Poor mobility means many farmers suffer injury or long-lasting pain as a result of their hard, physical work on the farm or prolonged periods of being sat at the wheel of a tractor.
These everyday strains on the body can lead to all too common ailments among farmers, including back pain, stiff shoulders and dicky joints.
Cumbrian dairy farmer’s son Steven Fell knows this all too well. At the age of just 21, he injured his shoulder doing something as typical as driving the tractor.
Like plenty of stubborn farmers out there, he ignored the damage that he had done to his body and carried on working through the pain.
Years after shrugging off his dodgy shoulder as something that he just had to get on with, Steven started to feel the pain spread to his neck and back.
Much like a house fire that starts in one room but inevitably engulfs adjoining areas, his body was compensating for the damage done to his shoulder and this was putting serious stress on other parts of his body.
Eventually, Steven got the medical assessment he should have sought after that day in the tractor cab and underwent a number of operations to put things right.
“The biggest physical problem with most farmers is their mobility.
Generally, if something is sore, then it’s either because of tight muscles or weakness,” explains Steven.
“Farming encourages you to do things with your body that are not particularly good for you. Reaching, crouching, lifting awkward objects or being hunched over all the time.”
But you don’t need to hit the gym to aid aching body parts, he insists, the farm is the perfect place to work on body strength and mobility.
If farmers are to prevent doing themselves a mischief, then they need to do other movements to balance out the punishment that they put their bodies through on a daily basis.
Steven took Farmers Weekly’s Oli Hill through a series of exercises aimed at helping farmers stave off injury by increasing their mobility and strength.
Broom handle stretch
Over time this stretch can increase the range of motion in your shoulders and strengthen your back, helping to counteract the hunched-over positions that famers often find themselves working in.
Once the movement becomes easier, try bringing your hands slightly closer together on the broom handle.
- Stand with your feet shoulders-width apart and make sure your back is straight. Rotate your hips, tucking your belly button in to engage your core.
- Holding a long broom handle at either end, slowly bring your arms above your head, making sure that your arms remain straight and your core muscles are engaged.
- Once overhead, push your hands up as far as they will go and hold for five seconds before returning to the start position. Rest and repeat four more times.
This exercise can help to strengthen your upper back and improve posture.
- Facing a wall with both arms stretched in front of you, place your hands on the wall at shoulders-width apart.
- Rotate your hips to tuck you belly button in. Keeping your core engaged at all times, lean towards the wall and push as hard as you can for 10-15 seconds. Do not let your shoulders rise up. Rest and repeat twice more.
This is the first part of a full pull-up movement. It can increase back strength and help promote better posture.
- Find a ledge or surface to safely hang your entire bodyweight from – alternatively you can use a set of pull-up rings.
- Hang with your arms completely straight, with a palms-away grip and hands slightly more than shoulders-width apart. Rotate your hips, tucking your belly button in to engage your core – this aids stability as you hang.
- Drive your shoulders down (think of it as a reverse shrug movement) to work your back muscles, lifting you up slightly.
- Do not bend your arms to help with this upwards motion, only use your back. Pause and squeeze for a second at the top of the movement before slowly relaxing to a full stretch again. Repeat at least four more times.
Cow and cat poses
These positions can increase lower back strength and mobility.
- Start on your hands and knees with arms shoulders-width apart, hips in line with your knees and wrists slightly turned outwards.
- Keeping a straight back, push downwards with your hands and rotate your hips upwards to the “cow” yoga position. Hold for five seconds.
- Still pushing down with your arms, slowly rotate your hips fully in the opposite direction to form the “cat” position, arching your lower back. Hold for five seconds.
- Repeat by alternating from one position to the other four more times.
Lower body strength and mobility
This simple movement can help achieve better stability and work on leg, knee and ankle strength.
- Stand with your feet slightly further than shoulders-width apart. Rotate your hips, tucking your belly button in to engage your core.
- Engage your core and imagine you are trying to grab the floor with your toes.
- Slowly bend your knees to lower yourself towards the ground as deep as possible.
- Once you cannot go any lower, drive through your knees to slowly stand upright again, making sure you’re always in control of the movement. Repeat four more times.
This is an advanced exercise and may not be suitable for certain individuals. Take all necessary precautions to avoid injury in the event of a fall during this exercise.
- Place a length of metal or plastic piping on the floor in front of you.
- Try to stand on the pipe and maintain your balance by keeping your upper body straight and bending your knees.
- Once you have found your balance, try taking small steps backwards to roll the pipe under your feet and move forwards slowly.
- Take care to keep your balance at all times and control the movement.
- Many people injure themselves as a result of slips, trips or falls, so working on your balance can help your body to prevent this.
Steven Fell: From parlour to pull-ups
From the moment you meet Steven, you can’t help but admire the energy and enthusiasm that he shows for fitness and having fun.
Today, the 32-year-old lad from the Lake District is an undeniable vision of peak physical fitness. His outstanding strength and agility mean he can perform extreme stunts and exercises that leave the average man gobsmacked.
This was not always the case, he admits. “As a kid I was never very fit and had bad posture. Like a lot of young farmers, I was big on the drinking culture too.”
The Northern Ninja
Four years ago he began watching the TV show Ninja Warrior UK, which sees competitors test their strength, speed and nerves as they battle their way across an obstacle course.
After a piece of the adrenaline-fuelled action, he applied to be on the TV show and was selected as one of 250 people to tackle the infamous course out of more than 22,000 applicants.
He trained as he went about his work on the farm, sprinting while carrying a bag of feed, balancing on feed troughs or cubicles and grabbing hold of girders in the sheds to swing off.
“The farm was the idea place – you don’t need a gym. I was so nervous before I went on Ninja Warrior and felt a bit faint,” says Steven.
He got about halfway through the tricky obstacles before coming a cropper on a spinning log, which ended his hopes of victory.
Since his debut he has gone on to compete for cash prizes in several other non-televised Ninja Warrior-style events across the globe in Germany and the Netherlands, and has won multiple times in Edinburgh and Brisbane, Australia.
Rules vary from course to course, but often competitions will be a race against the clock with judges awarding points for successful negotiation on difficult obstacles.
Set to compete again in Barbados this May, the self-proclaimed Northern Ninja is encouraging farmers and the public to sign up to the Ninja Throwdown. Anyone interested in finding out more can contact Steven on Facebook or Instagram.
Farmers Weekly’s Fit2Farm campaign to help farmers discover how they can improve their own health, wellbeing and work-life balance.
It’s all about making sure you are in top shape, physically and mentally to run your farm business.
Read all of the articles in the Fit2Farm series
We’ve been joined by charities to raise awareness for this campaign.
Our charity partners
Farming Community Network
The Farming Community Network (FCN) is a voluntary organisation and charity that supports farmers and families within the farming community through difficult times.
FCN’s volunteers provide free, confidential, pastoral and practical support to anyone who seeks help, regardless of whether the issue is personal or business-related.
Helpline: 03000 111999
The helpline is open every day of the year from 7am to 11pm
Farm Safety Foundation
The Farm Safety Foundation is an award-winning charity raising awareness of farm safety among the next generation of farmers.
Through training and campaigns such as Farm Safety Week and Mind Your Head, the Foundation tackles the stigma around risk-taking and poor mental health, ensuring that the next generation of farmers is equipped with specific skills to live well and farm well.
Worshipful Company of Farmers
The complexity, risk and relentless uncertainty within agriculture today take a tremendous toll on all those who work in the industry; never before has resilience been so crucial.
Recognising this we are delighted to support this new initiative to promote good health and wellbeing. It’s a fresh approach and demonstrates that working together we are always stronger.