Truckers and exercise. Talk about two words that sound weird together! I think maybe the words “chicken” and “Q-tip” might have more in common. Heck, I’m guessing I’ve already lost half you readers simply by uttering those two words in the same sentence, which is really sad because if there is a group of people who need exercise more than truckers, I can’t think who it is. Crap. I used those two words together again. HEYYYYY! COME BAAAAAAAAAACK… !!!!
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For those of you who follow the Trucker Dump podcast/blog or my Twitter feed, you’ll know I try to keep in shape as best as I can. I admit I suck at it though, primarily because the frequency of my workouts are nearly as consistent as a narcoleptic drum major.
So although I’m about ready to embark on an epic blog post about truckers and exercise, please know that I’m not a trained fitness expert, nor am I a doctor. So be forewarned and think about what you’re doing before you start on any kind of exercise program. And obviously, the worse shape you’re in, the more careful you should be. Sorry; no way to make a disclaimer fun. Wow. That almost sounded like I was going to convince even one trucker to start exercising!
Here’s what prompted this blog post. I got a question about truckers and exercise from listener Jeremy back in July of 2016. In record turn-around time (for me), I’m finally answering him 7 months later! I was getting ready to explain his email, but why don’t I just share a snippet of it to give you the gist of it (read in full in the podcast version).
Hello, Todd. I just started watching your podcasts and I purchased your Kindle book as I am seriously contemplating being a truck driver. I’d love to hear you address or maybe even dedicate an entire podcast to the subject of health and fitness vis–a–vis OTR drivers. As you probably are well aware of, finding the time and the initiative to exercise on the road can be difficult. I watched a short video where you demonstrate a dumbbell workout in the confines of a tractor cab. I have a ton of questions and I don’t want to go overboard, anyway, I think a podcast about being a trucker and staying healthy would interest quite a few people out there. I heard one of the big reasons the trucking industry has such a high turnover rate is not just because of a lack of home time but also because people are concerned about their health and what’s to become of their health over their trucking career.
Well, I hate to raise your opinion of me, but I actually did get back with Jeremy the very next day (hey, at least I did something right) to ask him what sort of questions he had. Jeremy did not disappoint. So although after seven months he may already be a trucker, but I’m going to answer his questions anyway. Let’s take them right from his follow-up email.
My first question is, when is the best time(s) for an OTR driver to exercise? Obviously anytime you are at a truck stop with showers available would be ideal. In your experience, is waking up early before you trip plan and do your pre-trips a good time to exercise or is nighttime before you bed down best?
Well Jeremy, the best time for an OTR trucker to workout is whenever he can fit it in. I realize that sounds like a total cop-out, but it’s true. It largely depends on your schedule for that day, where you’re at, and what type of workout you’re doing.
For instance, I find my best energy, and therefore my best workouts to happen in the middle of the day. I am a morning person, but I somehow never feel like crawling out of bed and immediately working myself into a lather. However, at the end of my 11-hour driving shift I usually don’t have the motivation to do anything more than toss a TV dinner in the microwave and watch an episode of Criminal Minds before showering and hitting the sack.
That is why ideally, I can work out sometime in the middle of the day. Problem with that is, there’s this little thing called the 14-hour workday. Basically, once we truckers start our day we cannot drive after 14 hours. So if I started my day at 6:00 AM, I cannot drive after 8:00 PM.
Now doing some simple math, I can legally drive 11 hours so that leaves three hours to workout, right? Maybe. That depends on lots of factors. The first 15 minutes of your extra 3 hours is taken by your pre-trip inspection. If you have to fuel that day, there goes another 10-30 minutes (usually takes 15 minutes) depending how busy the fuel bays are.
Next, most carriers make you log at least 15 minutes at both sides of your delivery. So if you’re picking up a load and delivering same day, there goes another 30 minutes. Now you’re down to 2 hours. But wait, you have to take a 30-minute break after 8 hours of driving, so now you’re down to 1.5 hours to workout. Plenty of time, right?
But where your day can really be sabotaged is at those shippers/receivers. Not only do you lose 30 minutes of log time, but it also rarely takes 15 minutes to load or unload. At best, it’s 30-60 minutes per stop. At worst, it’s 4 hours (although any driver will tell you their horror story of 12-hour unload times). And heaven forbid you have extra stops in-between!
