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Unbend: Pain-Free And Productive Cooking

03/08/2017 05:51 EST | Updated 03/08/2017 05:54 EST
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A beautiful young woman preparing a meal in her kitchen

Standing for hours on end -- as a professional chef, bartender, butcher, home economist or cheese monger -- is hard on the body. Standing, lifting, bending, and twisting for hours on end, often with less-than-ideal posture, frequently results in achy legs and feet, a sore back, and stiff almost arthritic-feeling hands.

These symptoms are -- obviously -- never ideal, but they are especially problematic when one's job / life realities necessitate a certain level of mobility and strength. I get it. Like a chef or bartender, my job as a personal trainer can't be done while lounging on a sofa; a certain level of physical health is a must.

Some context. One of my favourite clients -- a bartender -- recommended I write this blog. My client -- I will call her Anne -- pointed out that most of her colleagues exist in constant pain. My client lives mostly pain free because -- her words not mine -- she "has been taught appropriate exercises". This blog is an attempt to fill the lacuna; an attempt to teach chefs / cooks etc exercises and strategies that will allow them to work pain free and avoid injury.

Main take-away: set yourself up for success. If you are a chef, bartender, butcher or home economist -- basically if you stand for extended periods -- take the compensatory steps needed to balance the daily stressors that working puts on your body.

Three Steps to Decrease Pain and Avoid Injury

1. Perform daily self-care. 

2. Improve your posture.

3. Prioritize recovery.

Daily Self-care

Regular self-care -- particularly in the form of self-massage -- is key. You use your muscle daily; if you don't also massage and stretch daily, how do you expect your body not to rebel? Two simple tools -- a foam roller and a ball -- can be an inexpensive way to get the daily massage your body craves. You have probably seen a foam roller. It's a long, cylindrical foam tube. For the small ball exercises below, use a lacrosse ball, tennis ball, or yoga tune-up balls. 

Like drops in a bucket, small amounts of self-care add up.

When you find a trigger point, stop and put gentle pressure down into the tissue. Repeat all motions five times, but don't be too aggressive. "Romance" versus "attack" your issues.

Treat your feet:

-Place a ball under the ball of your little toe. Roll it lengthwise up and down the outside of your foot between your little toe and your heel.

-Move it under the ball of your big toe. Roll it lengthwise up and down the inside of your foot between your big toe and your heel.

-Finally, curl all your toes around the ball. Release and spread your toes.

Upper-back relief:

-Start on the floor with your bum on the ground and the roller under your upper back, perpendicular to your body, head resting in your hands. Lift your hips up. Roll your body forward and backward so the roller moves up and down your back. Keep your core engaged.

-Place the ball under the inside of the bottom tip of your shoulder blade between your back and the floor. Relax over the ball. Breathe. Slowly move your body forward so the ball moves up along the inside of your shoulder blade. Pause on trigger points.

Improve Your Posture

Less-than-ideal posture can contribute to trigger points and general discomfort through the back and neck, and can even be a factor in pain, numbness, and tingling in the hands. 

To improve your posture, take the "colour challenge" and do one "posture perfect" exercise per hour. I consider a "posture perfect" exercise anything that strengthens your upper back and neck, strengthens your core, or stretches out your chest. 

Colour challenge:

Pick a colour to use as your "mindfulness trigger." Then, watch for your chosen colour. When you notice it, take a moment to assess your posture. Check if your ears, shoulders, and hips are stacked over top of each other. If your body is not aligned properly -- which is the case for most of us -- sit or stand up straight to draw your shoulders and head back.

Do one "posture perfect" exercise per hour:

Wall push. Stand, back against the wall, knees slightly bent, arms straight, and palms facing the wall. Pull your shoulder blades back, suction your head back in space, and simultaneously push into the wall with your hands. Hold for five seconds. Release and repeat ten times. Don't let your lower back arch as you pull your shoulders back into the wall.

Wall Y to W's. Stand, bum and back against a wall, core engaged, legs shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and feet roughly half a foot in front of the wall. Your fingers, but not your entire hand, should fit between your lower spine and the wall.

Form a W with your arms against the wall. Keep your arms as close to the wall as you can as you straighten them until they form a Y with your body. Your spine shouldn't arch as you move your arms, even if that means the back of your hands move away from the wall. Return your arms back to the W position and repeat five to ten times.

Prioritize Recovery

Standing, particularly with bad posture, stresses the body. It is imperative that you give your body the ingredients -- mainly sleep and consuming a nutritionally dense diet -- that it needs to recover properly. Your body recovers while you sleep, and a healthy diet helps your muscles and connective tissue repair and become stronger.

With a bit of planning and mindfulness, we can minimize the toll our jobs take on our bodies and stay comfortable and injury free.

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