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“We want to PUMP” — (insert strong clap here) — “you up!”

That was the mantra of Hans and Franz, a popular weightlifting duo created by the comic giants Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon for during its 13th season. Self-proclaimed “cousins of Arnold Schwarzenegger,” they humorously jabbed at and insulted their “crybaby” audience to encourage strength and fitness. That 1980s TV show is worth considering for the productivity and well-being of your crew — a real-life, magnetic, positive approach to fitness.

That’s the way Jackson Junker has created a successful personalized training company in Cleveland, Ohio — Junker Fitness. In his early teens, Junker suffered a herniated disc due to lifting heavy weights without proper technique. His family has a history of heart disease and diabetes, which he learned how to mitigate early on. Later, being a college all-American football player meant multiple injuries and exposure to medical specialists who provided customized care. Through these trials, Junker developed a passion for being healthy and helping others.

“You have to consider mind as well as body,” Junker says. “Cardio, nutrition and strength training are the components we work on.” Fitness is one’s overall well-being, and though exercise is a big part of that, it isn’t everything. Though Junker specializes in customized training for individuals, corporate wellness is part of his growing business.

Workplace wellness

Multiple research studies and invested organizations will report the benefits of encouraging fitness — a reduction in anxiety, depression and mental illnesses, fewer missed days of work, fewer injuries on the job, improved company loyalty, and a happier and more relaxed working environment that’s difficult to quantify. Investing in the health of employees is a smart move.

There is a spectrum of incentives, including incentives to look at sleep. “That is huge for health and well-being because it recovers your body,” Junker says. “Recovery is as important as exercise.” And sleep, like exercise and nutrition, is highly personal. So, what is the benefit of a corporate challenge or businesses contributing to an individual’s fitness?

Offering nutrition seminars or a corporate challenge is one way to show employees that you care as you create a more productive workplace (productivity after working out is noticeably higher). Also, as different generations have matured with different access to information about nutrition, health and exercise, it is a way to give your employees a common talking point. Human resources and management are recognizing these benefits for everyone.

Baseline information about physical exertion, deep breathing, nutrition, relaxation and recovery can open doors. “A lot of people don’t feel comfortable working out at all, or in front of their peers,” Junker says, “but a group effort is sometimes just enough to get them started and everyone has something to talk about at the water cooler. In a class, people don’t feel singled out — they appreciate the support.” People also need to hear about healthy options as “there is so much misinformation.”

While wellness is important, “people still have to be active — the doctors say three times a week for 30 minutes to be heart-healthy and conscientious,” Junker says. So many golf course maintenance workers are active, but due to fatigue, early starts and long hours — particularly in season — they have limited time to “work out.” With an available 30 minutes, “strongly consider strength training because there is both heart and muscle benefit.”

“Swimming is one of the best cardiovascular activities as there is some resistance from the water, but it’s important for people to keep mixing it up. People should aim for ‘muscle confusion’ so their bodies don’t plateau and get used to their workouts,” Junker says. “Swimming, the step-mill and jumping rope burn the most calories in the least amount of time.”

Regular stretching is one way to prepare your body for the rigors of golf course maintenance.
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Flexibility is significant, good posture helps avoid issues with the posterior chain (the muscles along the backside of the body, head to toe) and people also need to pay attention to opposing muscles. Problems in one area usually indicate that the opposing area is weak and creating undue pressure. For instance, with lower back problems, part of the solution will be to strengthen abdominal muscles, likewise if there are problems in the hips, it will help to strengthen the quadriceps.

When getting active, “the perfect order in a perfect world is dynamic stretching, then strength training, then cardio and then more stretching. Static stretching and calisthenics are better than nothing,” Junker says. “Engage the full range of motion and be ready to rock.”

Leading the way

Always ready to rock is Jon Jennings, superintendent at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, in Southampton, New York. “Exercise is very important to me, so I make it a priority,” Jennings says. “I exercise before work so when I get there, I feel ready to go.”

Jennings runs more than 1,000 miles a year and has an ongoing streak, running at least one mile every day for more than five years. (Fascinating inspirational side note: the longest recorded active running streak for anyone is more than 18,500 days. That’s more than 50 years!) “Running is a great way to stay in shape and it’s a good way to clear your mind,” Jennings says. “It doesn’t take a lot of time.”

Jennings has worked at Shinnecock Hills for eight years, including 2018 when it hosted the U.S. Open, which means that, yes, he still found time to run at least a mile a day during that event. Clearly, fitness is meaningful for Jennings and he wants to help his crew achieve a similar feeling of preparedness every day. “I set a tone,” Jennings says, “I look up, I smile and I’m enthusiastic.”

Jennings and Ana Alvarez, golf maintenance operations manager at Shinnecock Hills, developed a morning routine to get everyone loosened up and focused for the day ahead. Inspired by a session about deep breathing and mindfulness at the 2019 Golf Industry Show, Jennings realized that deep breathing could be a good start.

The Shinnecock Hills team started a simple daily routine in February 2019 and carried it into the beginning of 2020. The routine begins with taking a minimum of five deep breaths for quiet, personal reflection. They then watch a video and play music during five minutes of cardio and stretching. “It’s something we love to do,” Alvarez says.

