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Physical Training for Techs – Is it Necessary?

physical training for techs
By Anna Tompkins

One of my first jobs out of college had me working with a bunch of guys. I mean, that’s how it was, just me and the guys, building scenery, being awesome. I knew very well when I got into this industry that it was not the norm to have women around unless you were in the costume shop, or painting.

And being that it was a physically demanding job, everyone had to be physically fit. We all knew that, so naturally the way to further judge each other (because let’s be honest, that’s what was happening) were competitions. Pull-ups, push-ups and plywood carrying the most common among them. To be fair, it was all in good fun and a great way to warm up for a gig and a part of me really misses it. That camaraderie and the pride of being accepted into the fold of the bros. And outside of the innate need to prove myself it instilled an understanding that even though I wasn’t performing on stage anymore, didn’t mean that I didn’t need to be fit and often need to fit into small spaces.

As my career has merged to working more and more closely with acrobats, dancers and aerialists, it’s not far off to believe that I saw all sorts of body types on display and very much wanted to emulate a particular aesthetic in my free time.

So I took to working out, lifting weights and being more conscientious of what I put in my body to mold myself into the person I saw in my head. My cardio is admittedly still trash (and the Covid weight is now real), but I know very well that I can rescue a 110kg dude without much trouble or risk of injury.

I say all of this not to be self serving, but because it has created an awareness of how many of my colleagues didn’t share my outlook.

I have had many a heated discussion on this over the years. One party will affirm that anyone should be capable of lifting their own body weight while the other side argues that they shouldn’t have to if a machine could do that for them, touting the classic “Work smarter, not harder”. So who’s right? Both? Neither? I don’t know, but after years of my own job description detailing the scenery/equipment that I needed to lift, bend, crawl, drag, etc., for hours on end every day, I was often perturbed that many companies would not permit technicians to utilize their training spaces.

Now obviously I think this issue is improving. With insurance companies giving discounts for those supporting healthy lifestyles, newer generations merging towards work/life balance and more employers understanding the gravity of mental health, an individual’s overall health consciousness has become more the norm. But even with all that it is perfectly normal to be chatting it up with another technician and start mutually complaining about that bum knee, back injury or something else that happened from over-use on the job like you’re recounting an old war story with nostalgia. The prevalence of operators that sit most of the day with chronic wrist and spine complications surely doesn’t go unnoticed.

So my question is, should employers be actively encouraging technicians to improve their strength and mobility while on the clock?

Performers often have this privilege even outside of shows and rehearsals being that they need to train a new skill, injury mitigation, or professional development whilst often having access to physical therapists and medical teams on site. Should it be the same for the techs? Obviously, this would mean hiring more people to cover the hours needed to accomplish this, but we could all use a little bit of hiring these days. Should leaders be facilitating structured regimes into work schedules to build stronger humans or leave it up to the individuals to opt in? Is there a cultural aspect that needs improvement or do we leave it up to the niche of bros and their competitions? Talk amongst yourselves.

Also by Anna Tompkins:

Women’s Beginner Guide to Harness Donning

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