Mechanisation has revolutionised the way we farm, easing the physicality of the work while increasing time dedicated to office duties.
So are today’s farmers as fit and strong as their forefathers were? The answer: probably not.
To help prevent farmers turning soft and flabby, we met up with a personal trainer who runs fitness classes with a unique twist.
Leah Maclean’s Fitness at the Farm business trains people to get in shape using everyday items found lying around her father-in-law’s 60ha farm near Oxford.
After eight years working in marketing at a business park just outside the city, the 31-year-old decided to quit her job and start a new career as a personal trainer.
“I hated the idea of working in a gym because I much prefer training outside, so I started improvising on the farm by picking up logs and rocks,” Leah explains.
“Fitness at the Farm wasn’t a planned thing. I just started doing it on my own and then wondered if other people wanted to do this sort of exercise.”
Working out of a shepherd’s hut in a field at the heart of the farm, Leah runs a range of fitness classes throughout the week alongside personal training sessions, with 10 to 15 people regularly joining for the popular weekend blasts.
Her unique selling point is that all the exercises are done without the need for convention gym kit. Rocks and logs make perfect weights, old tyres are ideal for lifting, dragging and jumping moves, and a standard fence post knocker gives your arms a killer workout.
With countless studies showing that exercise and being outdoors have positive effects on a person’s mental wellbeing, Leah say she’s combining the two to create a fitness experience that’s guaranteed to give people a buzz like no other.
“Physically you’re working about 10% harder than you would in a normal gym too, because things aren’t quite so perfect – the ground isn’t flat, objects are unevenly weighted or sometimes harder to hold on to compared with dumbbells or kettlebells. In a gym everything is so perfectly pristine and that’s not real life.”
Leah’s mantra is to focus on exercises which help take the struggle and risk of injury out of daily life. She says working on core body strength and rotational movement is important for this, as it helps to take strain off your back and keeps you balanced, especially in older age.
Farmers Weekly‘s community editor Oli Hill tried out seven simple exercise which Leah says will give farmers a full-body cardio-resistance and strength workout without the need for a costly gym membership or fancy kit.
For these exercises you will need:
- 2x tractor tyres (one small, one medium-sized – weight dependent on strength)
- 1x heavy duty lifting strap
- 1x fence post knocker
- 1x log (weight dependent on strength)
- 1x large rock or brick (weight dependent on strength)
Do each exercise for one minute and complete the circuit three times.
Watch the step-by-step video guides to each exercise below.
1. Tyre drag
Mark out a 25m strip. Tie each end of a heavy duty lifting strap around a small tractor tyre. Bring the strap around your waist and move forward until the slack is taken up with the tyre on the ground behind you.
Run as fast as you can, taking big strides as you drag the tyre behind you. When you reach the end of the strip, turn around and run back. Repeat for one minute.
This cardio-resistance exercise will work on your general fitness, lung capacity and leg muscles.
2. Farmer’s tyre carry and flip
Stepping into the centre of a medium-sized tyre that weighs about 50kg, squat down and grab hold of the rim at either side.
With a straight back, squeeze your glutes to straighten your legs, then walk forwards at a steady pace as you carry the tyre, controlling its weight as you move. After walking for 30 seconds, squat to put the tyre back down on the ground.
Stepping outside the tyre, squat down and grab the outside. With a straight back, lift the tyre on one side as you stand and thrust forwards to flip it over. Repeat the flipping for 30 seconds.
This exercise will strengthen your core and legs.
3. Fence post slammer
Take a fence post knocker. Holding either side, soften your knees slightly and tip your pelvis forward to engage your core muscles.
With a straight back and your shoulder blades pinned back, slowly raise and lower the fence post knocker. Slower movements make this exercise harder and more effective.
Repeat the motion for one minute or until failure. This exercise works on your arms and core muscles.
4. Log squat and press
Take a suitably sized log and rest it on the back of your shoulders. Keeping a straight back, squat down with your feet shoulder-width apart, making sure your knees don’t overshoot your toes.
At the bottom of the squat, drive through your legs to stand and then push the log above your head with straight arms. Bring the log back down to rest on your shoulders. Repeat for one minute or until failure.
This is a full-body exercise, working on the legs, shoulders and arms.
5. Tyre jump/step
With a medium or large tyre in front of you, squat down and jump up high to land with both feet firmly on top of the tyre. Repeat for 30 seconds.
If jumping on to the tyre is too challenging, try stepping up and down instead, making sure you alternate the leading leg.
This plyometric exercise will help to increase the strength in your legs and improve lung capacity.
6. Tyre slams
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and a car tyre stood up in front of you. Grab either side of the tyre and swing it between your legs to get some momentum, then swing it above your head using your abs and arms.
With your knees slightly bent, engage your core as you slam the tyre down onto the ground in front of you. Repeat this exercise for one minute or at least 20 times.
This exercise works your lower body, core and arms.
7. Rock balance
Holding a suitably sized rock with both hands, stand on one leg engaging your gluteus and core. With arms straight out in front of you, slowly raise and lower the rock five times.
Next, bend your arms backwards to bring the rock behind your head. Keeping your elbows from splaying outwards, raise and lower the rock slowly five times behind your head, working on your triceps.
Swap legs and repeat. This exercise is designed to improve your core stability while building strength in your arms.
Farmers Weekly has launched a 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.
We’ve been joined by business and charities to raise awareness for this campaign. Read about our sponsors below.
Read all of the articles in the Fit2Farm series
Your wellbeing is just as important to your farm’s future as looking after your land, crops and animals. Looking after yourself helps you be more productive and confidently face new challenges.
At Bayer, we have health and nutrition at our core, so we are delighted to support Fit2Farm.
Find out more at cropscience.bayer.co.uk/wellbeing
Isuzu are proud to support UK farmers of today and as the pick-up professionals we understand that having the right tools and equipment are vital elements to making the working day go that much easier.
That’s why with Isuzu, our pick-ups are strong, durable and built to go the distance, so you can focus the job in hand.
Find out more about the Isuzu D-Max range on our website
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
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 that 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.