The Importance of Work Hardening (Strength and Conditioning)

work hardening

June 14, 2024

The Importance of Work Hardening / Strength and Conditioning 

Hands up if you think Mo Farah runs the London Marathon straight after 6 weeks off resting from an ankle injury? Hands up if you think Arnold Schwarzeneggar returned to his full training schedule straight after 4 weeks off with a pulled muscle? Hands up if you think you should return to work as normal in your manual job after 6 weeks off with a bad back? You could give it a try but the sudden increase in activity levels from resting at home to sudden manual handling and standing 8 hours each day may sometimes be a step up too fast and too far. Ideally, a period of work hardening activity to bring both the body and the mind closer to a level of normal work tasks is advised…just like a runner would build back frequency, distance and speed of running for an event first. 

“Work hardening” refers to a systematic and intensive rehabilitation program designed to help individuals regain the physical and functional capabilities required to perform their job tasks safely and effectively. It is particularly relevant for those recovering from injuries or illnesses that have affected their ability to work. 

Work hardening principles are crucial for the human body, especially in the context of physical rehabilitation and occupational therapy. Here are several key aspects of their importance:

1. Enhancing Physical Strength and Endurance

Work hardening involves progressively increasing the intensity, duration, and complexity of physical tasks. This helps improve muscle strength, endurance, and overall physical fitness. By simulating real work conditions, individuals can build the stamina and resilience needed for their job.

2. Preventing Injuries

By gradually adapting the body to handle work-related stresses, work hardening can significantly reduce the risk of injuries. Properly conditioned muscles, tendons, and ligaments are less likely to suffer from strains or sprains. It also helps in improving joint stability and flexibility.

3. Improving Functional Capacity

Work hardening programs are designed to enhance an individual’s functional capacity, which includes lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling, and other physical tasks required in the workplace. This improvement in functional abilities ensures that workers can perform their job tasks efficiently and safely.

4. Facilitating Safe Return to Work

For individuals recovering from injuries or surgeries, work hardening is a critical step in the rehabilitation process. It prepares them for a safe and effective return to work by mimicking the physical demands of their job, thus bridging the gap between recovery and full work capacity.

5. Boosting Confidence and Reducing Fear of Re-injury

Participation in a work hardening program can boost an individual’s confidence in their physical capabilities. It helps alleviate the fear of re-injury by gradually exposing them to work-related tasks in a controlled and supervised environment.

6. Enhancing Coordination and Ergonomics

Work hardening often includes training in proper body mechanics and ergonomic techniques. This education helps individuals perform tasks more efficiently and with less risk of injury. Improved coordination and the application of ergonomic principles can lead to better posture and movement patterns.

7. Psychological and Emotional Benefits

Engaging in work hardening can also have positive psychological effects. It can help reduce anxiety and stress related to work performance, improve mental resilience, and provide a sense of accomplishment and motivation as individuals progress through the program.

8. Customisation and Individualisation

Work hardening programs are typically tailored to the specific needs and job requirements of each individual. This customization ensures that the program addresses the unique physical demands of their job and personal health conditions, leading to more effective outcomes. 


The principles of work hardening are essential for optimising the physical and psychological readiness of individuals, particularly those returning to work after an injury or illness. By focusing on gradual and systematic conditioning, these principles help enhance physical capabilities, prevent injuries, and ensure a safe and confident return to the workplace. 

Here at Physiotherapy Matters, we have a team of specialised occupational health physiotherapists who can look at your situation, identify your specific needs and help you restore function and confidence to return to your work tasks. Let your line manager know if you feel you are struggling and need assistance. A referral for physiotherapy can help get you back to your best. 

No matter whether your condition was caused by a sport, work accident or otherwise, we welcome the chance to serve you.

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