Sunday, May 5, 2013

Heavy Trousers: Tales from an Electrical Apprenticeship

Two weeks ago, I noticed a new pain and tightness running down the center of my lower back. The low back pain was freaking me out because I couldn't pinpoint what was causing it. Last year, when I was seriously contemplating this career move, physical agility was - and still is - the forefront of my concerns. My body is now my most valuable tool and I can't afford to injure it or mistreat it! I love working for an electrical shop who places a high priority on our morning stretch and flex routines. Yet I have let my personal maintenance slide. Our 10 hour work days have pulled me away from my typical gym and swimming routines: I'm simply too worn out by the end of the day to be as attentive as I was when working our standard eight hour days, and each day does not necessarily bring the exercise my body needs. I'm still getting about an hour's worth of cardio and stretching work out (outside of work) three times a week. This back pain is a warning sign I will not ignore.

A couple days ago, while placing my favorite tools into my pants pockets, I had an "aha!" muscle twinge. The culprit seemed to be heavy trousers! The weight of the tools plus the weight of my belt and heavy canvas pants don't amount to much: maybe six to nine pounds. But the way my pants land around my waist, compounded by the long days and long weeks, turns out to be a cumulative problem for my back. Both this electrical contractor and the one I worked with before are "no tool belt" kinds of shops. We each get our own cart and use these as our work stations. Most of the electricians (and even the other trades around us) are adamant about wearing suspenders with their tool belts - if they use tool belts at all. And now I'm understanding the consequences of having weight around the waist with no secondary support. I'm guessing seasoned/frequent scuba divers, who wear their weight belts around their waists, might have similar issues despite the buoyancy and support they get in the water.

I've invested in my first pair of overalls and until the back pain resolves itself, I'm carrying NO tools in my pockets. So far, this seems to be doing the trick. My crew thinks it's funny to make kangaroo and farm-girl jokes at me now: and it's all in the spirit of camaraderie. I love these new overalls so far and I'm especially grateful at how the wardrobe requirements of this new career are much more practical (and less expensive) than the typical office job.

I am carving out the time to get back to a physical workout routine, despite the long days. This Pocket Yoga App helps me work through my inner excuse dialogue. And on the days where I don't need to be somewhere directly after work, I pack my gym bag and hit my closest gym: this helps me avoid the gnarly traffic, too. I admit: I'm ashamed when I catch myself having harsh judgemental thoughts when I see my extremely out of shape brothers in the field. How on earth do these guys do it? They can't touch their toes and they pack around an extra 30%-50% body weight. Several times now, I have been "the only one to fit" in tight work spaces. My newly revived actions to stay in shape is both carrot AND stick - the stick portion being, "Please do not let me turn out to be like THEM!" I have the feeling I will be setting up a completely different routine (and moments of appreciation) when I can be assigned to an ONLY eight-hour work day!

Heavy Trousers was originally published on My Electric Avenue by Jeanne Slate.

1 comment:

Allan Masri said...

Great post. We have to consider the limitations of our bodies. One of our friends was forced to retire from police work recently with a back problem caused by carrying around too much equipment.