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Technician, Tune ThyselfPosted 8/8/2007
By Brian Manley
That's why it's important to be in good shape.
In this column we spend most of our time discussing cars and their system failures. This month I will address technicians and our systems (aka bodies), and why we need to maintain them. I write this knowing that all of you who work day in, day out in the automotive service and repair industry are bending, lifting, twisting and jarring your bodies. Often sweating, shivering and sometimes even bleeding, you ask your body to perform the "rigors" of automotive service, all the while walking on concrete and kneeling on the floor.
Do any of you remember Doan's Pills? As a teenager, in my first few months of working full time, my back began to suffer. Why? My back and my body were overused and undermaintained because of hours of leaning over fenders, which began to irritate my muscles. My first thought was to find something to kill the pain, which I understood later only masked the pain instead of addressing the root cause. It took several years before I finally decided to begin routine "maintenance" on my body. There was no magic bullet; I knew I had to make time each day to take care of my body so it would perform the way I needed it to.
In perusing the International Automotive Technicians Network (iATN) Web site, I found that I am not alone. The topic of personal health and fitness is a hot one, and techs are talking about losing weight, eating healthier and exercising more. When I was a teenager and working part-time in service stations and machine shops, exercise never entered my mind. I had played sports while in middle school and high school (track, wrestling and football), but I was no star, to be sure. It wasn't until I worked one summer at a used car rental company, that I found my hobby away from work.
My boss, a 40-something accountant, used to jog at lunch. One day he invited me to go along, and I hung with him for 30 minutes. I was hurting, to be sure, but youth pulled me through. Although that first run was stop-and-go, I knew I had found a substitute for the sports I used to play while in school. My boss was targeting a five-kilometer (3.1 mile) race in downtown Denver a month later, so I got several runs a week in and joined him at the starting line. To my surprise, I finished without walking, and from the moment I crossed that finish line, I was hooked!
I began reading quite a bit about running and training and human physiology, and then I began to wonder how far I could run. In a nutshell, over my 25 years of steady running, I moved from five-kilometer races to 10-kilometer runs, and then I targeted, trained and raced my first marathon (26 miles) in Kansas City. It was during this period of several years that I worked out a fairly established routine. As I began my first marathon training program, I realized that the "plan" called for some fairly good-sized chunks of time each day for running. In addition, there was stretching and strength training. My wife and I joined a health club that had treadmills, stair climbers, bikes, racquetball courts, a swimming pool, and a huge weight room with Nautilus machines and free weights. We tried to go two to three times during the week, and at least once on the weekends.
The physical part of my training was a large part of the "plan." However, I knew I would need to work on my nutrition a little bit, so I cut back on my coffee consumption in the morning, and brought a 50-ounce thermos with diluted juice to drink during the morning. I did this to prepare for my lunchtime runs of four to seven miles. My meals became healthier, as did my dinners, due mostly to the fact that my wife was on board with my fitness goals.
Many iATN posts talk about how important it is to have support at home to begin a lifestyle change. Replying to the iATN thread, "Burn Out Syndrome," Kevin Evans said: "I would only second his suggestion of having a hobby unrelated to this business and then make/take the time to enjoy it. If you're married, try to choose a hobby you can share with your wife and or family member. You also need some time to yourself so a hobby or activity that allows you some time alone works too."
Personally, my wife supported all of my aspirations, and still does.
My running abilities improved in tandem with my technician abilities. I would voraciously read Jeff Galloway's "Book of Running," and then swap it for a trade magazine to catch up on industry issues and technical information. If I attended an evening automotive clinic, I tried to make sure I ran at lunch.
Just as I'd spent hours as a teen at the quarter-mile track trying to tweak my times and make my Mustang faster, I learned how to tweak my training, or my lifestyle, to get my body to run faster race times. In addition to faster race times, I experienced a nice byproduct of regular, vigorous exercise: An improved mood.
Those of you who have ever experienced an "endorphin high" as a result of aerobic exercise know that it can be calming and provide a cleansing effect. It lifts my mood and elevates my spirit. For many of us, fitness leads to improved mood and stamina, and in some cases, reduced joint pain, as we will discuss shortly.
Sometimes we can find motivation from co-workers or shop owners. I know a technician, Jarek, who is a master tech at a Denver area BMW dealer. In his mid-40s, he is the epitome of vitality, due in no small part to the fact that he almost always rides his bicycle to and from work. This is a round-trip of 20 miles, occasionally followed by "another lap" around Cherry Creek State Park for a workout!
Don Seyfer, former ASA chairman and owner of Seyfer Automotive in Wheat Ridge, Colo., is a role model for us all. He routinely gets up at 3:30 a.m. to go to the gym, opens the gym at 4 a.m., then gets to his shop at 5:25 to "Get some morning things done." The sacrifice for this, however, is "not doing a lot of late night stuff. I have to be in bed by 9 or 9:30." The payback for his dedication? "I feel a lot better and have more stamina," said Don. Oh - did I mention that he was 50 years old when he started this weekday routine and now he's 65!
Don's son, Donny Seyfer, who is co-owner of Seyfer Automotive, told me that he and his wife started using a fitness trainer. Donny says he "has no more shoulder pain from working on cars," and says his fitness trainer "gets what we do as techs." What a great idea: target and exercise the muscles we use each day!
I know there are days when it is difficult to get out of work at a decent hour; I've been there. On those days I'd go for a shorter run and rework my marathon-training schedule, even not running at all if my day at work went past 6 p.m. I rarely got the entire schedule completed, but I did enough to reach most of my goals.
Is running the best way for every technician to become fit? No. For some it's biking, swimming or walking. Some techs add resistance (weight) training to their regimen to prevent injury and prolong longevity. Whatever helps move you toward a healthier you is the correct choice, in my opinion.
George Sheehan, a runner and cardiologist, in his book "Running and Being," said: "Today's work does not make us the persons we can be. Work is simply the price to be paid. Having earned our daily bread, we can turn to our daily play. Having paid our dues for survival, we can pay attention to the more serious business of living. Having taken care of our bank accounts, we are now ready to take care of our bodies and the minds that go with them. Wisdom, it says here, begins at 5 p.m."
Or in Don Seyfer's case, 4 a.m.
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