Nichols workers stretch to better health: 10-minute exercise routine cuts injuries in half

Adam Fawcett leads an early beginning-of-the-day exercise routine at Nichols Brothers Boat Builders in Freeland. The program is mandatory and cut injuries by half.

The crew at Nichols Brothers Boat Builders are tough, grizzled, even burly. With calloused hands and scuffed-up hard hats, these no-nonsense Americans know what it means to show up day after day, work hard and get the job done.

They’re the quintessential shipyard workers, which makes picturing their 10-minute morning exercise routine a bit hard to image. In dirty overalls and leather welding jackets, these rough-and-tumble men and women will be found with hands on their hips and dipping one knee, and then the other; throwing their hands above their heads and then swinging them back down behind them; reaching forward with one arm while stretching the opposite leg back.

Those are just a few of the moves in Adam Fawcett’s “Morning 10” exercise routine, a custom begin-the-day workout the South Whidbey personal trainer tailored just for yard workers. It focuses on strengthening and training good movement, rather than simple stretching, though Fawcett admits there’s a dash of “ancient Eastern movement arts” sprinkled in.

“For example, the opening move is a Chi Gong exercise that I learned years ago in India,” he said. “It’s called the Masters Exercise, but I didn’t tell most of the yard guys that until I had been working with them for over a year.”

“The exercise I gave them to keep their shoulder rotator muscles strong and juicy, comes from Prasara Yoga.”

All the exercises were specifically selected to combat common shipyard injuries, such as neck and back pain, shoulder, hip and knee problems. To that effect, it’s been more than successful, said Jonathon Hettlinger, human resources and training director for Nichols Brothers.

“We’ve seen strains and sprains basically cut in half,” Hettlinger said.

“It’s been a very good partnership,” he added.

It fit well with other good-health initiatives adopted by management, such as the recent ban of smoking on company property and serving fruit three days a week, Hettlinger said.

Fawcett, owner of Vibrant Fitness, approached the yard more than a year ago after hearing the company was interested in improving workforce health. It took a bit of convincing, and a trial run where participation was voluntary, but eventually the benefits became clear and the program mandatory for all yard workers.

Jim Stach, a fitter and welder, said the program’s introduction was met with some hesitation; employees weren’t so sure about exercising in front of their friends. But eventually, minds began to change.

“It actually helped out a lot,” Stach said. “It does help.”

“And it’s a good way to start your day,” he added.

Fawcett said morning exercises like the one at Nichols Brothers are something anyone can do and benefit from. Sitting is the new smoking, he says, and the country’s workforce is filled with sitters.

He’s hoping to change that, one routine at a time.

“I want to change the way America moves, I want to change the way America ages,” he said.