According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) in 2010, 19% of Americans are working more than 48 hours a week (9.6 hours a day Monday to Friday), and 7% of Americans are working more than 60 hours a week (12 hours a day Monday to Friday). Many of the individuals who fall into these statistics are working shift work where 24/7 coverage is required. Some of these are hospital employees, first responders, police, truck drivers, factory workers, jail workers etc.. Shift work in this sense falls into two categories, which is permanent shift work, and rotating shift work. Permanent shift work is where you are always day shift, or always night shift, and rotating shift work is where the night shift rotates (this is commonly seen in 24 hour shifts, or picked up overtime at night). Each schedule comes with its own challenges, but finding time to provide a stable sleep schedule and exercise schedule is considerably more challenging than a typical 9-5 job.
According to the APA (American Psychological Association) shift work and long work hours increase the risk for reduced performance on the job, obesity, injuries, and a wide range of chronic diseases. The APA recommends a stable sleep schedule and regular exercise as two of the best methods to combat these side effects. While in theory this sounds simple enough, anyone who has worked continuous long hours or shift work understands that one of the first things to suffer when your schedule gets busy is exercise. It is hard to justify spending at least 2 hours getting to the gym, working out, and then getting back from the gym when you’re having trouble finding time just to make a home cooked meal. While people working shift work may find it most difficult to find time to train, they also have the most to gain from it. Increased physical fitness has been linked to increased resistance to fatigue, reduced stress, and improved sleep patterns, all of which benefit those who work long irregular shifts. While the benefits of fitness for those on a shift schedule are numerous and obvious, the main question remains: when?
Tips for Scheduling Your Training
Those working 12 hour shifts can train on shift days if they have time. Any hard training days should be reserved for off days, and work days should be matched with lighter training days, or no training at all. A long 12-hour shift and a hard training session is a recipe for over training or becoming discouraged to go to the gym. Many times those working 12 hour shifts are met with alternating long weeks and short weeks (as pictured below).
Short weeks are accompanied by more periods of time off, which is perfect for pushing it in the gym, while long weeks should be more focused on working out for stress relief and to continue progress made the week prior. Those working 24 hour shifts should follow similar guidelines. A 24 hours on, 48 hours off schedule (pictured below) should be utilized for hard training days the 2nd off day, and a light training session either during the shift or the day after.
Some people working 24 hour shifts have substantial down time, which is perfect for a metcon style workout, or light cardio. Working out on shift, if there is time available, will not only help you recover from earlier hard sessions during the week, but also help prepare you for challenging training sessions later in the week.
One of the most important factors of exercise while working irregular shifts is choosing a program or style of exercise that will keep you involved in the gym long term and ensure your regular attendance. Not only does this apply to the style of exercise you may choose, but also the scheduled regularity. The sweet spot is finding a program that you enjoy and will ensure your consistent return to the gym, but also with scheduled regularity that will allow you to remain positive about the gym. Whatever you do, just go to the gym; your body will be thankful you did.
“Ageing, Physical Fitness and Shiftwork Tolerance.” Applied Ergonomics, Elsevier, 19 Feb. 1999, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0003687095000461.
“Overtime and Extended Work Shifts: Recent Findings on Illnesses, Injuries, and Health Behaviors.” Center for Disease Control, Apr. 2004.
“Risks of Night Work .” Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, 2011, www.apa.org/monitor/2011/01/night-work.aspx.
Singh, Nalin A., et al. “Randomized Controlled Trial of the Effect of Exercise on Sleep | Sleep | Oxford Academic.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 1 Feb. 1997, academic.oup.com/sleep/article/20/2/95/2731654.
Editor’s Note: This article was written by our intern Nathan Pelton. Nathan works as a paramedic in the Indianapolis area.