Behind the Bar To Your Health

Bartenders Spill Their Secrets for Staying Motivated to Work Out

Image: Sofia Varano

From shaking countless cocktails and hauling boxes of booze to standing for 10 hours or more at a stretch, a bar shift often feels like an intense workout. And it can also leave bartenders with little time or motivation for a real one.

“I grew up in a military household, so athleticism and taking care of yourself were priorities,” says Mercedes O’Brien, the cocktail director at Atlanta’s Cold Beer. “But when I started working in this industry in my early twenties, I went through a phase of not taking care of myself and partying too much, and I let my workouts slide”

Now an avid yogi and kickboxer, O’Brien says she started working out regularly again “because I wanted to feel better and do better for myself.”

Here, O’Brien and other industry professionals share their best practices for fitting in workouts pre- and post-shift.

1. Set a Goal

“When you’re a bartender and small business owner, it’s a miracle if you have time to do anything for yourself, let alone a workout,” says Chris Elford, the owner of Seattle’s Navy Strength, No Anchor and Vinnie’s.

He suggests setting a big goal to keep yourself motivated and training regularly. A former cross-country athlete who still runs recreationally, Elford registers for races ranging from a 5K to half marathon to stay motivated.

He also keeps focused with a little self-bribery. “I nerd out about gear, so I know that for the cost of ten drinks I could buy a new pair of running shoes,” says Elford. “I give up some drinks, get a new pair of shoes and get healthier in the process. It’s a win-win.”

2. Find a Community

For Neil Cooper, the head barman at Lucy’s at Auburn, Ala., finding the right gym made all the difference in his commitment and consistency to regular workouts. “When I started working out regularly, I was going to Planet Fitness, which was open 24 hours and convenient, but it was kind of low energy, and it didn’t work for me,” he says.

Since switching to a weight-lifting-specific gym, he has made new friends with similar goals who motivate him to make progress and show up regularly.

A self-described “very social person,” Elford often meets up with friends to hold himself accountable. “As a bartender, the last thing you want to do after working long nights Friday and Saturday is get up on Sunday morning, but I also know if I have friends meeting me for a run, I’m not going to disappoint them,” he says.

3. Keep It Simple

Getting in a good workout doesn’t mean investing a lot of time or cash or fancy gear, says Kimber Weissert, a New York City brand representative with Maker’s Mark.

While she’s a member of a CrossFit gym, she recommends bartenders new to working out start with something simple. “Take advantage of local walking trails, or do a quick circuit of sit-ups or push-ups in your living room,” she says. “You can do fitness anytime, anywhere.”

Jena Ellenwood of New York City’s Dear Irving and Hunky Dory is also a big fan of home workouts. A former dancer and gymnast, she starts her day with 20 to 30 minutes of Pilates, yoga and foam rolling. “Sometimes, I’m really tired and just stretch a bit, but as long as I’m getting the blood flowing, I feel better during the day and recover more quickly from my shift the night before,” she says.

4. Plan Ahead

As work schedules can be unpredictable, Cooper recommends planning your workouts in advance and sticking to your plan. “Since no two days behind the bar are alike, it’s important to commit to a workout at X time, day or night, and just put your phone down, close the laptop and take time for yourself.”

Ellenwood agrees. “Because our jobs are so social, it’s important to have some quiet time where you don’t have to engage with other people and you can reset yourself,” she says.

5. Just Do It

And once you’ve scheduled the workout, stick to it. “Even if you just put 30 minutes down on your calendar and don’t work out the whole time, you’re still committing to yourself and establishing better habits,” says Weissert.

You’ll never regret it when you do. “The hardest part is getting dressed and showing up,” says O’Brien. “But I always notice a change in my demeanor and stress level after I work out. The benefits are worth the time you put in.”