#50 - Why Did My OT Recommend Heavy Work?

Nov 26, 2023
#50 - Why Did My OT Recommend Heavy Work?

What does it mean when your occupational therapist recommends heavy work? Hello my friend and welcome back to episode #50 of the Food Explorers Podcast. Today we’re talking all about one of my personal favorite topics - to be honest, I think it’s probably a lot of OT’s favorite topics, because of the amazing effect it has on the body - and that is heavy work. 


If you’re like a lot of my friends here on the podcast, you are here because your child, you, or your clients sometimes…ok maybe more than sometimes…have a hard time regulating their sensory and nervous system.


Chances are, you’re already seeing an occupational therapist for some support. If you’re not, don’t worry, you will still LOVEEE this episode - heavy work is that good. But, perhaps you brought your child in for their occupational therapy session, and it went something a little like this.


  1. You start by giving your therapist a little update about the past week and your challenges. Likely, you talked about a recent sensory meltdown, or moment of dysregulation.


  1. Your child had their session, which may have consisted of a warm up activity, a focused table activity, and a calm down activity. 


  1. Your therapist came out to debrief. During that debrief, they might have mentioned that they did some proprioceptive activities, or heavy work, to help calm the body prior to their tabletop, or focused work, and recommended you try some heavy work activities at home too. And they probably even gave you a couple of ideas like pushing a heavy laundry basket, or doing animal walks. At the time, your child was running around the waiting room and ready to go, so you said ok, thanked them, and went on your merry way. But then, as you’re heading home in the car you found your mind wandering - “wait, what is heavy work? WHY does it help?”


  1. And well…here you are! 


Now, your journey to this podcast episode may have looked a little different, and that’s ok! No matter how you came about discovering the term heavy work, I’m excited you’re here!


Defining Heavy Work

So what exactly is heavy work? Well, honestly it’s exactly like it sounds. It’s activities that encourage effort from the body - especially pushing & pulling. Specifically, they tend to be activities that require some resistance. 

How Does Heavy Work Well…Work?


What does heavy work really do, and why are we occupational therapists so crazy about it? Well, heavy work is a form of proprioceptive input. If you were here for last week’s podcast episode, I mentioned how calming proprioceptive input tends to be for the body. Which is why occupational therapists love using it - we love it because it helps regulate the sensory and nervous system, and return it to that just-right-temperature. 


During heavy work, we tend to either push or pull. This activates our muscles, tendons, ligaments, and changes the spacing in our joints. What you may not have realized is that our muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints contain our proprioceptive receptors. 


So when you do these activities, you’re activating those receptors and providing the body with proprioceptive input. Essentially, when a therapist is talking about heavy work, it’s a form of proprioceptive input.


Now, in the past - when we were hunters, gatherers, and farmers - and society wasn’t so focused on technology, we regularly got this heavy work throughout our scheduled day. Something like digging in the dirt, hammering, or carrying vegetables provided heavy work to ours, and our kids’ bodies. So, it helped calm us.


But in today’s world, we need to be a bit more conscious about getting that input. If we’re sitting on our laptops, or watching TV, or playing video games, we’re not really getting that heavy work to regulate our body.

Instead, we get it through things like laundry, grocery shopping, running, going to the playground, and more. 

So why did my therapist recommend it?


There’s many reasons why an occupational therapist may have recommended heavy work - quite honestly it depends on what exactly is going on inside yours, or your child’s body.

But usually, it’s because they felt that proprioceptive input would be helpful to yours or your child’s body in some way.


For example:


  • Perhaps your child comes into sessions completely dysregulated after school. They’re running around, throwing, crashing, and looking for input. Your therapist noticed that when they do activities on their belly on the swing, that require pushing against their body, their brain seems more regulated after - and the dysregulation decreases.

  • Or perhaps your child is showing a bit of clumsiness and discoordination. But your therapist has discovered that when they first do a jumping activity, or wheelbarrow walks your child is able to have better control over their muscles. 

  • Or - maybe your child tends to chew on their shirt, or bite a lot. But when your therapist provided some heavy work activities, or heavy work activities specifically to the jaw, they noticed that it was able to decrease a bit, and your child seemed more regulated and a bit calmer.


I could expand on these forever, and continue to come up with so many examples, but your therapist likely recommended heavy work activities because they believe that this form of proprioceptive input would be helpful to organize, calm, or help wake up the body.

Now that you know WHY and HOW this works, let’s talk about some activity ideas! 


Remember, when it comes to heavy work, we’re thinking about activities that require some type of effort from the body. Here’s 3 of my top favorites: 


  1. Obstacle courses: I will never stop talking about obstacle courses, they are my absolute favorite way to get the body prepared and organized. Especially because they’re so easy to change up and personalize for each child.

  2. Wheelbarrow walks: I’m such a fan of both doing heavy work and focusing on strengthening at the same time. Many of our children with proprioceptive challenges, also struggle with both coordination and muscle strength. So wheelbarrow walks can be a great way to get that pushing motion in, while improving both core and upper body strength! Now, they may have a hard time starting with just you holding their feet. To make it a bit easier, first start by holding closer to their body, like their upper legs, and then move back as they get stronger.

  3. Pulling/pushing activities with parents: Have you ever realized that kids seem to love pulling and pushing you? For example, maybe they want you to sit on the swing so they can push you. Or maybe they want to pull you on a blanket! This is likely because it feels good for the body, and helps increase their confidence. I love having kids push me on a scooter board or the swing, or pull me using a rope while I sit on the scooter board. Not only do they feel accomplished, but it’s a great form of heavy work! 


I can’t wait to hear which one you are going to try. I’d love if you’d send me a DM over on Instagram @DrSamGoldman and let me know what you thought of this episode.


And, if you’re feeling SUPER motivated after this podcast episode, which I hope you are, and are ready to learn more about the proprioceptive system, then you are in luck my friend. 


Last week I introduced my newest training - The Hidden Senses. In this training we uncover the mysteries of proprioceptive, vestibular, and interoceptive senses. I share practical insights to understand and navigate sensory overload, empowering you to create a calmer, more harmonious environment for your child.

If you want to get started today, it is ALREADY waiting for you in the Food Explorers Membership, at drsamgoldman.com/food-explorers-membership

For those of you who may be newer to me, the Food Explorers Membership, soon to be called the Sensory Toolbox, is my education community for parents. When you join us, you get every single one of my sensory mini-courses and new products INCLUDED in your monthly price. PLUS you get tons of food play activities and feeding education. At $20 a month it’s honestly such a steal.

OR if you’re not ready to jump into the membership, The Hidden Senses will be coming very soon as a stand alone mini-course, so stay tuned for that announcement! 


Thank you again for joining me today, I hope this made heavy work so much easier to understand for you, and so much easier to apply! Bye for now.




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