What are the main things you need to know about getting ready to plant? Tree planting can be an ultimate test of endurance. How can you best prepare, physically and mentally?
Welcome to our series of articles that are designed to help teach you, the planter, how to succeed in the bush. Written by experts at Treeplanting.com and by veteran planters with years of experience, these articles will help you understand what the tree planting industry is all about, help you get prepared mentally and physically, and most important, help you maximize your paycheques once you hit the blocks.
Tree planting can be the ultimate test of endurance. It’s like a race, but it’s one that you’ll run day after day. Sure, if you’re in good cardio shape, that’ll help you succeed. But you also need to be good at learning repetitive motions. You’ll need to figure out how to move quickly and efficiently without wasting any calories. You don’t have to be able to run a marathon. Cardio is important, but not that important. Besides, a marathon usually takes most trained runners no more than three to four hours. You need to keep alert and keep moving for almost three times as long as that, every day. You also have to be in a mental head space that lets you focus 100% on planting once you get to the block, and you need to save your thoughts about the rest of the world for once you get home to dinner.
Is it helpful to go running regularly before the season starts? Sure it is. But it’s not critical. Planting doesn’t require quite the same fitness level as long distance running. It’s hard to explain, so let’s just say that it’s, “similar but different.” Do you have the motivation to go running for at least half an hour each day in the couple months leading up to the season? If so, that’s awesome, that’ll definitely help you out on the blocks, and you’ll probably earn ten to twenty percent more throughout the season than someone who sat on the couch and ate lots of potato chips in the months leading up to planting. But what if you’re not good at running? What if you’d rather spend an hour a day walking at a moderate pace on a treadmill while watching re-runs of Breaking Bad? Well, that’s just as good! Anything at all that keeps your heart beating faster and your leg muscles moving is going to be a huge benefit once the season starts. Once you start planting, you’ll see that you will rarely be doing any actual running.
What about hiking? Is that just as useful? Definitely. In fact, that might be the best exercise you can do for your legs. If you’re hiking, you’re more likely to be doing some uphill and downhill work, which gives your leg muscles a bit more of a workout. If you’re in rough terrain, you’ll get a bit more practice at moving around effectively on uneven ground. And if you take a heavy backpack that roughly simulates wearing a full set of planting bags, even though the weight distribution is different, and it will also help strengthen your leg muscles more.
Of course, there’s more to physical fitness than just keeping your legs in decent shape. Regular time at the gym with exercises that target your biceps and triceps will help. Your arms and shoulders also do a lot of work when you’re planting. Don’t worry about focusing too much on your pectoral muscles. Your chest muscles are much less important than your arm muscles when planting. In fact, as the season progresses, you’ll notice that your upper arms and shoulders get much stronger while your chest disappears. That’s because your body learns that you don’t need the muscle mass in your chest; you need it elsewhere.
You’ll also want to think about your wrists. Exercises that involve clenching and squeezing will start getting your wrists and forearms into shape before the season starts. Why does this matter? Probably the most common injury among all planters, whether they are inexperienced or have several prior seasons under their belt, is due to tendonitis/tenosynovitis and other repetitive strain injuries (RSI’s). At the start of the season, if you haven’t been physically active with your hands and wrists and forearms, the sudden activity can cause inflammation and swelling, especially in cooler weather. This is a quick way to get forced to sit in camp for several days, waiting for your body to heal. The hit to your pay-cheque can be significant, so pre-season time invested in exercising pays off many times over.
A good basic exercise regimen in the eight to ten weeks before the season starts would include brisk walking/jogging, bicep and tricep exercises, and hand/wrist exercises, several times each week. If you want to step things up a bit and really be on top of your game once your season starts, you should check out a program called Fit To Plant. It’s a free program that is specially designed to get you into top planting condition in the eight weeks leading up to the season, and it also has components that talk about nutritional fitness and healthy eating.
Finally, aside from physical conditioning, is there anything else that you can do to improve your performance on the block? Definitely. You need to get yourself into a good mental headspace. Tree planting isn’t a good place to be if you’re worried about problems at home, because when you get onto the block, you need to focus on planting if you’re going to make the most money possible. If you’re the sort of person who can mentally cut off the outside world and concentrate on the work at hand, you’ll do fine.
If your mind wanders constantly and you’re thinking about relationships or conflicts or troubles with family or friends, you’re not going to be able to give 100% when you’re planting. You get what you give, and if you’re not focused 100%, your earnings are going to suffer. So if you’re going to go planting to “get away from it all,” make sure that you turn your brain off and really do get away from the outside world. You might find that it’s really refreshing to stop checking Facebook and emails constantly, to go “off the grid” and to immerse yourself into a different world. It’s a healthy world.