“We call on different people to choose how many breaths to take,” Jennings adds. “It can be funny — someone who is running late might say ‘10!’, the max, or it can be a time for bonding. For instance, if people are worried about a sick loved one or are experiencing something difficult, they might choose more breaths. This is a solid team-building exercise as people can share about their lives. The camaraderie is great and everyone participates.”

There are 10 people on the full-time maintenance staff and in the high season that number can shift to 35. Every day, for just a few minutes, they are smiling and laughing and mentally preparing for the day ahead. For cardio, they follow a YouTube fitness video on a big screen and play music. The video starts with stretching and other moves. It finishes with a pair of exercises: 30 seconds of jumping and 30 seconds of jogging in place. “At the end, we are winded by it,” Jennings says. “I have to start talking right after we finish and sometimes I wish I had a minute!”

Music ranges from salsa to hip hop. “It has to have a pace that matches the video,” Alvarez says. “There is one rule: there can’t be any bad words or derogatory lyrics. We have a list of songs that work and a list of a few that don’t.”

It’s obvious how joyful the activity is for all who are involved. “Our routine works for all age groups and ability levels,” Jennings says. “It’s great. When we finish, everyone is smiling and ready to work. No one is sitting there flat, behind their phone with a cup of coffee.”

It’s common for people to have better fitness routines — or be more active — when they are younger, or even with other jobs. That’s life sometimes, for everyone, and fitness can ebb and flow. It’s one of the reasons that small fitness changes in the workplace can have a remarkable impact. People are yearning to feel good, to feel healthy, and an environment that supports that is endearing.

Justin Mohler, 23, went to the gym five days a week when he was in college. He still hits the gym, but it’s hard sometimes to find the time and motivation. Everyone can identify with the transition of moving and starting a new job. Mohler has been an assistant at Shinnecock Hills for about a year, and he’s observed an active work environment. “Work can be like working out,” Mohler says. “We’re busy.” The Shinnecock Hills staff is professional and strives to meet high standards so relaxed bonding in those early hours is a definite perk.

“Beginning employment at SHGC, the morning routine was brand new to me,” Mohler says. “I thought, ‘Is this serious?’ But it really is effective. It seems a little funny when all of a sudden the crew is talking and then everyone stops and we breathe. But after the routine, people are engaged and it’s like, ‘OK, now we are ready.’ It sounds a little goofy, but we do it every day.”

Personal and professional

Regarding fitness, it would be irresponsible not to acknowledge the boundary between personal and professional. Encouraging wellness and focus at work, or managers showing they care by offering seminars on yoga or nutrition, is very different than mandating non-work-related fitness activities.

“As an employer, I would err on the side of caution with that,” Jennings says. Exercise boasts a myriad of benefits, but anyone starting a new routine or initiative should check with human resources or superiors if they are uncertain about the change.

“I do have side conversations with employees about how they are and check in about their families and their well-being,” Jennings says. “But at work, the majority of our conversations are task-focused.” Jennings has noticed more fitness conversations among superintendents and he recently spoke with a colleague who wakes up at 3 a.m. to go biking before heading to the course.

“I definitely see more management people speaking about wellness and fitness than I have in the past,” Jennings says. And again, leading by example is the best way to show that fitness is important and worth the challenge. Being fit and healthy will keep you positive and capable of handling the highs and lows of any job. “It doesn’t matter who you are,” Jennings says. “You just have to make the effort. People who are inactive age much faster — moving makes a big difference.”

Margo McGreal, who has been a physical therapist for 29 years, agrees. She got her start in the industry after volunteering in a physical therapy facility and, like Junker, she recognized how helpful she could be to others by providing the right care at the right time.

Having worked in several facilities with fitness incentives, ranging from doing a specific activity, like a fun run, or turning in results for a blood pressure or glucose test, McGreal understands how incentives can be influential. Every employer is different, but fitness goals that are overly difficult to reach can be discouraging even if individuals are setting those goals for themselves. Go easy, but with consistency and determination. Leaders need to encourage health and fitness effectively, usually with a thoughtful, meditative approach and by setting a good example.

Strenuous exercise breaks down muscle tissue and that needs time to recover, McGreal says. “During exercise, your muscles use glycogen (energy) and strenuous exercise can make very small tears in the muscle,” she adds. “During recovery, your muscles are repaired and this enables them to be stronger.” Additionally, “as people age, they lose muscle mass and function — exercise helps prevent these losses.” Working out, especially strength training, is important no matter what age someone is, but more critical as people grow older.

McGreal comes from an avid golf family and treats people from a variety of occupations, including golf course maintenance. She notes that in any occupation, it’s important to work on a variety of tasks and “get help for heavy loads. If you are lifting something, bend your knees to protect your back.” If there was a chance to add one cardio machine to a workroom, she would recommend, “Whatever people do and like best. Bikes and elliptical machines are less stressful for the joints since they reduce weight and impact for ankles and knees.”

Effort is key and remember to have fun. It’s your job, your crew, your body and your choices about nutrition, strength and wellness. Where you work, the fitness culture might be just right. It might be time for small changes or bold moves. Whether it’s on property or off, find an activity and motivation to “PUMP” — (insert strong clap here) — “you up!” You’re no crybaby and Hans and Franz will applaud your effort. They will also be with you — in spirit — to help with the heavy lifting.

Lee Carr is a Northeast Ohio-based writer and frequent Golf Course Industry contributor.