T Nation

New Lifter Dealing with Shift Work


#1

Hey everyone.
First post on T-Nation. Been a long time lurker. But I've just begun a job working on a swing shift. 12 hour shifts make it tough to get into the gym like normal.

I've been lifting for just over a year with my primary goals being strength and power. I've followed Eric Cressey's Maximum Strength program with great results, finishing up just over a month ago. With my new schedule and being strapped for time, I'm looking for advice on achieving a training effect while limiting sleep loss (gym time cuts into sleep time).

I've drawn up a program that accounts for days I work and days I don't. For instance, Monday looks like this:

WORK DAY: Thorough dynamic warmup
Front Squat-single @ 90% followed immediately with 3 @ 55% from pins with an emphasis on speed. (The goal is a little PAP)
Loaded Carries if I have time/energy. That is it.

NON WORK DAY: Thorough dynamic warmup
Front Squat-7x3
Snatch Grip Deadlift-5x3
Clean Grip Reverse Lunge-3x8
Loaded Carry-3x40 yards

My questions are: am I doing enough on work days to get a training effect? Will I lose, maintain, or gain strength? And is it okay to oscillate my volume based on whether I'm working or not working?


#2

Interested in peoples thoughts on this, as I also am a shift worker.

I work 6-2s, 2-10s and everything in between. If this was just the case, it would be a lot simpler but I also have an on call function, which is on a rotating basis so once a week (or more) I will cover on call.


#3

Can you work out everyday for 15 minutes…doing only 1 lift a day?


#4

I could do one lift per day. It takes me a while to warm up and I’m also thinking from a recovery standpoint. It’s very physically and mentally demanding. Is one lift per day enough to get a training effect?


#5

Welcome to the joyous world of 12 hour shifts.

First, question: how many days per week/fortnight do you work? Is it a rotation?

If, for example, you work in blocks of two or three days with breaks of two or three days, try not training at all on work days and instead get your training done on your days off work. That’s what I do and it works beautifully because I get great recovery. I get seven training days per fortnight (well, I get seven but train six).

If you work in, say, blocks of four days with four days off I’d suggest setting your training out so you do the majority of it on your days off and then maybe have a short session in the middle of your four days of work. That session you’d do something like basic assistance work that you don’t need to be too switched on for and you can get benefit out of in short time periods (sled drags/pushes, for example).

Just based on my experience yes, you will get a training effect, and yes oscillating your volume will work. Honestly, though, I’d advised if you can to try what I’ve been doing for the past year and training when you don’t work. If you want a look at my programs, let me know if it’d be a help. I’ll drop a link to them here. The caveat is that you’ll only know for sure when you try it. Some guys need a ton of volume, or a ton of frequency, or low volume and low frequency; AND that can change over time too.


#6

[quote]tony_richey3 wrote:
I could do one lift per day. It takes me a while to warm up and I’m also thinking from a recovery standpoint. It’s very physically and mentally demanding. Is one lift per day enough to get a training effect? [/quote]

I did Dan John’s “One Lift A Day” program for a couple of months and all my lifts went up. Workouts are quick and I found it useful to be able to focus on just one movement without worrying about leaving enough in the tank for the next lift (I’m a newbie). https://www.T-Nation.com/workouts/one-lift-a-day-program

I’ve since moved on to another Dan John program, i.e. the 40-Workout Strength Challenge but would definitely go back to one lift a day if I was short on time.


#7

MarkKO,

Thanks for the feedback. My schedule is predictable. That’s the good news. The bad is that I work 4 nights, on call 3, 3 days, on call 1, 3 nights, call 3, 4 days, off 7.

I actually find it easy to get to the gym before a night shift. I like the idea of high density when I’m off work and no gym when I’m working but there are times when I work 5,6 or 7 days straight. Like you said, experimenting is key.

I read Dan John’s One Lift Per Day article. So I realize I can indeed get a training effect with just one exercise. I realize that intensity is all relative, but it surely does suffer after a long day. Before a long day is a different story. To get more size gains I could use Bulgarian split squats as my one exercise, but we’re running into time issues by essentially turning one exercise into two.

Mark, I would like to see your program. I would also like to know how you fit eating and sleeping into your schedule. That’s my issue with going early. Feeding myself.

I admit it’s fun to experiment, but a little frustrating to feel like I’m spinning my wheels and not have the physical drive to push through a heavy set of squats.

For what it’s worth as it may pertain to how I should program, I’m 31 years old and kinda beat up from years of baseball with no strength training. I’m 155-158, and after checking maxes a month ago (right before the new schedule) I squatted 305 and pulled 345. So after a year of dedicated strength training, I think I’m fairly strong for my weight. Not elite, but most of my strength is from neural adaptation instead of increased cross sectional. That’s the modality I want to continue. Mark, shoot me a PM on your program if you don’t mind.


#8

[quote]tony_richey3 wrote:
MarkKO,

Thanks for the feedback. My schedule is predictable. That’s the good news. The bad is that I work 4 nights, on call 3, 3 days, on call 1, 3 nights, call 3, 4 days, off 7.

I actually find it easy to get to the gym before a night shift. I like the idea of high density when I’m off work and no gym when I’m working but there are times when I work 5,6 or 7 days straight. Like you said, experimenting is key.

I read Dan John’s One Lift Per Day article. So I realize I can indeed get a training effect with just one exercise. I realize that intensity is all relative, but it surely does suffer after a long day. Before a long day is a different story. To get more size gains I could use Bulgarian split squats as my one exercise, but we’re running into time issues by essentially turning one exercise into two.

