The Back-up Plan: UK Channel 4 shooter Matt Jasper gets fit to shoot

Guest post by Matt Jasper:

My work often puts me in uncomfortable positions
My work often puts me in uncomfortable positions

A few months ago I read a blog post from BBC cameraman Christian Parkinson which has inspired me to share my experiences here.

The health of our bodies, and in particular our backs, is vital to being an employable camera operator. We have all at some time felt a twinge as we threw the camera over our head in a scrum, or chased someone with the camera on our shoulder, or having to shoot while wearing all sorts of protective armour.

For the last few years I have been a bit over weight. Last year I started to eat healthier, cut out beer and lost eight kilos. I am still heavier than I want to be but am working on it. Sadly losing weight didn’t equal gaining strength or increasing my fitness level.

Over the years I have had the usual back problems and anyone who knows me would have heard me whinge at some time or another. With Christian’s post in my head I went looking for something that i could do to help me get through the pain and to try and prevent it from happening in the first place. I had a few things to consider.

First I travel a lot and am often staying in hotels that don’t have gym facilities. I need to be able to exercise with very little equipment. Second, as a bureau cameraman my work schedule is unpredicatable. It can include days in front of a computer screen and then, all of a sudden, weeks shooting and editing 18 hours a day. Third, I was starting at a pretty low base. Whatever regime I chose had to be easy-ish to start with and have the ability to be upscaled when it got too easy.

One of the few things I remember from high school sports lessons is how professional athletes train. They time how often there bodies are at rest and how often they are working. Then they try and replicate these results in the gym/training. This kind of training is sometimes called interval training. For example a professional footballer might be at rest for 30% of a game so his training would consist of a 70/30 work/rest split.

Working at full capacity as camera operators we tend to work in concentrated bursts of a few minutes – whether that is having to hold a camera over your head in a scrum or running etc. Usually we have periods of rest in between the short periods of madness. Of course that is not always the case, some of you might have to carry the camera, tripod and run bag on a hike through a jungle in 39 degree heat and 90% humidity and only intensive aerobic training will prepare you for situations like that!

For me I found the seven minute workout. Phhhft, I hear you say. Remember though, that i was starting from basically nothing, wanted to use little or no gear and wanted to be able to do it anywhere. This the first article i read about the program.

The seven minute workout featured on the New York Times
The seven minute workout featured on the New York Times

It is basically 7 minutes of pain, all done in your bedroom, hotel room or wherever with only a wall, chair and the floor required. Yes it will kick your butt initially, and the best thing is that when you get used to doing it once a day, you can easily then do it twice/thrice a day or whatever, depending on your fitness level.

There are plenty of free apps out there as well for your smart phones that will lead you through it. It works most of the muscle groups in your body and also works on your aerobic (hearts/lungs) fitness and all takes less than 10 minutes a day.

Of course this isn’t for everyone and if you happen to be one of those mad camera ops who also does marathons then this is not for you.

So what changes have I noticed you may ask? Well, after doing the routine nearly every day for four weeks I haven’t lost any weight. What you say? No weight loss? Well that is because muscle weighs more than fat, so the fat that I’m losing is made up for by heavier muscle. I have lost inches though, around my stomach in particular. Other areas I have gained centimeters, mainly my thighs and upper arms, torso. I can even see the beginnings of a six pack!

I also feel stronger in my day-to-day duties, stairs are easier and so is positioning my slightly front-heavy camera rig for longer periods of time. I feel more able to carry all the gear I require for longer periods of time. The seven minute workout concentrates on your core body strength and that is what is so useful to us.

The normal seven minute workout doesn’t includes enough emphasis on biceps for my taste so I compliment it with bicep curls using a neutral grip. This more closely resembles the way we pick up the camera. This requires dumb bells so add that exercise if you have them.

Camera makers these days seem not to worry as much about ergonomics as they used to – most cameras are getting more awkward to hold and operate without a heap of rods and rigging. If you, like me, are starting from a low base, want to be able to exercise anywhere using little or no equipment then I thoroughly recommend the seven minute workout.

I want to be employable for as long as possible and looking after my back is one way I plan to achieve that.

Matt Jasper is an Australian cameraman who moved to Beijing 11 years ago to work for ABC Australia. He is now the Asia cameraman/editor based in Bangkok for Channel 4 News UK. You can follow him on Twitter @matt_jasper

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