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Whether you are new to bartending or a seasoned professional, shaking cocktails can take its toll on your body and those all-important arm muscles! So is there any way to build up your shaker stamina? Leading Vancouver bartender, Reece Sims, looks into how you can make sure you are looking after yourself and ensure you can shake each cocktail to perfection every time.

If you’re bartender you’re probably familiar with shaking drinks. After all, almost any drink that contains juice, dairy, eggs or herbs is shaken to dilute, chill, mix and aerate the ingredients. Some of the techniques that bartenders will use to do this include the standard shake, double shake, dry shake and hard shake. And regardless of the type(s) of shake(s) you’re employing, over the course of a busy night at a cocktail bar, you could be making and shaking hundreds of beverages. After a month, you’ve shaken thousands.

It’s no wonder that after years behind the wood, many bartenders suffer from sore muscles and repetitive stress injuries.

With this in mind, I have often wondered if there is a specific type of cocktail shaker and way in which we can shake cocktails that helps reduce the chronic stress on our bodies without sacrificing the chill and dilution of a drink. Furthermore, are there proactive and/or preventative measures we can take to help with our endurance behind the bar that don’t drastically impact our daily routines? The short answer is yes (to both)!

Let me take you through four actions you can take immediately to reduce physical stress on key body parts and increase shaker stamina without sacrificing the quality of drinks.

1. Duration of Your Shake

Ramos Gin Fizzes aside, if you are shaking your cocktails for longer than 12 seconds, you could be wasting your time and energy.

In a 2009 workshop entitled “The Science of Shaking” the panelists Dave Arnold and Eben Klemm explored the art of the shake. To summarize their findings, they noted that the type of ice and the way in which you shake a cocktail made a minimal difference to the final temperature and dilution of the drink (with a few caveats).

Further to this, between eight to 12 seconds of shaking was sufficient to chill a drink down to between -5 to -7 degrees Celsius. After 12 seconds, there was a minimal difference in the temperature of the drink and its dilution level (there were less than 2 degrees difference between shaking for 12 seconds and 40 seconds).

Therefore, it is usually not necessary to be shaking cocktails for longer than 12 seconds and reducing you shake time will drastically reduce the amount of repetitive stress on your body.

2. Reducing the Weight of Your Tins

There are four main types of cocktail shaker tins available in the marketplace: Boston tin on tin, Boston tin on glass, Cobbler, and Parisian. And while each type has their merits, the bottom line is using all-metal shaking devices (whether it be Boston, Parisian or Cobbler) are lighter weight than tin on glass (among other benefits).

A Boston + glass (with a single cocktail prepared inside) can be close to two pounds in weight (i.e. 908g) that you’re shaking repetitively throughout the night. Simply by switching to Boston + tin sets, you’re reducing almost half a pound of weight from your thousands of shakes a week which makes a substantial difference long term. Moreover, Arnold, Klemm, and Day also found that Boston tin on tin shakers yielded cocktails with a lower final temperature than glass based on shaking for the same amount of time. Double win.

3. Shake It Up With Some Variety

Similarly to baseball pitchers and other athletes, your dominant hand tends to play a major role in how you accomplish and execute certain skills, according to Francis Etmanski, Health Educator and former athlete. This leaves more of a risk for overuse injuries often seen in athletes. As bartenders, discovering a balanced technique that works within your own limits and body harmony, will avoid overuse and exhaustion.

Etmanski emphasizes that it is not necessarily the technique that does the damage in every case, but often times a misunderstanding of the biomechanics of the motion being done. He notes that unlike unilateral athletes, a bartender can be proactive with their risk for injury by focusing on their ambidexterity and strengthening their non-dominant side. For example, if it is a slow night and you only have to make one cocktail at a time, try using your non-dominant side to shake, stir, and pour drinks. Meanwhile, if it is a busy night and the bar is slammed, and you find yourself making two or more cocktails at once, try relieving some of the stress on the body by switching up which arm is shaking and which arm is stirring. Since bartenders are often accustomed to shaking cocktails the same way each and every time, a good practice is to develop 3-4 different styles and techniques to shake cocktails (i.e. to the front, side, chest level, over the head etc.) which will reduce the chances of repetitive stress injuries.

4. The Pre and Post-Shift Stretch + Strengthen

Just like athletes warm up before a game and cool down after a game, as bartenders it is important to have a pre and post shift stretch and/or exercise routine. Emma Tait, Holistic Health, Wellness and Lifestyle Coach and Yoga Instructor says “Stretching really helps to keep your muscles strong, healthy and flexible so you can continue to have a range of motion throughout your shift.”

Tait goes on to suggest three simple yoga poses that help to stretch key areas of the body used while bartending. First, the “Cat-Cow Pose” helps to get your spine moving and prevent back pain. Second, the “Warrior I” pose will strengthen the legs, open the hips and chest, and stretch your arms. Finally, to stretch out the shoulders you can do what Tait calls the ‘Passive Shoulder Opener.’ As she explains, “after my shifts I would take some yoga blocks or a foam roller and place it under my shoulder blades so when I laid down, it opened up my chest. This one feels SO good after a long shift.”

BC Boxing and Combsport certified Coach Brian Grant, who is also a former bartender and current co-owner of Resurrection Spirits, advocates for bartenders to find a sport you enjoy that involves stabilizing muscles. First he suggests incorporating cardio into your routine. Twenty minutes of cardio a day will help give you sustained energy throughout those late night shifts. Second, push-ups will target your chest muscles, shoulders, back of your arms and core. Third, sit-ups will target your abdominals and core. Finally, burpees are the ultimate example of functional fitness, as they work your entire body (i.e. arms, chest, quads, glutes, hamstrings and core muscles).

As bartenders, we strive to become masters of our tools and trade. However, many of us neglect our most important tool, our body. By taking a few simple actions in our bar routines, namely changing the shaker tins we use, mixing up our shaking styles, reducing our shaking times and employing some pre and post-work exercises, we can make an enormous impact on our muscle maintenance and shaker stamina long term.

Now you’ve mastered shaking, why not try your hand at some other essential bar skills? Sign up to Diageo Bar Academy today to unlock all the latest industry news, trends and tips to keep your bar knowledge up to speed!

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