Don’t think for a second that the lifting you do on the job as a nurse replaces a structured strength training regimen.

In fact, you need to strength train more than ever because of all the lifting of patients you do on the job.             

Depending on the workplace environment, some nurses must routinely lift, hoist, transfer, maneuver and move adult patients.

Some patients are very heavy, but even a straight-size patient could be difficult to maneuver due to “dead weight” and the unequal distribution of weight that comes with the human body.

An exhausted or aching nurse may feel that a conventional strength training program is a joke because of all the lifting they do in their profession.

However, the lifting and moving of patients is nowhere near similar to the lifting of strength training equipment. It’s anything but an apples-to-apples comparison.

In fact, if you do plenty of lifting on the job, this is all the more reason to adhere to a strength training routine that employs free weights and machines.

Why Lifting on the Job As a Nurse Is Markedly Different than Lifting at a Gym

The element of control. At a gym (or with home workout equipment), you get to decide the amount of resistance.

Typically, you’ll choose a weight load with which you can perform several repetitions with good form.

A popular range is between eight and 12 reps. This means that the load likely won’t be heavy enough to make your body buckle or threaten serious injury.


But on the job, you don’t choose the weight of your patients. If you’re tasked at transferring a 270 pound patient from the bed to a standard chair, or from the toilet to a wheelchair, this is what you must do.

Unlike with a gym, you don’t have options at the workplace that can accommodate your strength abilities.

Nor can you choose the type of movement. It might be “back day” every day on the job.

A gym or home exercise equipment offers structure, organization and systemizing, plus the very important neutral spinal alignment. You can also take rests when you need to.

Traditional workouts provide time and space. On the job, you may not be able to take your time while lifting a patient. Other patients are waiting for your care.

At a gym, you can take all the time you want to prepare for a “big lift.”

You can also arrange for optimal space – something you may not be able to do on the job such as with the confines of a bathroom.

Though patient room bathrooms are usually quite roomy, what if the patient suddenly has to go, and the nearest bathroom is small?

This happened to me once while my father was waiting for his appointment at a medical clinic.

Though I’m not a nurse, I was his caregiver, and that bathroom was far from roomy, believe me.

But thanks to my strength training regime, I had no problem helping him down and up from the toilet.

Weight distribution. Barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells and heavy balls come with an even weight distribution. Human bodies don’t.

Plus, barbells and dumbbells are made to be easily and efficiently gripped and held onto.

All this is why it’s a lot easier to deadlift a 225 barbell for reps than it is to lift a dead-weight 225 pound patient from the floor and onto a bed.

The even distribution of exercise equipment allows you to employ good, effective form. But form gets lost when maneuvering a person, particularly a morbidly obese one.

Because a patient’s body isn’t a fixed object like a barbell, it’s much easier to suffer an injury moving it around.

Nurses sometimes recruit each other to help with lifts. But two nurses lifting a 200 pound, “dead weight” patient simply cannot be compared to those same two nurses standing on either end of a 200 pound barbell and, with proper biomechanics, lifting it off the floor.

The resistance is equally distributed for each nurse with that barbell, but not so with a same-weight patient whose body is limp and floppy.

In short, “good form” doesn’t translate to much when lifting and moving people, but is quite applicable with barbells and other free weights.

Plus, machines have good form built into them, though it’s possible to utilize poor form on a machine.

Lifting on the Job Requires Lifting in the Gym

So if you’re a nurse (or CNA), this is all the more reason you should include a resistance workout program in your life.


I once knew a CNA who competed in Special Olympics powerlifting. I bet she had few problems on the job when it came to moving people.

A strength training program will seriously reduce your risk of injuries from workplace tasks.

Exercises such as the deadlift, kettlebell swing, squat variations, the standing overhead press, weighted lunge and bent-over barbell row will sturdy-up your core, significantly strengthen your entire back and legs, strengthen your arms and shoulders, and make you more efficient at lifting on the job.

Just two days a week for 45 minutes in the gym will make a big difference and help reset your body for the next time you’re performing duties as a nurse.

Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained clients of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health. 


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