Behind the Bar To Your Health

Should Bartenders Stretch Before Their Shift? Yes. And This Is Why.

Image: Alisha Bube

Stretching may be the last thing on your mind before you start a long night behind the bar, but it shouldn’t be. “In our job, we’re on our feet all night,” says Channing Centeno, a St-Germain brand specialist and creative director and the head bartender at Otis in Brooklyn, N.Y. “We’re bending over to pick things up and using our wrists and shoulders a lot. Our bodies need time to warm up for those movements.”

A former competitive figure skater and the head bartender at Zuma in NYC, Liza Brink says stretching can prepare your mind for service as well. “This job is hard, mentally, emotionally and physically. Stretching not only prepares your body for the tasks you’re about to perform, but it also gives you a moment to take care of yourself before interacting with guests.”

Here, Brink, Centeno and other bartenders share why and how they stretch before stepping behind the stick.

1. Invest in Injury Prevention

Just like you wouldn’t hit the track to run a fast mile or try to backbend in a yoga class without a proper warmup, you don’t want to lift heavy kegs or shake cocktails for 10 hours straight without preparing your body for the activity.

“Bartending is an athletic endeavor,” says Amie Ward, a Bartender bartender and ACE (American Council on Medicine) certified personal trainer. “Stretching helps the body warm up and keeps muscles loose and flexible, while enhancing the range of motion in our joints.”

Tyler Zielinski, a former college athlete and bartender at BackBar in Hudson, N.Y. (as well as a contributor), takes the same approach to a shift. “Stretching prepares the body for movements outside its normal range of motion and helps minimize injury.”

That’s something Tracey Ramsey, the general manager of Lost Lake in Chicago, learned the hard way a few years ago. A former yoga instructor, she let her practice and preshift stretching slip and ended up suffering from sciatica and needing $800 of physical therapy to recover. “I was really lucky my insurance covered most of the cost, but it could have been avoided had I just made the time to do some yoga or stretching before work or attend classes regularly,”

2. Target Problem Areas

The feet, lower back, hips and shoulders are common points of injury for bartenders, so Ramsey recommends focusing on them first. She suggests yoga poses like reclined twists, pigeon and triangle to open up tight hips and lower backs, while Tony Delpino, a lifelong athlete and bartender at The Ainsworth and Dirty French in New York City, prefers foam rolling and using a lacrosse ball to roll out his feet preshift.

Zielinski favors dynamic stretches like high knees and leg swings to activate hips and muscles. Brink prefers forward folds to stretch the legs and open up the lower back, as well as neck rolls and gentle shoulder stretches for the upper body.

Ward also recommends a full-body approach and maintains a list of recommended movements on her website, The Healthtender.

3. Listen to Your Body

“We live in this culture of people pushing themselves, of no pain no gain, but it’s important to find balance,” says Centeno. Rather than intense heated vinyasa-style yoga, he sticks to a gentler practice to balance his hard workdays and workouts.

For Zielinski, who has tendonitis in his right elbow (and dominant hand), “stretching can actually cause inflammation, so sometimes I just ice it and use topical supplements to help ease the pain.”

4. Remember You’re in It for the Long Haul

“If you want to stay in this industry long-term, it’s especially important as you get older to take care of yourself,” says Ramsey.

“Stretching is a low-cost thing,” says Delpino. “You need to be mindful of your body and take time to maintain it. Keeping my body healthy allows me to make a living, so taking care of it is a top priority.”