups (arms, legs, shoulders, chest, belly, back, and hips) at least twice a week—even if that means alternating between muscle groups as part of a daily rotating routine.

If you have any existing health conditions or concerns, be sure to contact a health care professional before beginning any new exercise program.

Here are the four stages of an ideal workout:

1. Warm-Up: Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretches incorporate movement into the stretch, bringing muscles through a full range of motion without holding position. This combination of exertion and range of motion makes dynamic stretching a great warm-up to prepare your body for more energetic movements. Even a brief dynamic stretching routine increases blood flow through muscles, while keeping joints loose and ready for action.

Try starting any workout with a full-body dynamic stretching routine; all you need is a bit of space and your body, so you can do them just about anywhere. A Harvard Health physical therapist recommends the following stretches, with 10 to 20 repetitions of each.

  • Shoulder rolls
  • Side overhead reaches, moving from lower range of motion to higher range of motion
  • Stretching arms side to side while rotating at the waste
  • Hamstring curl, also known as the “butt kick”
  • Side-to-side lunges
  • Knee lifts
  • Arm sweeps

Learn all these movements on the Harvard Health site.

Your dynamic-stretch warm-up should last somewhere between five and eight minutes. If that’s all the time you have, dynamic stretching alone can keep blood flowing and help reduce muscle stiffness and soreness.

For truck driver neck pain, however, you’ll need a more targeted routine. Here’s one option.

At any rate, once your muscles are warmed up, you’re ready to proceed to the core of your workout: cardio.

2. Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise raises the heart rate and keeps it elevated, strengthening the cardiovascular system over time (which is why this type of exercise is more commonly known as cardio). CDC guidelines separate aerobic exercise into two categories: moderate and vigorous. Here are a few examples from each category:

Moderate Aerobic Activities for Truck Drivers

  • Walking quickly (at least 2.5 miles per hour; laps around the truck stop definitely count)
  • Riding a bicycle slower than 10 miles per hour (and yes, some truckers do fit a bike into their cabs)
  • Casual swimming (not likely on the side of the road, but keep this in mind when you can find a pool during a 34-hour reset break)

Vigorous Aerobic Activities for Truck Drivers

  • Running (also includes jogging; find a rest stop trail or just run in place)
  • Jumping rope (it’s easy to toss a jump rope into the cab)
  • Jumping jacks (our go-to exercise for working out on a quick break)

The CDC recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week. Or you could opt for 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise over the same time period. Either way, it sounds like a lot—but the good news is it’s cumulative. You get the same benefit from fifteen 10-minute hikes as you do from three 30-minute walks. In fact, these workouts should be spaced across at least three days per week, the CDC says.

Given the time limitations truck drivers face, many opt for vigorous aerobic exercise during breaks. But if you haven’t been super-active lately, ease in with a fast-paced walk, whenever you can fit it in—and don’t limit yourself to just 75 or 150 minutes per week. The CDC doesn’t identify any upper limit on exercise, and the more you move, the greater the health benefits. In addition to supporting your cardiovascular system, however, you also need to work on muscle and bone strength.

3. Strength-Building Activities

In addition to a half-hour of cardio five days per week (or its equivalent), the CDC recommends strength-building exercise for every major muscle group at least twice a week. You probably can’t fit a squat bar or a full set of free weights in your cab. That makes body-weight exercises particularly valuable for truck drivers—though there’s plenty of small workout equipment that fits easily into a truck cab, too.

Next time you take a comfort break, toss on a pair of gloves and hit the pavement for strength-building exercises like:

  • Pushups
  • Sit-ups
  • Crunches
  • Squats
  • Planks

Bring along a set of dumbbells to target the arms with exercises like:

  • Dumbbell presses
  • Bicep curls
  • Dumbbell rows

Resistance bands are another great option for portable strength training. Stand on your bands to increase the resistance of your squat. Without changing position, you can move onto arm curls, pulling against the band. Work out your chest with band pull-aparts, starting with your arms out straight in front of you, and pulling them outwards as far as possible. Here are a few great truck-side exercises for resistance bands.

For all these movements, aim for at least one set of eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise—and don’t forget to include movements that target all your major muscle groups, at least twice a week for each. Gradually increase sets and/or resistance as you get stronger.

Need more ideas? This video is full of muscle-building movements for the whole body, designed specifically for truck drivers:

After your workout, save time for a cool-down that helps maintain your flexibility.

4. Cool-Down: Static Stretching

Dynamic stretches involve moving the body, pushing the stretch with muscle power alone, without worrying about holding the stretch too long. A static stretch is, well, static: You hold it for anywhere from five to 30 seconds, and may use external supports to increase the range of motion. Be sure to stretch the muscle groups you worked out. Examples of helpful static stretches include:

  • Toe touches
  • Standing quad stretches
  • Hip flexor lunging stretches
  • Cross-body shoulder and arm stretches
  • Side bends

This video offers 17 stretches truck drivers can do anywhere:

Other Factors For Staying In Shape As A Truck Driver

Working out can improve wellness for truck drivers, but a holistic mind-body approach to wellness also incorporates a few other lifestyle factors. Everyone needs enough rest, a nutritious diet, and a sense of calm and safety to thrive. Exercise helps with mood; that’s proven. Financial worries, on the other hand, have been linked to everything from psychological distress to bodily inflammation.

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The point is, life on the road doesn’t have to be unhealthy. Keep your eye on nutrition, rest, mood, and exercise to stay fit and happy as you drive—starting with a truck-driver workout designed just for you.