After working out in gyms, health clubs, and martial arts studios for the better part of 20 years, I considered myself fairly strong, or at least stronger than the average man. Recently, though, I've had an experience that made me re-evaluate my strength.

For the past four months I have been working on a construction crew. We pour concrete foundations and basements for residential buildings. The daily routine of this job is equivalent to an eight-hour workout, five days a week.

Every major muscle group is used repeatedly in most construction jobs, and used in a less than ideal workout environment. Uneven terrain, direct sunlight, and ravenous insects are the highlights of the construction site health club. After three weeks of struggling to keep up and berating myself for not increasing my strength training when I had a chance, I decided to approach my job from a personal training point of view.

Jeffrey Phillips

I realized that the first order of business was to concentrate on symmetry. Working both sides of the body in equal amounts. The muscles of the back, shoulders, and legs handle the bulk of the work. Much of the job requires lifting moderately heavy and awkward objects and carrying them 1 to 40 yards. These objects can be all shapes, sizes, and weights. In a given day you may carry as many as 30 of these items.

When carrying objects, you must balance them on the anterior portion of the deltoid, biceps, and brachioradilis (forearms). This is awkward, requiring the use of the stabilizer muscles of your core (abs, obliques, lower back) to properly balance them. This is particularly true when pulling items off a truck with hands at shoulder level or higher, which calls on the muscles of the upper back (trapezius, rhomboids, and posterior deltoids) in addition to the core stabilizers.

Jeffrey Phillips

The workout

When performing pulling movements at odd angles, you should first engage your stabilizers (abs, obliques, lower back) and ensure that your feet are properly spaced for balance. The muscles of the shoulder must be engaged to minimize the risk of injury. The pulling motion is similar to that of a standing horizontal rope row, or a seated row except that you are standing. Let the trapezius and rhomboids do the work as you pull the object towards you. When placing the object on your anterior deltoid (front of your shoulder) and biceps, brace your muscles as if beginning a squat with a barbell resting on your upper trapezius.