So now you have to choose. Workout in the middle of the day and lose money because you’re eating into your driving hours, or skip the workout to maximize your next paycheck? Guess which usually wins for this cheapskate?
I guess the best thing for your wallet is just to do your workout before or after your driving shift. After all, you’ve got 10 hours of down time to kill.
If you’re a morning person, it might be best to wake up an hour early and get at it. But maybe you didn’t sleep well the night before because of the barking dog in the truck on your left and/or the reefer revving away on your right.
If you’ve got the energy to workout after a long day of driving, then more power to ya. If I can’t manage one in the middle of my workday, I always have good intentions to do it afterwards. I convince myself to do it about half the time. The rest of the time Marie Callender’s Chicken Pot Pie and my pillow wins out.
How about getting in micro-workouts when your trailer is getting loaded or unloaded?
Earlier, I mentioned the type of workout and where you’re at matters too. I prefer to workout in the shower rooms where it’s usually nice and air-conditioned. I’m also guaranteed a hot shower right afterwards. Obviously, I can’t do that while loading at a customer. Nor do I have the desire to lay down or do push ups in a filthy parking lot.
That’s because I really don’t like to sleep in nasty sheets from going to bed sweaty. If I’m delayed at my loading/unloading point so long that I’m starting to think that I have time to squeeze in a workout, then that means I’m most likely going to want to make the most of my driving shift when I finally break free.
That could mean I spend the night at a rest area or at my delivery point to make the most of my hours. No showers there. Basically, if I’m not 100% sure I’m going to get a shower before bedtime, I skip my workout. I’m sure many of you wouldn’t be such pansies about this, but that’s just how I roll.
This is where it comes down to willpower. I’ve had drivers email and tweet me saying my working out is an inspiration to them. Don’t. Just don’t. I’m truly not deserving of it. I’m more motivated than most drivers, but there are far better role models out there. For example…
I once saw a driver exercising beside his truck like he was competing in a CrossFit contest. He was going all out! All the drivers at our company terminal were watching him and some of them we trying to talk to him while he was clearly focused on his workout.
For the record, this is why I hate exercising where people can see me. When I was in my jump-rope phase, I always went behind the truck so people weren’t gawking at me. And it’s also why I figured out a way to lift weights inside my cab with the curtains shut. Every time I tried to do it beside my truck, some fat trucker would come up and start talking to me about how he should start working out. Well get out of my face and go do it then, man! Sheesh!
Anyway, when this driver finally finished, I found out he was an ex-Marine that stubbornly refused to let his body go. He was sweating like a preacher with Tourette’s Syndrome so I asked about his workout. He said he did HIIT occasionally to keep his heart rate up, but he preferred running. He said he’d take off running any time a shipper told him he had 30-60 minutes to wait. I commented on his sweating and asked what he did about a shower if he got stuck at a shipper. That’s when I saw real motivation and willpower.
This dude kept 10 gallons of water in his floorboards and would pour them over his head for a makeshift shower if he wasn’t going to make it to a real one. Seriously! Right there at the shipper in front of everyone! Obviously he still had clothes on, but still! Talk about dedication!
So if you truly want to work out, you can do it when you’re loading/unloading, before your day starts, when it ends, or any time you can muster up the energy. Mustering the energy is the hard part.
One more thing to keep in mind is a trucker’s wonky schedule. If you’re running hard, an OTR driver will likely have varying work hours. Are you a morning person? Sometimes a trucker’s morning starts at 7:00 AM. Sometimes it’s 7:00 PM. Morning is whenever you come off a 10-hour break, so your circadian rhythm is likely going to mess with you, especially for new truckers still getting used to the crazy hours.
Have you every had a gym membership with one of the large national 24-hour fitness chains? If so how did that work out? I’ve seen several rookie videos of new drivers that have the idea that they would plan their trips around 24-hour gyms in order to get in an hour workout every day. That struck me as unrealistic and naive on their part, am I wrong?
Jeremy, you nailed this one like a Gabby Douglas dismount. No, I’ve never had a gym membership of any kind, but “unrealistic and naïve” is exactly right. I guess these newbies think they are going to have more control over their schedules and routes than they actually will.
As a company driver, you are basically at the whim of your employer. They tell you where to go to pickup and deliver and many of them even determine the route you take and the places you fuel.
