Manual Labor vs The Gym. What Approach Wins in the Real World?

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Maintaining a proper exercise routine can be difficult, especially if you are working jobs on a rotating roster. Exercise is essential for both our physical and mental health, so it is something that needs to be done regularly. There are a few ways that one can squeeze in some exercise, with most people opting to go to the gym in the united states. However, there is a large population that has never stepped foot in a gym, especially if they work manual labor. So, the question then becomes, which is better? Manual labor or a traditional gym setting?

Manual labor and the gym both have differing benefits. Manual labor has you physically active for 8 hours a day, burning plenty of calories. Whereas gyms provide a more controlled workout in a shorter space of time. Neither is superior, more so the volume of moderate-intensity exercise you get is what counts.

 Let’s take a deep dive into the benefits and disadvantages of manual labor vs. traditional gyms.

Benefits of a Traditional Gym Setting 

According to Livestrong, “In 2019, the global health club and gym industry made about $98.7 billion in revenue.” The issue with this is that a large portion of the money being spent on gyms is people just paying for gym memberships and not using them.

In order for a traditional gym setting to work – you have to go! I can assure you that you will not see any progress if you do not put in the necessary work.

The World Health Organization recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, five times a week, or 150 minutes. Therefore to achieve this, you need to be going to the gym and getting exercise pretty regularly throughout the week. 

Now that we’ve got that understanding, let’s dive into the many advantages of going to the gym.

Weight Loss

Let’s start with the obvious, going to the gym is a great way to lose weight. I know that’s not telling you anything new or exciting but it always bears repeating. Exercise is inarguably the best way to maintain your weight and minimize your risk of health ailments.


The state-of-the-art equipment that gyms provide is pretty hard to come by. If you are just working manual labor – the exercise is different. The gym offers equipment such as weight sets, treadmills and ellipticals to name a few. It’s also much cheaper than buying these machines yourself, as the price tag is fairly expensive.

Aerobic and Anaerobic exercise

One major benefit of gym equipment is that it allows you to participate in aerobic and anaerobic exercise. These types of exercises are a great way to promote quality heart health while training your resistance and stamina. Treadmills and ellipticals are a great way to activate different muscles in your body and increase your endurance.

Unique Advantages

Traditional gyms are very “in” right now, as they offer more than just exercise machines. Most gym facilities offer other services specific to their organization.

For example, a lot of gyms offer classes from personal trainers. This allows you to connect with someone whose career revolves around providing clients with a proper workout routine and support throughout the process. This is great for people who find it difficult to remain motivated when it comes to exercising.

A lot of gyms also provide miscellaneous services such as massage chairs, tanning beds, and a service bar (equipped with water, Gatorade, and pre-workout). As you can see there are many great things about becoming a member of a gym. Just keep in mind that going to the gym requires work that must be done, in order to see positive results. 

VIDEO – Best Time To Exercise When Working Night Shift

Benefits of Manual Labor 

As I previously stated, there is a large portion of the population that view going to the gym as pointless for them.

There are approximately 12.5 million people that fall under the manual labor category. The majority of those 12.5 million people tend to count their work as a form of exercise, as it is very physically demanding.

Manual Labor is defined as “physical work done by hand (or using basic implements) instead of by machines, usually implying it is unskilled or physically demanding”(Source, 2022). Like exercising in a gym, doing manual labor has major benefits. 


One of the main benefits is exposure. Working in manual labor typically calls for working in harsh weather conditions. Whether that be extremely hot or extremely cold conditions, those in this line of work are usually subjected to the outside environment. Therefore, their bodies become more resilient and can withstand harsher conditions than someone who isn’t in this field of work, or sits in a cozy office each day.

Burn Calories

Manual labor is also a really great way to burn calories. “If you stand for eight hours, you will burn an average of 134 calories per hour (the estimated number of calories burned by a 170 lb. person). For eight hours, the estimated calories burned is 1648”(Source, 2022).

That’s just standing alone! The average person works eight hours a day, five days out of the week. That’s over 8,000 calories that you are burning a week – just by standing.

Weight Bearing

We all know that there is a lot more than just standing going on in this work industry. You’ve got to account for the walking, lifting, and any other physically demanding movement. If you account for all of that, the amount of calories you can burn is a pretty big number! Plus the strength that you can build up over the course of a few years is pretty mind-blowing. 


Working in manual labor also comes with sleep benefits.

When you look into sleep disorders, the majority of those individuals are those who work desk jobs. This is because when they get home, their brain may be exhausted, but the body is not. Therefore, it forces your sleep schedule to be off-balance, making it harder to get adequate sleep. Doing manual labor can be mentally and physically draining. So, if you work in manual labor, chances are you do not find it very difficult to fall asleep after a long day’s work. 

