Can Hard Physical Labor Build Huge Muscles?

| December 31, 2014 by Truth Seeker |

Shortly after joining the world of muscle construction, many people develop a muscle evaluation OCD. We start judging the physical development of the people we meet. Most of the victims that go under the scanner do not even lift, but we evaluate their muscles regardless.

Thoughts such as: “The delivery guy has nice arms but weak calves.”, “Good arms for a fat uncle who does not even lift.”, “Nice glutes for a 24/7 Facebook lurker.” start crossing the mind of the indoctrinated muscle constructors.

Sooner or later, THE GUY appears.

The GUY is a mythical personage who displays an amazing physical development without having seen a gym even from the outside. The guy is breaking all natural laws with his 18-inch arms, huge chest and monstrous gorilla back. Of course, he also eats bad food and has a job considered hard physical labor by today’s standards. Like every hero, the guy’s super powers are increased by a healthy shot of hyperbole provided by his fans.


Sometimes the guy’s measurements are boosted by 3-4 inches, and his lifts are upgraded by 200-300lbs. This formula creates the legendary uncles who weigh “solid 200lbs” in a lean condition and deadlift 500lbs without doing much besides working at the factory and drinking beer after work. Real men, right? I am sorry, but the reality is different.

The vast majority of men who work physical jobs don’t have great bodies and are not that strong. Most construction workers that I see are middle-aged men who smoke, shake their beer bellies, eat garbage street food and swear a lot. They also know a lot about politics, or so they think. Are they stronger than the typical office insect that spends 12 hours in front of a computer and finishes the superset with 3 hours of web cam masturbation at home? Sure.

Ultimately, physical labor develops strength and serves as a solid form of conditioning, but the results are not extraordinary.

THE GYM > PHYSICAL WORK?

People with a history of physical labor often start their weightlifting journey with heavier lifts than individuals who have spent the last 5 years playing WoW and drinking sugary drinks. However, the workers won’t surpass the dedicated lifters without joining the camp themselves.

Intelligent resistance training will always be superior to slave work. I don’t want to discourage anyone from performing hard physical labor, though. Be my guest. The problem is the fetish that most people develop. They think that moving cement all day will somehow produce mysterious muscles and superior “dad strength”. You can become decently strong from construction work, but it’s more of a side effect rather than the main purpose of the activity. It’s like driving to work and expecting to transform into a good driver. You can become proficient at city driving, but you will never become a refined and complete driver without dedicated practice on the track.

Hard physical labor may provide some stress, but there are more elements to muscle growth (e.g., recovery and nutrition). Most physical jobs today are modern day slavery. Working in gold mines, cocoa plantations and factories is not the greatest experience ever. The salaries are low, the hours are long, and the work is very hard on the body. It drains you completely and gives you almost nothing in return.

When I was 17 years old, I had a summer job as a walking courier. I had to carry a 45lbs bag full of shiny papers. At least, on the way back, the bag was empty and light. My salary was one dollar per 1,000 papers. While this job is not nearly as hard as the previously mentioned activities, it was pretty tough for me.

Ironically, this was also the time when I started reading about training. I remember bringing a small bottle of honey mixed with milk on the job. The goal was to fight the catabolic effect of the intense walking.

So, did I profit from this physical job? Gains? Big calves from walking? No. Getting shredded from the cardio? No. I remained the same skinny-fat weakling. All I got was frustration and sore Achilles tendons.

There is no denying that hard living produces “dad strength”. When you don’t have money to pay someone else to repair your house, assemble the furniture or move the fridge, you do the job yourself and become stronger.

Once I had to move heavy furniture with my father. I was lifting only one end, and yet it felt extremely hard. For him, it was light, even though he is over 30 years older than me. However, I got my revenge. After I started lifting my “son strength” improved as well. Moving furniture was no longer mission impossible. The refinement of my deadlift technique played a big part in the process. This brings me to another point – most workers don’t really know how to lift heavy stuff properly.

A long time ago, my father was asked by a group middle-aged men to help them lift a car stuck in deep mud. He agreed. Unfortunately, he was one of the few men that actually attempted to lift the car. The others simulated lifting. According to the story, my father collapses and after pinching a nerve. His back still hurts. Undoubtedly, proper form would have minimized the damage.

