This article argues for an approach to labour in gender and poverty analyses which attends to the content and character of work as fundamental to the experience of well-being by gendered persons, and to the formulation of development policies and research for poverty reduction and gender equity. A framework of ideas is proposed for consideration of working bodies in ways which recognize the integration of bodies and subjectivities, the significance of real bodies, the dynamic nature of embodiment as a process within a life course, and the importance of agency in the making and managing of bodily well-being. We use an analysis of physical work to show that the embodiment of women and men, as a result of biological differences, socio-cultural inscriptions, and personal projects, suggests gender differences in relation to the experience of heavy manual labour. We argue that arduousness of labour (which derives from physical work intensity and other characteristics of work) is connected to ill- and well-being through nutrition–health–productivity linkages, through intrahousehold allocations of resources and consumption, and through local social relations, valuations, and discourses around work. Taken together, these may generate new forms of gendered energy traps. We explore policy and research implications of this aspect of gender and poverty analysis.