Disadvantages of Traditional Gyms 

We’ve talked about the advantages of going to the gym, now let’s touch on some of the disadvantages.


The first major disadvantage is the cost. Gyms offer so much more than just workout equipment, so the prices they charge continue to rise over the years. Being able to afford to go to the gym just isn’t feasible for a lot of people.

Gym memberships can range from anywhere between $20 a month to over $100 a month. However, a lot of gyms offer discounted prices for their first-time guests when initially signing up. So, if you are interested in going to the gym, look for a gym that offers trials or introductory offers. This allows you to give that particular gym a test run before you pour your hard-earned money into it and not enjoy the benefits. This is how many people end up with gym memberships that they pay for but never use. 

Related post: Best Equipment Ideas for Your Home Gym 2022


Another real disadvantage that is often overlooked is that too frequent trips to the gym can become addictive. Especially if you naturally have an addictive personality.

‘Exercise causes the release of certain chemicals in the nervous system. These chemicals create a sense of pleasure or reward.

Exercise addiction may be, in part, a dependence on this pleasure response. Extreme weight loss and health conditions related to weight loss could result from exercise addiction”

(Healthline, 2022)

Basically, don’t overdo it. Like everything else in life, do it in moderation – find yourself a happy balance. 

Real vs Fake?

The last disadvantage that I want to touch on is often a touchy subject. The gym can often seem a little artificial, making it very intimidating to some.

For example, if you are just getting started on your fitness journey, walking into a gym crowded with people who have rock-hard abs, whilst lifting weights you could only dream up, can be very intimidating.

In fact, it’s one of the main reasons that people choose not to go to the gym. That or they opt to go late at night where the number of people in the gym is drastically fewer. If the gym doesn’t feel like a safe space, people aren’t going to want to join. Fortunately, there are gyms out there actively beginning to take steps to turn their facilities into certified safe spaces.

Related Post: 15 Key Reasons For Shift Workers To Ditch The Gym and Exercise At Home​

Disadvantages of Manual Labor

While there are many great advantages of working in a profession that requires manual labor, there are also many disadvantages.

Relentless hard work

Let’s start with the obvious – strenuous work hours. Aside from taking an occasional break, laborers work from the beginning to the end of their shift – doing manual labor the entire time.

Imagine going to the gym and doing the most extreme workouts you can do for a full 8-hours. That may get you to the level of someone who does manual labor for a living.

According to the New York Times, “Some recent research has suggested manual labor often increases worker’s risks for cardiovascular disease and premature death, meaning the effects of work-related physical activity might be different and less salubrious than those of the workouts we choose to do on our own time.”


Manual labor also heavily increases the probability of injuries. While on the work-site you are not dealing with ideal conditions like you do in the gym. You are met with different terrains, most not flat – making navigating it much more difficult.

Manual laborers also deal with unconventional materials. They don’t get the advantage of controlled equipment, therefore increasing their risk for injury. 

VIDEO – Should you go to the gym or do some for of exercise after a night shift? Find out below.

So, after all of that, the main thing that you should take away from this article is exercise comes in all different forms. You can go to the gym or you can work a physically demanding job, it’s your choice. At the end of the day, it’s exercise all the same.

So, I don’t think we can necessarily say that one is better for you than the other. Some people are not built for manual labor, it’s just not something that everyone jives with. So, if that is you – consider taking out a gym membership. Or you can go out on evening strolls to get some steps in at the very least. 30 minutes, 5 days a week is all we ask!

Now, if you do manual labor for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week – I would consider that as your exercise. There are some many physically demanding aspects of doing manual labor, most of which eventually work out all of your muscles. So, I wouldn’t say that going to the gym regularly would be something that you NEED to do. However, I don’t think there is an issue with those who work manual labor jobs to frequent the gym. The gym is for anybody and everybody, so it is always a good alternative for your off days.  I would just suggest that you go in moderation. Your job already takes a toll on you physically and mentally, with the gym essentially doing the same exact thing. So, you don’t want to overstep your body’s limits.

I can’t really say that the gym is better than manual labor, or that manual labor is better than going to the gym. I truly think that it is based on the person. However, if your job does not include a lot of manual labor – make sure you are getting your exercise in. You will feel better both mentally and physically from it. 



Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning we receive a commission if you decide to make a purchase through our links, but this is at no additional cost to you. Please read our disclosure and privacy statement for more info.

Daniel Smith

Managing a global sales team I've experienced the challenges of working at all hours of the day and night. Being a shift worker I know how tough it can be balancing everyday life when you feel like you haven't slept in weeks! Providing advice and tips on how to manage your schedule, whilst still staying healthy is where I can help.

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