by Robert Maxwell
In this age of shortcuts, modern conveniences, and industrial scale mechanization, good old fashioned manual labour has largely fallen by the wayside. Although economic development has been positively impacted by this change, by and large, I’m not convinced people have. It used to be that just about every productive member of society was intimately familiar with manual labor. It was a way of life. Pioneers with wives and children to support knew if they didn’t get up at sunrise and work hard until sunset or after, they simply wouldn’t survive. Nowadays, the economy has evolved to include many financially valuable positions that don’t involve tough physical work. This certainly isn’t all bad. I earn a fair portion of my living sitting at a desk, and admittedly it’s nice not to have to exert myself physically all day, every day, just to put food on the table. That said, I believe the pendulum has now swung too far the other way. Far too few modern young people experience the benefits regular doses of hard manual labour can deliver. What are these benefits? Keep reading for a list of 4 of my favourites.
In other articles on this website, I’ve made no secret of the fact that I don’t believe manual labour alone is optimal for developing ideal strength and fitness. That said, the man who makes tough physical work a regular part of his life has a huge advantage over the man who remains sedentary. Obviously some jobs are tougher than others, and this has an impact on the benefits. A day spent chopping firewood or digging ditches by hand will strengthen your body more than say, raking leaves. But even raking leaves is far better than sitting in a swiveling office chair hour after hour, day after day, hunching your shoulders and rounding your back while your muscles shrivel from lack of use. If this sort of sedentary job is how you pay the bills, it’s crucial that you find some way to exert yourself physically outside your money-earning work. Where I live in rural Northern Ontario, finding this sort of work isn’t too difficult. Splitting wood, construction work, and at this time of year, gardening, are all fairly regular parts of my routine. If you’re weak, out of shape, and frustrated with your lack of physical vitality, other than a proper training and nutrition plan, manual labour is the first thing you should try.
I find it surprising and rather discouraging how many people reach adulthood believing it’s OK to complain. Although general levels of ease and comfort have never been higher, today’s teenagers and young adults seem to find more reasons than ever before to gripe and whine. The reason, it seems to me, is that they simply don’t have enough regular, fairly unpleasant work to do. If they did, like the young people of bygone eras, they’d soon gain some healthy perspective, and realize their lives are not that difficult. I was pleasantly reminded of this fact by my youngest sister Ellie this past week. That's her in the photo. I asked her to give me a hand pruning the family raspberry patch. She wasn’t keen on the idea at first. At 10 years old, this is understandable. But after three hours, the job was done, and she hadn’t complained once. Something’s wrong when many adults can’t muster this level of discipline and good attitude. When enduring the discomfort of hard physical work, don’t complain. It won’t help. It’ll just make you and those around you feel miserable.
If you have experience with both desk work and more active labour, you’ll probably understand when I say they produce different types of tiredness. Although computer work doesn’t tire you physically, long hours in front of the screen produce a kind of sickening mental fatigue that isn’t conducive to sleep, and usually isn’t too satisfying, either. Studies have shown that the light emitted by electronic screens actually hinders your body’s production of sleep related hormones. No wonder a day at the keyboard can make you feel like a zombie. Manual labor, on the other hand produces a much more satisfying type of fatigue. If the work was hard enough, you’ll usually head home with aching muscles, a clear head, and the pleasant certainty that you’ll be asleep seconds after your head hits the pillow.
Solid Sense of Accomplishment
In my work is a professional videographer, photographer, and web designer, I’ve spent a lot of hours in front of the computer, and completed many digital projects. Although these came with some satisfaction, I’ve enjoyed a much greater sense of accomplishment after completing tough physical tasks. Although digital work is what allows me to pay the bills and I don’t dislike it, I get far more enjoyment looking at the house I built for my family and I than viewing past video and website projects. Creating something beautiful in the physical world offers satisfaction that doesn’t seem to carry over to the digital realm in the same way. Not for me, anyway. Others may see things differently, but I’ve always found great happiness working with my hands, and not just at a keyboard, either.
Robert Maxwell is an online strength and fitness coach and founder of The Man Factory. Are you a man 50 or older? Become your best self at www.manfactorytraining.com/strength-north-of-50