When Siphiwe Baleka became a truck driver, he was in for a shock. Within the first two months of driving for a living, he gained 15 pounds — a harsh discovery for a former NCAA Division I athlete and Yale University swimmer who missed the cut for the Olympics by a fraction of a second.
“That was the moment I realized I had to take responsibility for my health and my fitness,” says Baleka.
Baleka tried adding push-ups and sit-ups to his schedule, but they failed to move the scale in the right direction. “The bottom line is, everything I tried, whether it was fitness equipment or a nutrition plan, wasn’t getting any results. I found it was difficult to be consistent because as a truck driver, your schedule is always changing.”
Worse, weight gain is much more than a cosmetic issue for truck drivers — it’s also about safety on the road.
“The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and our government have done large truck crash causation studies that show there is a link between driver health and accidents,” Baleka says. “In the accidents studied, three of the top 10 factors were prescription medications, over-the-counter medications and driver fatigue. Well, if you have a healthy driver, he’s not on prescription drugs of over-the-counter medications, and if you have a healthy and fit driver, he has more energy and less driver fatigue. If you want to make highways safe, this is a public policy issue.”
Still, the sedentary nature of driving a truck isn’t the only obstacle to fitness. “As truck drivers, we’re living in a box, we don’t have access to a kitchen, we have food storage issues and we can’t get to a gym,” Baleka says. “There are all these limitations and restrictions that were making it very different for truck drivers.”
Establishing a routine
Baleka ultimately found a way, using 4-minute workouts and eating at 3-hour intervals, to get fit. “I had to hack my own metabolism, and I spent three years doing it. I figured out how to turn my metabolism on and keep it on while I was driving. And I realized there’s a nutrition and fitness program for everyone in America, except one that’s for long-haul truckers. Truckers who have enrolled in my 13-week program, they’ve lost 20, 30, 40, 50, even 60 pounds without skipping meals.”
Now the founder of Fitness Trucking and a fitness coach for a trucking company, Baleka has also made an effort to reach another often-overlooked segment of the fitness-challenged trucking industry — women. “They might feel embarrassed about their weight, so the last thing they want to do is be seen exercising where they don’t feel confident,” says Baleka. He urges female truckers to realize that other truckers may not be judging them at all. “For every person that might be mocking you, there’s another person whom you are inspiring.”
Baleka also understands that female truckers often face obstacles men don’t when it comes to getting fit. “There are extra challenges that make it more difficult for women, because they don’t feel comfortable and they don’t feel safe exercising.”
He says that, while female truckers have hurdles, the good news is they aren’t insurmountable. “If safety is an issue, all you need to do is find a place where you have three feet where you feel safe, and you can do your four minutes there,” Baleka says, even suggesting the truck stop shower for workout space.
Ultimately, Baleka hopes truckers will make a change. “Losing weight on the road is actually easy. And you can’t afford to do nothing.”