Now it is true that a driver can usually decide where to stop for the night, but honestly you’ve got a better chance of accidentally swallowing a bowling ball than being close to a 24-hour fitness club on a regular basis.
TA (Travel Centers of America) and Petro are trying to change this with their StayFit program, which has “workout options include FREE indoor fitness rooms, outdoor exercise areas, walking/running trails (maps available at each location), basketball hoops, bean bag toss, and horseshoe pits at many of our locations network wide.” If you look at the map, it looks like you’ll have no problem finding one of these locations every night, but that would be a rookie assumption. You’re just going to have to trust me here. If someone reading this is actually getting to one of these StayFit locations every night, please email me at TruckerDump@gmail.com. I’d be interested to hear how you’re pulling it off.
But for the sake of argument, let’s say you can stop within 5 miles of a nationally recognized fitness club every day. That brings us to your next question:
What about parking? Big rigs are notoriously hard to find parking for and I would be concerned about theft while you were in the gym, so… what if anything can be done to mitigate that possibility if you did decide to visit a gym for an hour-long workout?
Don’t worry about theft. I’m sure stuff gets stolen out of trucks all the time, but you rarely hear anything about it. If I’m worried about leaving my tractor in a busy parking lot, I simply close all the curtains to make it appear that I might be inside. But seriously, don’t worry about this because you’ve got a better chance of being stalked by Reece Witherspoon than finding parking for a big truck at most of these gyms. Ah… but what about a bobtail (a truck without a trailer)?
What about the DOT Personal Conveyance regulations that state a commercial driver can only drive bobtail and be in off-duty driver status? How often is an OTR driver going to find him or herself without a trailer, empty or otherwise?
I see you’ve been doing your research, Jeremy. Yes, there is something called Personal Conveyance that allows a trucker to drive while being in the Off-Duty status. You don’t have to be bobtailing to do it though. The problem with Personal Conveyance (PC) is that each company sets their own rules. Unsurprisingly, my company has the strictest guidelines on PC time of any I’ve seen. It’s so restrictive in fact, that it’s nigh impossible to use it.
For instance, I cannot use PC when I’m under a loaded trailer. So no dropping a loaded trailer at the truck stop and bobtailing to the gym. I’m also not allowed to use it if I’m out of driving hours, even though I will officially be Off-Duty at the time.
As an example, if I pull into a truck stop a few miles away from a fitness club with only a few minutes left on my electronic logs, I can’t legally use PC time to drive anywhere. I have even crazier rules that I’ll spare you from, but these are the two that would keep me from bobtailing to the gym.
By the way, if you’re thinking you’ll just find a company that still uses paper logbooks, that may work for a while, but eventually all trucking companies will be running elogs. So you may as well not plan on that for a long-term solution.
Are all companies as anal as mine when it comes to Personal Conveyance? According to the drivers I’ve talked to; no. The thing is, if you have even the slightest hope of using PC time to drive to a Gold’s Gym, you’d better know every detail of a carrier’s PC rules before you commit to drive for them.
You also asked how often a driver is without a trailer. Not often. If I had to guess, I’d say I’m bobtailing less than 1% of the time. A company isn’t making any money if you aren’t pulling a load. And even if your company allowed PC driving while under a dispatch, they would likely frown on you for leaving a loaded trailer alone in a truck stop parking lot. Not to mention the truck stops don’t usually care for it much either.
A question about space, I suspect the space both vertically and horizontally is limited inside the cab of most tractor cabs. Are bodyweight exercises like crunches and push-ups an impossibility? How about the use of smaller barbells like an EZ bar, would they be out of the question?
If you want to work out inside your truck, you must drive a mid-roof or condo semi. Anything shorter than a mid-roof means you can’t stand up. And as you saw in my dumbbell video, any exercise where you have to lift the weights over your head have to be done sitting down if you’re in a mid-roof tractor. You also need at least at 60″ sleeper cab to pull off the exercises in my video.
If you aren’t seriously overweight, crunches and push-ups are totally possible inside a cab. Even if you are pushing maximum poundage, you can still do these exercises on the bed. Obviously they won’t be as effective on a soft surface like that, but any exercise is better than none, right? If you’re a normal size guy, along with my dumbbell video, I also have a companion video explaining how I do crunches, push-ups, planks, and more inside the cab of the truck.