Mark, I would like to see your program. I would also like to know how you fit eating and sleeping into your schedule. That’s my issue with going early. Feeding myself.

I admit it’s fun to experiment, but a little frustrating to feel like I’m spinning my wheels and not have the physical drive to push through a heavy set of squats.

For what it’s worth as it may pertain to how I should program, I’m 31 years old and kinda beat up from years of baseball with no strength training. I’m 155-158, and after checking maxes a month ago (right before the new schedule) I squatted 305 and pulled 345. So after a year of dedicated strength training, I think I’m fairly strong for my weight. Not elite, but most of my strength is from neural adaptation instead of increased cross sectional. That’s the modality I want to continue. Mark, shoot me a PM on your program if you don’t mind.[/quote]

With pleasure. I can’t access my dropbox from work, but I’ll post the link later today. There’s a bunch of files, each for a cycle I’ve done and they’re all dated so you get an idea of which I did first.

That’s a funny rotation, but I reckon you could fit something into it. it’ll just take some thought.

For example, starting with your 7 days off:

off 7, on 4 nights, on call 3, off 3 days, on call 1, on 3 nights, on call 3, on 4 days

training would be mirrored as much as possible:

Block 1: train 2, off 1, train 2, off 1, train 1 (last day off), short train 1 (before first night on)

Block 2: 3 days off (nights 2-4 working)

Block 3: short train twice (where you can fit in on 3 on call days)

Block 4: train 3, off 1 (on call day), short train 1 (before first night on), off 2 (nights 2-3)

Block 5: short train twice (like for block 3, as you’re on call)

Block 6: short train once (before first night on), 3 off (nights 2-4)

I hope that makes sense. You’d get 15 training sessions out of 28 days, of which 7 would be ‘short’ and 8 ‘full’. If you look at it cumulatively that’s very close to training every second day, with the advantage of getting regular three day blocks of rest (I know you’d be working, but your body would still be recovering).

It only remains to figure out what to do when. Now, assuming you’d be happy with a semi-powerlifting approach you could do something like:

Block 1: squat day - hypertrophy, bench/DL day - hypertrophy, off 1, squat day - work/volume, bench/DL day - work/volume, off 1, squat day - work/volume (last day off), conditioning day (before first night on)

Block 2: 3 days off (nights 2-4 working)

Block 3: squat day - assistance, bench/DL day - assistance (where you can fit in on 3 on call days)

Block 4: squat day - heavy, bench day - heavy, DL day - heavy, off 1 (on call day), conditioning day (before first night on), off 2 (nights 2-3)

Block 5: squat day - assistance, bench/DL day - assistance (like for block 3, as you’re on call)

Block 6: conditioning(before first night on), 3 off (nights 2-4)

That’s just an example, but I’ve had some success training assistance on separate days to main lifts. I put in an extra squat day because IMO it tends to drive a lot of other lifts, although for me I’d probably have an extra bench day because its my weakest.

In terms of sleep, food, recovery, etc, I think working shifts can actually be beneficial because in a way it enforces regular time away from training. That is a major factor in recovery, because if you’re not training a shorter sleep will have less negative effects on recovery and it isn’t so hard to get enough to eat when at work. A good thing to do is to look at it along the lines of your rotation as a tool you can use,instead of an obstacle to training.


#9

#10

Cool Mark, that’s good stuff. I’ll study over that and modify it to fit my skill and time limits. You’ve managed to stay quite strong despite 12 hour rotating shifts. There’s hope! I appreciate the feedback.


#11

[quote]tony_richey3 wrote:
Cool Mark, that’s good stuff. I’ll study over that and modify it to fit my skill and time limits. You’ve managed to stay quite strong despite 12 hour rotating shifts. There’s hope! I appreciate the feedback.[/quote]

Thanks. Glad you like it. FYI, I haven’t managed to stay strong training like this, I’ve gotten stronger than I’ve ever been. When I started out PL training mid last year I had maxes of 330/198/396 at around 198 lbs. Just under a year down the track they’ve gone up to 473/242/528 and I’m sitting just under 205 lbs.

I’d be interested to see what you set up for yourself too.


#12

That gives me hope because, honestly, I’ve been thinking the best I could do is maintain, maybe squeak out a few more pounds here and there. But hearing how much you’ve increased your numbers gives me hope of doing the same.

I’ll have to pour over your logs for a while to adapt it to me, but for a few weeks, while I’m adjusting to the rotation, I’m going to try to squat everyday. Sounds crazy. I need a lot if technique work and I feel like perfecting the squat pattern will more than carry over to my deadlift, which is pretty technically sound. I love pulling so I won’t be scratching that, just gonna spend some time on the squat.

The local beer league softball season is starting up so I’m going to stay off the nerve as best I can. I’m also dealing with a very cranky shoulder so most horizontal and overhead pushing is contraindicated for now.

Once I get something drawn up I’ll let you see it and give some feedback. To anyone who reads this amd insists that as a newbie I shouldn’t be writing my own program, all I’m doing is adjusting the volume and frequency of tried and true programs (including what Mark is doing because it obviously works) to fit my schedule until I can sort out the other details of my life to allow for a full fledged strength training program.

Mark your feedback has been invaluable, and I appreciate it.


#13

It is my pleasure. Any questions just PM me.