Train Movements, Not Muscles

Working out means more than simply looking cute in your scrubs. This is the era of performance, where the goal of fitness is not primarily to look amazing (although that is a great by-product of being fit), but to execute everyday movements well. This is also known as functional fitness. In other words, you are training for what life throws at you — whether it means carrying your 10-pound baby boy while running and holding your luggage in the airport, or lifting heavy shopping bags throughout the mall.

The focus isn’t aesthetics anymore. It’s about how well your muscles can move to do what you need it to do! In the nursing scene, take a moment to think about the most common movements you do on a daily basis when it comes to patient care. I can think of some very important ones:

  • Upper body pulling (pulling patients in bed with the draw sheet)
  • Upper body pushing (pushing heavy wheelchairs or gurneys to transport patients)
  • Lower body pulling (pulling from the lower body to pick up items from the floor)
  • Lower body pushing (pushing from the lower body to lift a patient from sitting to standing position)
  • Lunging (walking and running on the unit constantly)


You do quite a lot of these movements repetitively as your shift goes on. You can even keep track if you want! Try counting how many times you squat down in one shift and leave a comment below with your result! Many times I’ve also heard from fellow nurses that they easily walk more than 10,000 steps within one shift (as measured by their Fit Bits). Training movements are vital for staying strong at work.

So how do I train my “movements” instead of my “muscles”?

Let’s be clear here — we are definitely training muscles in these exercises; there is no question about that! However, instead of “isolating” muscles in your workouts (e.g. exercises that target a specific muscle group), you get more bang for your buck doing exercises that target several muscle groups at once (compound exercises). And they’re even better with resistance (e.g. lifting weights) added into the mix.

But I know there is a lot of hesitation among females, especially, when it comes to lifting weights. Many women still tell me they are worried about “looking too bulky” or “looking like a man” when they do any kind of lifting. Here’s the deal — Women have significantly less testosterone than men, which is the hormone responsible for ramping up bone formation and protein synthesis among males during puberty. As a result, women cannot gain as much muscle mass as men, even when it comes to lifting weights.


BUT if there is still some hesitation about strength training, I have designed a movement-based workout for nurses that utilizes resistance tubing instead of dumbbells! Resistance tubes are perfect for workouts since that often come with built in handles that make the bands comfortable to hold. This is a great place to start for everyone new to strength training. Plus, resistance tubes can still provide a deceptively challenging workout!

The resistance tubes I use specifically are Black Mountain Products Resistance Band Set with Door Anchor, Ankle Strap, Exercise Chart, and Resistance Band, but you can use any resistance tubes that you are comfortable with. As long as they come with handles and a set with varying levels of resistance, you are good to go!

Show me the moves!

Let’s cut to the chase! Here are the compound resistance tubing exercises I highly recommend to train nurse-specific movements. Training these movements will help you feel better at work with less pain and will help prevent injury (side bar — please note that results vary from person to person and that you must consult your physician prior to starting any formal fitness program).

Warning: Before you start, anchor your cables safely!

  • Close the door you want to anchor the cables on (that way you don’t get smacked during your workout!)
  • Loop the cable around the door knob so that the loop is right in the center of the band (door should be closed though!):

Now, you are ready to begin! Perform each exercise below for 10-12 repetitions, and repeat for 3-4 sets with 1-2 minutes of rest in-between sets! You can increase the resistance of your bands once you can easily perform each exercise (with good form) for 15 reps or more. Caution: Go through each movement slowly; this will keep the bands in control as well as give your muscles a more challenging workout!

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Banded squat to standing single-arm row

  1. After your band is looped around the door knob securely, walk backwards until you feel a strong amount of tension.
  2. Stand shoulder-width apart with your chest upright and your arms extended in front of you while holding the handles with your palms facing one another.
  3. Slowly sit back into a squat while keeping your arms straight out in front of you as you hold the band for slight assistance. Remember, booty back! Try not to let your knees bend forward past your toes.
  4. Slowly stand up with your arms still straight in front of you.
  5. Pull your right arm back until your hand is at about the level of your rib cage. Keep your shoulders pointing forward (avoid allowing your shoulders to turn behind you)
  6. Straighten your right arm, then repeat with the left. That is one rep.

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Banded standing row

  1. From a standing position, keep your arms straight in front of you at shoulder height. However, face both palms up towards the ceiling.
  2. Sit back into a “half squat” position, then pull both arms back until your elbows are behind your back and your hands are at the sides of your rib cage.
  3. Squeeze your back muscles behind you as your arms move backwards. You want to avoid using too much of your shoulders in this exercise; your back muscles (particularly your lats) are the star in this movement!
  4. Return to starting position.

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Banded standing chest press

  1. Carefully turn around so that your back is facing the door knob. Triple check that your resistance band is looped around the doorknob securely!!
  2. Stand with your chest upright and left leg forward in a “half lunge” position.
  3. Retract your shoulder blades so that your elbows are behind you (at about chest height) with your palms holding the handles face down (towards the ground).
  4. While holding your lunge stance, push both hands forwards as if punching the air in front of you. Both arms should be fully extended at the level of your chest. Palms remain facing down.
  5. Slowly return to start position. Switch legs when you reach half of your total reps for the set (i.e. if you are doing 10 reps of this exercise, switch legs after doing 5 reps on one side)!

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Banded reverse lunge and tricep pull-down

  1. Stand with your feet together and palms facing towards each other while holding your handles. Your arms should be bent at about a ninety-degree angle (hands right below the chest.
  2. Slowly bring your right leg back into a reverse lunge; bend your knee behind you until it is at a ninety-degree angle, hovering right above the ground.
  3. At the same time you are lunging backward, both of your arms are extending behind you into a tricep pull-down. Your palms will then face down towards the ground when you are pulling back.
  4. Slowly go back into standing position and bring your hands right below your chest again, palms facing each other.
  5. Repeat on the other side. That is one rep.

This workout is challenging, but it will better prepare you for work and for all those movements you do throughout the shift. Whether it is pulling a patient higher up in bed, grabbing a pillow that fell on the floor, or running to answer a bed alarm, training movements instead of isolated muscle groups is the best way to train to be an #UnbreakableNurse!

Give this workout a try and let me know what you think in the Comments section below! Thank you so much for reading, and do not forget to tag #UnbreakableNurse in your social media posts to raise awareness in this movement to fight nurse burnout!

References (other than the direct links cited within the post):

Haff, G. G., & Triplett, N. T. (2015). Essentials of strength training and conditioning (4th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Testosterone. (2015, November). Retrieved August 09, 2017, from

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