I can’t speak for everyone that tends bar, but I love the rush of it all. The idea that you aren’t just repeating the same task over and over, you are always moving. Stretching up on your tip-toes for the expensive whisky on the back bar, bending down to get bottled beer from the back of the fridge, running up and down stairs to get buckets full of ice. In the middle of all of it, you maintain a pleasant demeanour while leaning over the bar to listen to your guests, while hoisting 3kg bottles up and down. As time goes on, that demeanour is tougher to maintain, when your knees, back and shoulders all hurt from years of moving around constantly, the wrong way.
When I first heard that Pursuit OCR was opening in Toronto, I thought “Great idea. An obstacle course for grown ups. Sounds fun.” After ten minutes on the course my first time there, I realized that this wasn’t just an obstacle course, this is a full on fitness centre. I was using muscles I had forgotten about. Swinging from rings instead of slinging drinks, climbing a wall instead of climbing stairs carrying cases of beer and falling into a ball pit for fun instead of….I dunno, doing shots. The obstacle course isn’t the only thing you can do at Pursuit though. They also have balance courses, aerialist training plus some more conventional workout equipment.
We talked with Wil from Pursuit about ways to avoid getting into those habits that leave us sore. My back has been thanking me and I’m sure yours will too.
From Wil: One of the things we love to introduce our guests at Pursuit is the idea of holistic fitness, making sure that you’re taking care of all the parts of the body that support the systems that work together to help you keep making that money behind the wood. A common danger when you start in the service industry is picking up bad habits when our bodies feel young and invincible and making those our work habits as we get older. After a decade behind the bar those bad habits start to become very apparent aches and pains. The good news is that with a few minutes of prep before and a few minutes after your shifts you can really reduce and sometimes prevent these aches from creeping in altogether. Stretching is a must just like any physical activity, so when you’re setting up for the night, take five minutes and warm up.
Posture in the pit is everything, being present and mindful of your body when you’re leaning over the rail to try and decipher the 300th order of the night over the music is super hard. Here are some simple habits to start forming and incorporate into your growing daily practice to reduce injury.
1/ This is a variation on the straight arm stretch (which is great for stretching your bicep) that will help you open up your chest and in turn help to relax the muscles between your shoulder blades and your neck as you lean forward all night. Place your hand at shoulder level against a wall or doorway. Make sure your elbow is bent to 90 degrees and at should level. Press your body weight into the palm of you hand and then slowly rotate your chest away from you hand. Breathe in deep and hold the stretch for a breathe then slowly relax. Place your hand higher at eye level, lift the elbow just above shoulder level, inhale and then rotate slowly out again as you exhale. Then finally lower your hand to just above your waist (let your fingers point to wherever they feel most comfortable) drop your elbow and then press once more. Repeat as needed or whenever you feel you neck and back starting to stiffen up, a relaxed and open chest will help your head stay anchored throughout the night.
2/ When you spend the night leaning forward your back does a lot of work to anchor your weight into the back of your glutes and hamstrings right into your heels. Remember that you have a whole system of muscles in the front of you as well that are there to assist in carrying that weight. Think of it like a girdle that keeps your whole core connected.
Taking either hand place one on your belly, with one finger in your belly button and the other behind your back. Inhale deeply, sucking your stomach in as far it will go. Pretend you’re trying to touch your other hand with the finger that is inside your naval making your stomach as concave as you can manage. Then without letting your stomach relax, breathe out slowly until you’ve run out of breath and hold that stomach tightness for as long as you can. Relax, catch your breath and do it again. This will keep your stomach tight and ready for the whole night as you work and help share the load your back has grown accustomed to doing on it’s own. The great thing about this one is as you get good at it, you can do it without your hands while you’re working. The more you practice the more you’ll do it automatically.
3/ This is a great one to strengthen the posterior chain of your body and increase your range of movement safely. Standing on the edge of step or on a box grab any weight you might have around. It doesn’t have to be heavy, its more of a prop to focus on and assist you. With your toes at the edge of the surface you are standing on, holding the weight, let your head relax forward. Then as you exhale out let each vertebrate in your spine curl over like your upper body is a candy cane. Slowly let your back release and let the weight pull you towards the floor. When you’ve let your spine drop to it’s lowest comfortable point, take a beat and then as you inhale reverse the process. Focus on letting the weight of your body lean slightly forward into your toes and push from there while keeping your heels grounded. As you uncurl back up to standing let your shoulders roll back and your chest puff out a bit before initiating the movement again. This will help your back be ready when you’re slugging bins or reaching for the coolers.
Remember these practices are only effective if you do them regularly and pre-emptively. Don’t be seduced into thinking you body won’t ever get sore, any career server Bartender will tell you that it gets harder the harder you are on your body. Treat yourself well, your body is your moneymaker, so invest some time and care and you’ll have years of comfortable service ahead of you.
About Wil Mclean: With over 16 years in the fitness industry, I’ve been trying to find new and interesting ways to educate and challenge people to have fun while getting fit. As a massage therapist, trainer and educator, I’m constantly looking for ways to make a healthy lifestyle a natural and sustainable thing, not something to be dragged into. Focusing on body positivity over beach body bootcamps and supporting the LGBTQ community, educating people how their body functions so they can pick and choose their goals to suit their needs is key. Feeling good about yourself should never mean sacrificing the things you love, and a healthy body doesn’t take one form. I’m thankful for the forum I’ve been granted to meet amazing people. I can’t wait to bring my enthusiasm and ideas to a wider audience.