Fitness professionals strive to help clients enhance their health and reduce the risk of injury; however, they may be missing a large piece of the training puzzle if they aren’t addressing a client’s work-related training needs. While most clients may not be professional athletes, they are in fact “occupational athletes,” meaning they spend 40 or more hours a week on the job. Depending on where they work, they may encounter heavy lifting, awkward positions and repetitive tasks, all of which can lead to work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) such as carpal tunnel syndrome, rotator cuff disorders and back injuries. These WMSDs don’t just serve as obstacles to training; they negatively affect quality of life.
In 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported approximately 388,000 cases of WMSDs that required days off work, a figure that represented 34% of all lost workdays (BLS 2013). It is estimated that employers spend as much as $20 billion per year on workers’ compensation claims directly related to WMSDs and up to five times that amount ($100 billion per year) on indirect costs associated with hiring and training replacement workers. In addition to these monetary effects, WMSDs cause substantial pain and suffering to injured employees, who may no longer be able to work or perform basic activities of daily living (ADL) (OSHA 2014). While WMSDs are a significant and costly health issue, the good news is that most of them are preventable. Fitness professionals can help.
Practice What You Preach
Fitness professionals also have very physically demanding jobs and are exposed to a number of ergonomic hazards that can increase their risk of developing WMSDs. Merrick & Bracko (2005) examined ergonomic risks for fitness professionals and offered strategies for countering hazards in job tasks. Among the suggestions:
Repetitive stress. Fitness professionals are often required to lift a lot of weight throughout the day, so it is essential to use proper lifting form at all times (even when carrying weights to and from racks). Also, it is best to use light weights when demonstrating exercises; modeling correct form and alignment is more important than impressing clients with strength abilities. Group fitness instructors are at risk for repetitive stress disorders and must listen to their bodies and limit the number and types of classes they teach over the course of a day, week and month.
Awkward or static postures. Performing manual resistance and/ or assisted stretching on a client can result in excessive force or static muscle load. To avoid injury, fitness professionals can use towels or other assistive devices to improve leverage, or can ask another trainer for assistance, particularly with clients who are stronger and larger.
Contact stress. Fitness professionals can be prone to experiencing fatigue from standing, especially on a hard surface
like concrete. Antifatigue matting or properly designed floor systems may help prevent fatigue during continuous standing or exercise instruction.
If a client or coworker is experiencing pain or loss of function, the person should be referred to a medical professional for diagnosis and treatment. This applies to the fitness professional as well.
To read more about workplace injuries, please see “How to Train Clients for the Workplace” in the online IDEA Library or in the February 2015 print issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.
BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics). 2013. Nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses requiring days away from work, 2012. Accessed Sept. 27, 2014. www.bls.gov/news.release/osh2.nr0.htm.
Merrick, T., & Bracko, M.R. 2005. Preventing ergonomic hazards for health/fitness professionals: Are you getting hurt? ACSM Health & Fitness Journal, 9 (3), 8-13.
OSHA. 2014. Prevention of work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Accessed Nov. 12, 2014. www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=UNIFIED_AGENDA&p_id=4481.