COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Fifty or so students, most of them substantial fellows wearing Carhartt-style jackets, hoodies and work boots, face off against the much-slighter instructor.
But when Mollie Steiner tells them to hop, they hop; stretch, they stretch. Some smile, some don't, but they do what she says, all to the exercise leader's high-energy music mix.
They have no choice. They're Dublin city employees — from the streets, utilities, parks, electrical and facilities departments — who do the heavy lifting around town. It's 7 a.m., and this is their daily — and mandatory — 15-minute pre-work stretching session.
"We start with six warm-up exercises, then move into six stretches," said Steiner, also a city employee.
Like most cities of any size, Dublin has had a wellness program, employee-run exercise sessions and other opportunities for workers to stay healthy and on the job. But holding workouts specifically for "heavy lifters," common with many private employers, is a pretty new concept for cities.
There was only one job-related employee injury last year among the departments in the workout program, down from 25 the year before, said Tim Wagner, the city's human-resources director. Workers also benefit by earning city contributions to their tax-saver medical accounts for achieving their goals for weight, blood pressure and cholesterol — a total of $944,000 last year.
The program, which Dublin began in November 2012, won the city an award from US Healthiest, a nonprofit group based in Arlington, Va., that promotes healthy workplaces.
"As far as cities go, it is relatively new," said Matthew Sulka, exercise physiologist with Mount Carmel Health System, which designed a similar morning stretching program for Columbus utilities workers.
The Columbus program, however, is voluntary and has attracted 100 water and power division workers from the Department of Public Utility's 1,200 employees. Other divisions are scheduled to join later.
"Our injury trend shows that we've had a lot of strains, sprains and trips, slips and falls," said Tim Finnegan, industrial hygienist with Columbus' human-resources department. For those who participated in the year-old program, injuries went from 45 percent in 2012 to 37 percent last year, he said.
The cost was $810 for each of five groups of volunteers.
Dublin and Columbus officials are confident the workouts save money by reducing injuries on the job. Both cities plan to begin tracking exactly how much.
Morning stretches and bends are not always popular at first with those who do physical labor, Sulka said. "There were a lot of rolling eyes and jokes."
To break the ice, he told workers they were like the pro athletes they see on TV warming up before a game. After a few weeks, many said they wish the city had started the program 20 years ago, Sulka said.
At a recent morning workout in Dublin, many employees gave a lukewarm thumbs-up for the program.
"It's all right," one worker said. That's all he had to say, and, no, he would not give his name.
Others don't like that the workout is mandatory. "No, absolutely not. We're forced to do it," said another worker.
Would he attend the workouts if they were voluntary? "I'd give it more consideration," he said.
Tim Fleischer, a Dublin assistant horticulturalist, is gung-ho about the workouts.
"I have high blood pressure, and my doctor has always been concerned about it," said Fleischer, who's lost a few pounds and seen a drop in his blood pressure. "I'm making a concerted effort to take care of myself and watch my diet."
Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com