Long-haul truck driving is a truly stressful job. Stress due to the ever-denser traffic, stress from loading and unloading, stress searching for a parking space. Plus working for the most part in the same position, which is anything but healthy: sitting down. A tendency to put on too much weight and a susceptibility to back pain are just two of the possible consequences. On average, truck drivers miss 24 days of work a year due to illness – this is amongst the highest figures for any profession, and the underlying trend remains upward. Heiko Gebhardt felt trapped in the trucker treadmill. “A year ago, I weighed 115 kilos,” says Gebhardt, who is in his mid-forties. And his back was also giving him trouble. “I decided this had to stop.” The dedicated trucker set about shedding weight by systematically changing his diet.
And opting for regular exercise. Which is no easy matter for people who are only home at the weekend and on the road five days a week. It is a real problem for professional drivers, as when they are on a tour they can’t regularly go to a gym when they finish work as a preventive measure, or seek out a physiotherapist at short notice for help in dealing with acute pain.
But sport on board does the trick. Thanks to an initiative by his employer, Spedition Fehrenkötter, Heiko Gebhardt has had his own personal fitness studio in the Streamspace cab of his Mercedes-Benz Actros for some months now.”TopFit-Set” is the name of the compact package that Gebhardt now uses during the breaks between time spent at the wheel each day, to actively combat muscle tension and to strengthen the muscles that are prone to stress.
The TopFit comprises a board made of robust plywood to which two metal eyelets are attached. The exercise straps, known as tubes, are attached to these with snap hooks. The board also acts as a standing surface. Heiko Gebhardt stands on the board between the seats, his body weight – now down from 115 kg to a mere 80 kg – ensuring that it stays firmly in place.
The board comes with two pairs of tubes offering different levels of training resistance. These are made from a special rubber formulation and have a constant rate of elasticity. This means that individuals of different sizes can train with the set, as the effort required remains constant however far the tube is stretched. The set is completed by a pair of flexible, ergonomic handles which rotate to follow the movements and thereby reduce wrist tension, plus a useful carrying bag. “We specifically developed our TopFit-Set for use in a truck cab”, says Siegfried Rothe, a customer researcher and developer for Daimler Trucks. “Using the fitness board, drivers can exercise in the privacy of their cab – which is an important factor for many truckers”. Like Heiko Gebhardt, for example. “Gymnastics outside in a truck park? No way.” And not just because of the weather factor.
Mindful that applying the correct methods is as important as fitness training itself to a healthy lifestyle, Heiko Gebhardt makes full and systematic use of the professional support that comes with the TopFit-Set. For Rothe and his research and development colleagues do not simply leave purchasers of the TopFit-Set to their own devices: the training videos produced in close cooperation with sports scientists to present the “Basic Fit”, “Strong Fit”, “Top Fit” and “Power Fit” workouts each contain six exercises aimed at the relevant areas of the neck, shoulders, upper arms, abdomen and upper/lower back. The training videos are provided on a DVD supplied with the set. Actros sportsman Heiko Gebhardt prefers the digital fitness coach via the FleetBoard Driver.app, however.This also has a wealth of information and tips on the subject of “fitness and health on the road”.