Warming up for work
Joel Barraza (right) and a coworker pump up for their workday as campus painters.
You might think that workdays spent lifting heavy things, mowing, digging, fixing, painting and cleaning around the campus would be exercise enough for staff in the departments of Facilities Management and Housing and Hospitality.
But for hundreds of these hardworking employees, the day is not complete without Warm Up to Work, a fast-paced 15 minutes of exercise that builds muscle strength, enhances flexibility and improves endurance. Offered free by UCLA’s FITWELL program — a collaboration among UCLA Recreation, Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S), UCLA Healthcare, Insurance and Risk Management, and other campus departments — Warm Up to Work helps employees with physically demanding jobs meet those demands head-on while cutting the risk of work-related injuries.
"A lot of our job depends on lifting stuff — tools, paint buckets, heavy stuff," said painter Joel Barraza one recent morning as he and about a dozen coworkers gathered for their 8 a.m. workout, as they do at the beginning of every workday. "This is very useful, helpful and fun," he said as the group arranged themselves in their makeshift workout site near Parking Lot 15 on the Hill — a wide walkway between a storage bin and the maintenance shed where they check in for the day.
Some 650 employees from Facilities Management and Housing and Hospitality participate in Warm Up to Work sessions. FITWELL fitness trainers lead 74 weekly sessions at 21 worksites campuswide — from a 6 a.m. session for the residential dining hall baking staff at DeNeve Plaza to a 5:30 p.m. workout at the Center for Health Sciences loading dock for night-shift custodians.
Fitness trainer Elisa Terry and Facilities Management staff "feel the burn" in this leg-strengthening exercise.
Leading the workout Tuesday for Barraza and his coworkers was Elisa Terry, assistant director of FITWELL, who helped create Warm Up to Work.
"Let’s start with a double pump!" Terry began, exuding enthusiasm as she alternately raised her right arm and then her left a dozen times, all the while walking briskly in place. "Okay, and now twist it out a little bit," she said, twisting back and forth at the waist.
Throwing in some small talk, she asked, "Are you watching the basketball playoffs?" Getting no response as the group worked hard to keep up the pace, she joked, "Oh, I know what you were watching — the queen’s jubilee," drawing a chuckle.
Next, the workers paired up with 10-foot-long resistance bands, pulling against each other in a tough upper-body workout. From there, they put their backs against the walls of their makeshift workout site as they bent their knees in a sitting position. "Push against the wall as hard as you can," Terry instructed. "Burn! Burn!" one worker complained of his aching thighs.
But by the session’s end, many nodded their heads in agreement with Ray Sarol, who works in heating, ventilation and air conditioning. "This is something that we all look forward to," Sarol said. "We do a lot of walking, climbing up stairs, heavy lifting, carrying stuff over our heads. This makes a big difference. … And I’m more wide-awake and alert in the morning."
With FITWELL’s focus on finding innovative ways to enhance employees’ health and wellness, Terry and her colleagues hit on the idea of before-work warm-ups two years ago, starting with the housekeeping staff in the residence halls and at the UCLA Guest House. Facilities Management got into the act this past year, Terry recalled, after a maintenance worker saw the housekeepers working out and said, "Hey! What about us?"
"These folks are using their bodies all day long at work," she said. She noted that EH&S, in charge of workplace safety, tries to make physically demanding jobs as easy as possible, from insuring that workers have the best tools to decreasing repetitive motion. "We work together," Terry said. "They make employees’ jobs as efficient as possible, and we help them warm up properly and strengthen muscles and joints to do their jobs most effectively. The stronger they can be, the less susceptible they are to injuries."
Bakers bend and stretch to prepare for workday tasks like lifting 50-pound bags of flour.
While 15 minutes of exercise may not seem like much, "there’s a lot you can do in 15 minutes to build strength and increase mobility," Terry said.
To customize the exercise program to specific jobs, Terry shadows workers to closely observe what they do. "This way we can design a program that strengthens what needs to be strengthened and add flexibility and mobility where those are needed," she said. Painters, for example, need upper-body strength to lift heavy paint tubs and stand for long periods while painting with a brush or roller. Their workouts focus on backs, chests, arms, shoulders and necks.
"Everyone has been really receptive," said Terry. "Once they figure out, ‘Wow! I’m stronger,’ it gets easier for them. Because they’re stronger, doing their job takes less out of them, and they have more energy when they leave for the day — so they can enjoy the rest of their life too."
Bakers who prepare thousands of cookies, cakes and other baked goods for the residential dining halls and the guest house start their shifts at 6 a.m., 2 p.m. and 9 p.m. by working out.
Said senior baker Larry Bombach: "All day we’re lifting 50-pound bags of flour and cake mix. The mixing bowls alone weigh 40 pounds." Fifteen minutes after his workout with Terry, he headed for the bakery, ready to tackle his job.
"This is a great program," Bombach said. "I’m glad UCLA does this for us."
To learn more about this and other free health and fitness classes for faculty and staff, visit the FITWELL website.