Working on the tools can burn more calories than a session at the gym

Working as a tradesperson can burn more calories than a gym session, according to new research. 

A study by Selco Builders Warehouse has calculated the calorie demand for common tasks performed by tradespeople in their day-to-day jobs, to see how these compare to other physical activities such as running, team sports or gym routines. 

They also investigated which trade careers are working the longest hours compared to the national UK average and are therefore more likely to be physically demanding, as well as which measures can be taken to prevent injuries that could be caused by jobs requiring such hard graft. 

How does an hour of manual labour compare to a gym session? 

The most physically demanding tasks that most tradespeople perform day-to-day job is carrying heavy loads, which burns an average of 661kcals per hour.  

This is the equivalent of an hour-long basketball game, or a 60-minute high-intensity calisthenics workout (which generally includes exercises such as push-ups, sit-ups and jumping jacks).   The NHS recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity (such as brisk walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity (such as running) a week, meaning many tradespeople could already have done their recommended amount of weekly physical activity before they’ve even had an 11am brew! 

Heavy effort carpentry is the second most energy-demanding task, burning around 578 kcal on average – this is equivalent of an hour of jogging, and 39% more intense than a medium-effort resistance training (which burns 413 kcal per hour on average).  Following closely are planting by hand and shovelling, tasks typically performed by gardeners or landscapers, which burn 496 and 479 kcals per hour respectively, both comparable to an hour of cardio training (496 kcals per hour).  

When compared to a lower effort exercise such as power yoga, which burns around 330 kcals per hour, these outdoor jobs are around 47% more intense respectively, burning approx. 150 kcals more each. 

Tasks performed by painters and decorators can be very physically demanding too – in fact, an hour of painting the outside of a house is exactly comparable to an hour of resistance training, which generally involves squats, lunges and deadlifts – these both burn 413 kcal on average. 

According to Selco’s analysis, even the least calorie-demanding task that some tradespeople will commonly do, fixing appliances, burns more calories than an hour of low effort exercise, such as hatha (slow-paced) yoga (+20%, 248 kcal vs 206 kcal on average). 

The most physically demanding trade tasks 

  • Carrying heavy loads: 661 kcals, the equivalent of an hour-long basketball game 
  • Carpentry: 578 kcal per hour, the equivalent of 60 min of jogging 
  • Planting by hand: 496 kcal per hour, comparable to a 60-minute cardio workout (e.g. jumping jacks, burpees) 
  • Shovelling: 479 kcal per hour, comparable to a 60-minute cardio workout 
  • Painting house – outside: 413 kcal per hour, comparable to a 60 min medium-effort resistance training workout (e.g. squats, lunges, deadlifts) 
  • Masonry: 355 kcal per hour, comparable to 60 mins of curling 

What makes trade jobs even more physically demanding is not just the intensity of the manual tasks performed every day, but also the long working hours that tradespeople put in every week. 

Selco discovered that gardeners and landscapers currently have the longest working hours amongst tradespeople, and that workers in trade professions generally work longer-than-average weeks. 

The average week for a plumber is about 46 working hours, according to the Trades Union Congress, which is well over the number of hours the average UK employees puts in in a week, currently standing at 36.5 hours. 

Average working weeks in trades professions: 

  1. Gardeners/landscapers (79 hours, +116% more than the national average) 
  2. Plumbers (46 hours, 26% more) 
  3. Electricians and carpenters (45 hours, 23% more) 
  4. Painters/decorators and builders (44 hours, 21% more) 
  5. Roofers (43 hours, 18% more) 

The combination of long working weeks and high physical demand can expose tradespeople to health risks, including injuries.  

According to data on injuries at work from the HSE, 18% of the 441,000 non-fatal injuries sustained by UK workers in 2020/21 were from handling, lifting and carrying objects. 

Additionally, previous studies indicate nearly two thirds (60%) of tradespeople reported lower back injuries last year, while shoulder pain (31%) was found to be the second most likely ache to trouble tradespeople.

As part of the research, Selco Builders Warehouse spoke to a personal trainer to find out more about the ways tradespeople can take better care of their bodies while at work, as well as which warm-up exercises could be done at the start of every working day to avoid injuries or strains. 

According to James Bickerstaff, Personal Trainer at OriGym: “Working a manual job for prolonged hours a day can produce results equivalent to a gym-based workout.

On average, in fact, a 170lb adult can expect to burn up to 134 calories per hour just from standing, so a manual labour job which requires the person to stand for 8 hours could see you burn up to 1648kcal every day just by standing alone.

Before shifts, tradespeople could start with warm-up exercises which target the core (abdominals, obliques, lower back, hip flexors and glutes), such as planking, back bridges and side planks, all of which can be done in as little as 10 minutes. 

Other exercises that could be useful are squats, lunges, rows and bicep curls, all aimed at strengthening core muscles that tradespeople use during their day to day. 

To avoid potential injuries, such as sustained back issues which are most common amongst tradespeople, workers should avoid repetitive strain and rely on equipment designed for lifting heavy loads”. 

Carine Jessamine, Marketing Director at Selco Builders Warehouse, commented on the research:

“Our study has shown that many of the tasks tradespeople perform daily are extremely energy-demanding, with some burning the same amount of calories as an intense gym routine or a full hour of running!  

 While this is certainly a positive aspect of the job, making trade careers amongst the most physically active ones, it can also take a toll on workers’ physical health in the long run. In fact, when adding this to the long hours that most tradespeople put in every week, it’s no surprise that many workers will often experience aches or pains, especially in their backs and shoulders. 

 This is why it’s extremely important to ensure each activity is conducted safely, sometimes with the help of a colleague, to avoid any long-term injuries or accidents. Hopefully, our study could serve as inspiration for tradespeople to start taking some additional steps to look after their bodies on the job, and perhaps even start doing some warm-up exercises before the start of their day!” 

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