You could probably make an EZ bar work, but I think you’d be better off sticking with a set of dumbbells. Even an enormous set of adjustable dumbbells like the Bowflex SelectTech would work better than even the shortest barbell.
Equipment: Off the top of my head I was thinking an adjustable dumbbell set would be perfect. A jumping rope for outside, perhaps a thick rubber mat to lay on the urine-soaked truck stop concrete would be a good. Shadow boxing resistance bands? Mini stair-stepper for cardio? A weight vest for jogging might be great too.
As I just mentioned, an adjustable dumbbell set would be ideal, but I started with 20-pounders and worked my way up to 25 and then 30-pounders. Probably not the most economical way to do it, but it worked for me. I only keep one set of dumbbells in my truck at a time, too. All the exercises shown in my dumbbell video are done without switching weights between exercises.
A jump rope will wear you out faster than a rabbit humps and it takes up very little space… as does a humping rabbit I would guess. Same for resistance bands. Unlike dumbbells, you can actually use resistance bands in a limited way as you’re driving down the road. They also easily fit inside a bag if you plan on working out in a shower room.
Let me take a second here to explain myself. I’ve mentioned twice now that I prefer to workout in the shower rooms. I’m sure there are some pissed-off truckers right now seeing as there can sometimes be a shower wait. I have one rule here that I believe everyone should abide by:
- I skip my workout if there is a shower wait. I try to live my life by the golden rule and I know I’d be pretty cheesed if some guy’s exercise time was holding me up. Time is money after all.
I’ve never used a mini stair-stepper, but it looks like a perfect device for a truck. You might want to leave the curtains open in your truck though. Otherwise, everyone who walks by will think you and your lady are doing your own rabbit humping. Seriously. That rhythmic stepping will have every trucker in the lot giggling like a school girl.
The weight vest I’ll leave to you. My worst fitness level is endurance. I can manage to jog from the far end of a parking lot to the front door of the truck stop without passing out, but just barely. Yes, I know that’s pathetic. That’s why I’ve switched from weight lifting to HIIT workouts. Doesn’t matter how good your big muscles look once you’re laying in a coffin from a heart attack. And lastly…
Would a company driver have to remove all this stuff whenever he/she was away for home time? Or would it be okay to leave your stuff on the truck?
This all depends on your company. Most OTR drivers take their trucks home nowadays, therefore you can leave anything you want in your cab while you’re at home. I unload most things of value (computer bag, TV, cooler, freezer), but leave stuff like my dumbbells, jump rope, microwave, and my el cheapo piece of crap CB. Heck, I’m kind of hoping someone will steal that hunk-o-junk.
Now if your company requires you to leave your truck at your nearest terminal, then you need to ask them if you need to clean it out. Some only want you to park it there to ensure the truck is safe while you’re at home. Others will want to put another driver into it while your gone. In that case, you may or may not get the same truck when you come back to work. By and large, this “slip-seating” is reserved more for local and regional drivers.
Well, that answers all of Jeremy’s questions and hopefully some of yours. I was planning on running you through some good workouts for truckers, but I think I’ll have to save that for the next post. After all, in today’s age where we all have the collective attention span of a cucumber, I figured a 3400 word post was pushing it harder than Salt-N-Pepa.
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Special segment from Randy Byers, Executive Director of Shelly Truck Driving School in York, PA entitled Producing A Confident Truck Driver With A Driving Simulator. There is a video to watch too!
I have a few comments on a TruckersReport.com article called Watchdog Group: Get Uber Self-Driving Trucks Off The Road.
I also comment on Judge Increases Walmart Driver Payout To Over $60 Million which also comes from TruckersReport.com.
Believe it or not, a Personal Injury Law firm called Craig, Kelly, and Faultless LLC are trying to raise awareness of the challenges of driving around tractor trailers with a special website. But this time they’re on our side! Yay!
Links in the blog post:
StayFit fitness from TA and Petro. Check out the map with all the locations.
Links in the feedback:
Scoobie tweeted me to bring a funny video to my attention. Brad James sings a song to the tune of Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay, called Detention (You Ordered It, You Unload It). Every trucker will totally relate. LOL
Zachary writes in to find out the real rules about pre-trip and post-trip inspections.
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