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Training modifications due to rotating shift work schedule

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  • Training modifications due to rotating shift work schedule

    Hey everyone,

    Wanted to open up this discussion for those who are in the same boat as me. I can give details about what I do and what I wish could be different. For people who are working the same kind of schedule and have found what works for them can chime in as well.

    So to break it down. My schedule is constantly rotating, working 12 hour shifts. I will work 2 days, 2 nights, 5 days off, 2 day, 3 nights, 4 days off, 3 days, 2 nights, 5 days off. It always rotates this way, and it is a 28 day cyclical schedule. Its fantastic in the way of the amount of days off. However, the always switching from nights to days(3 times a month) makes it rough in many ways. It tends to make your sleep cycle all sorts of screwy, and what I have found best is getting less sleep when I work day shift and compensating on nights and days off...I know, not healthy, but it creates the best balance. This cycle does not allow for a normal circadian rhythm, and it can definitely hit you when training.

    So what I tend to do is move my training days to have only one workout on my dayshifts since I average 4-5 hours of sleep at best when working day shift. The one day I devote to training on day shift also tends to be lighter, and even if the program calls for a heavy day, I tend to do a lot less work based off RPE and just weight on the bar. I will easily drop 10kg from the previous session for the set volume/weight. Its not ideal, but its still training and its better than not doing it at all.

    When I am on nights tends to be when I get my best workouts in. I'll usually lift at 2pm or so, shower, eat, maybe clean a little then head off to work. I never go back to back training days(even cardio) when on nights as I find it messes up my sleep cycle something fierce. I also never, ever train when coming off my last night shift. I have done that in the past and let me tell you, its sub optimal af. We're talking 60% of normal workload sub optimal, drag it out, hate life type of workout. Even if I nap for 4 hours it doesnt help. Thats another thing about coming off nights...I have developed a method of either a long nap(2-4 hours) or just staying up until 9-10pm and resetting my sleep cycle. I find any more sleep than 4 hours just keeps your body in night shift mode, which is less than optimal when you are back on day shift in 4-5 days.

    When I'm on days off if a program calls for a training day I train, no biggie or surprise there.

    As far as nutrition and eating goes I frame my day shift and night shift meals the same way, and just move the clock 12 hours. For instance I will have "breakfast" before leaving for work at 4am/4pm. Usually oatmeal + eggs + protein, with some kind of fruit as well. Lunch will be my main meal for the day when on shift and can consist of anything you would consider eating for dinner. Could be chicken + rice + veg, etc etc. I usually eat that around noon or midnight. Then when I get home I tend to keep "dinner" light as its usually 7pm/am by the time I am eating. This could be salad + some kind of meat, or even cereal if I'm feeling extra lazy. Snacks and extra protein I consume as required to hit my macros for the day.

    Now all of this is suboptimal since I tend to have one training day a week end up being at 80-85% of my usual load. Its tough to balance out this sort of schedule, but is definitely doable. My best advice for anyone working a schedule like mine is to tinker with it and find what works for you. For context I am running the beginner program at the moment but will be moving on to bigger and better right away. 3 training days a week is very doable. I used to run a bro split ten years ago when playing football, and had a B/D/S of 250/405/500. Not astonishing numbers by any means, but it is what it is. I then took a ~7 year hiatus from any real lifting. Last summer I hired a trainer, got back into it, and ran more of a crossfit style program to shed some weight and lean out, as well as boost my endurance sports capabilities. Then COVID hit, and I really started lifting in October again, with a true emphasis on a program in December. I got a home gym setup and am now well on my way to big gains. In October I could bench 155 for 5, squat 185 for 5 and deadlift 225 for 5. Now my PRs for 29 year old me are (in kg) B/D/S of 95x4/130x4/160x1. Very marked improvement while working shift work. But also take this with a grain of salt, as there is the possibility of muscle memory playing a factor. I say possibility as it hasn't been fully proven through research yet. Also to note, not all these gains were in the last 6 weeks, I think I was benching 185 for 5, squatting 225 for 5 and deadlifting 245 for 5 before starting the beginner program.

    So there you have it. For anyone who works shift work regularly this is a summary of my trials and tribulations in regards to the sleep cycle and training. If you have any experience in this realm chime in with what you have found works for you. If you have any questions about any of this stuff feel free to ask. The main thing I wish could be different about this cycle is the fact I lose a full day every time I come off nights. Some times I can get away with some cardio work that day, but for the most part its a bum around the house and try not to stuff my face too much with bad food. Let me know what you all think.

  • #2
    Thanks for such a detailed description, now I know for sure that I don't want to work like that haha


    • #3
      Why on earth are you ruining your health like that? Like dude, now you can work from home and get a lot of money at the same time. Although I understand how difficult it is for you, I worked in the same conditions. Constant insomnia, you feel as broken as possible, headaches ... Thank God I realized that if I work like this for at least a few more years, my health will seriously deteriorate. Then I decided to find a job that does not take so much physical strength. Friends advised me a site that has a bunch of remote job vacancies. I recommend you to pay attention to the remote qa tester jobs since I work in this area. Earn a lot and can forget about insomnia and health problems forever.
      Last edited by AlexEmbargo; 06-16-2021, 08:56 AM.