Final thoughts

One of the main characteristics of this world is duality. Everything here has a counter element. You can’t have a day without a night, birth without death, youth without old age and laziness without somebody else working harder to compensate. This is a natural law similar to gravity. Balance is achieved at all costs and there is no alternative.

In order for some people to enjoy the material offerings of this world, others have to assemble the cars, produce the food, heal sickness…etc. Technically, this is not bad by itself because people exchange services. You can’t do everything by yourself even if you’re Rambo. Sadly, there’s a dark side too. The so-called first world where people live in big houses and have everything in abundance is not free. It comes at a price paid by the slaves.

Among the people who are forced to work extremely hard jobs, there are individuals who can handle the stress for longer periods of time. They have great genes and would do well as strength and/or endurance athletes. This is the gene pool that produces the guys with big muscles from work. However, even those men would see greater gains by following a good training program instead of moving bricks.

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4 comments

    1. joe santus

      …but the hard labor from carpentry and postal delivery only builds some mass on forearms and calves IF a person has good genetic potential for forearm and calf mass already. And, to build the maximum mass their genetic potential allows requires far more effort than carpentry and walking exert.

      I didn’t own a car until age twenty-two, so walked a couple miles per day to jobs I had then; I also had a job for three years which required me walking all over a factory floor the entire shift. Later in my life, I worked as a self-employed carpenter/builder for twenty years. I built neither calf nor forearm mass from either work; if anything, those jobs eroded my mass due to what amounted to “overtraining”.

      Only when I began doing heavy resistance training which stressed my forearms and calves did I experience any growth at all in my calves or my forearms.

      So, sure, hard physical labor might build more mass in SOME people; and physical labor might often be better for many people’s health-and-fitness than being sedentary; but for average guys and for the vast majority of people, hard physical labor will not build huge muscles, nor enable them to reach their maximum genetic potential of muscle mass and strength.

  1. Taylor

    5 or 6 months ago I started moonlighting in labour.
    My biceps have grown by 20%, I already had great calves from hiking. Because of the constant deadlifting and hard pulling in some jobs I have noticed quite an increase in strength.

    I think this is an office worker’s “the gym is better than hard work” rant. I’ve done office work too, and you can in fact come home dead tired but it’s more mental stress than physical. I am finding the physical stress somewhat like a vacation.

    Where bodybuilding and going to the gym excels is at shaping. For example, for all the heavy deadlifting and it’s effect on my thighs, calves, forearms, and biceps it has had a barely noticeable effect on my pecs and abs (hence the author’s comments about beer bellies on construction workers).

    Construction and heavy labour is not going to give you that rock hard chest tone because in real life you rarely use those kind of muscles. It looks awesome when you have it, but how often do you lift a weight sideways across your chest with one arm? To place it in the other hand? Abs help you lift your torso – again they look great when you have them, but how often are you lying on your back doing a situp type motion with a significant amount of weight in your hands or on your chest? Almost never, if you’re sane, unless you are going to the gym to work on these muscle groups.

    Nothing against people who go to the gym to enhance their bodies.

    In one day I did the equivalent of 675 reps of a 60 pound deadlift over the course of 6 hours nonstop. If you were to do that in a gym, the gym manager might call a mental hospital thinking you were insane. Deadlift works a lot of muscle groups, especially when you are in awkward positions that are changing all the time; or lugging around a 75 pound crate all over the warehouse so it can be delivered. I’m not saying deadlift is the bomb beyond all else; not at all – I’m contemplating doing situps and pec building just so my chest will match the rest of my body as I’m gaining mass and endurance power – just that any amount of effort that is close to the max will build strength and muscle.

    On the carpenter note – I had a carpenter over to my house for drinks, brought by an ironworker. This is all before my moonlighting in labour. I did 30 pushups (working in a bank, no gym), the rodbuster did 36 (ironworking, no gym) and the carpenter couldn’t bust 16. A different carpenter did 40. So I’m not saying carpenters aren’t strong or rodbusters and bankers are better just that it really comes down to how you work as to whether it will help you gain strength.

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