How To Build That Shaker Stamina

A set of hands holding a cocktail shaker.
Shaking cocktails all night long can be quite the workout — but using correct form and stretching before and after can make all the difference. (Photo: milanvirijevic /iStock)

Bartending can be hard on the body, there’s no doubt. Whether from being on your feet all night long, sleeping unconventional hours or something else entirely, time spent behind the bar can take a toll on your health and wellbeing. At high-volume establishments, especially those that do a significant number of shaken cocktails, a normal shift can (at least in the beginning) leave your arms feeling a bit wrecked by the time it’s over.

Russ Bergeron, the beverage manager at The Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans, where many a Ramos Gin Fizz is shaken to frothy perfection, says that when they reopened the Sazerac Bar and Fountain Lounge several years back, it took a little while for his arms to adjust.

“[T]he first week we were open, all the upper body was very, very sore, especially since the hotel and the bar had been closed for about four years at that point,” Bergeron says. “We just had a surge of people coming in. We were probably cranking out somewhere between, oh, about 150, 200 a day at that point.”

Two hundred or so labor-intensive cocktails a day, while probably not all created by the same bartender, can really cause some wear and tear on your muscles. According to Jason Bennett, PT, Ph.D, SCS, ATC, an associate professor of physical therapy and athletic training at Saint Louis University, it’s not the strength in your muscles, it’s your muscle endurance that allows you to shake cocktails all night. Paying close attention to the muscles in your rotator cuff and forearm can help you stay in shaking shape.

Bennett suggests dynamic stretching pre-shift and static stretching post-shift to help offset muscle tightening. Before a long shift, “… having them actively go through wrist extension and wrist flexion and stretching the wrist in range…” can warm up the muscles you’ll need, he says. “Same thing with the shoulder. [G]rab their arm, pull it across the front of them, stretch a little bit and go back and do like 10 repetitions of that with a three to five second hold.”

And after shift? “After the shift is generally when I will do more static stretching, so longer-duration hold, probably 30- to 60-second hold, because now you’ve really taxed the muscles and you probably have some micro-trauma to the muscle tendon tissue,” says Bennett. “So stretching the wrist — the same muscles, right? — stretching the wrist flexors and extensors, stretching the shoulder muscles will, I think, help with recovery.”

The other muscles that come into play when safely (and strongly) shaking cocktails over a long period of time are your postural muscles, such as those in your core, shoulders and neck. Strengthening these muscles and ensuring you’re focusing enough attention on your posture can help you from injuring yourself.

While Bennett suggested shaking up your shaking routines in order to minimize overuse and any wear and tear on muscles, Bergeron says that he thinks it’s possible to overdo it on the untraditional mannerisms.

“[R]eally just a basic shaking technique is nothing out of the ordinary that you wouldn’t do if you were doing some sort of manual labor, I would assume,” Bergeron says. “But I guess you can definitely overdo it and especially in some of the mannerisms and ways that I’ve some bartenders over the past few years try and shake drinks. You can definitely injure yourself.”

Another important recovery booster is hydration. Bennett says that recovering from a tough shift can be easier if you’re adequately hydrated. Getting enough rest can also minimize muscle fatigue and injury and give your muscles a little bit of time to recover, particularly if you’re working back-to-back shifts or more than normal amounts in a given week.

At The Roosevelt’s bars, Bergeron makes an effort to ease new bartenders in so they don’t overdo it early on. Eventually, newer bartenders gain confidence and speed in making these shake-heavy drinks and work their way towards more efficiency.

While efficiency, quality and guest experience are, of course, very important when it comes to working behind a bar, labor-intensive cocktails can temporarily derail some of that effort, at least until you’re used to seeing those orders coming come. Taking care of yourself by drinking enough water, sleeping enough, practicing good shaking mechanics and stretching the required muscles can all help you develop the endurance needed for a long night behind the bar — especially one that involves more than just the occasional Ramos Gin Fizz.

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