T Nation

Night-Shift and Powerlifting

Are there any other powerlifters out there who work night shift or who frequently get sub-optimal sleep? Any tips?
I work 3 12 hour shifts (7pm-7am) a week, and my schedule differs from one week to the next. I usually do not choose which days I work out on based on my work schedule unless I am planning to max. But I have found that I lift better after sleeping a full night versus working overnight, sleeping into the day, and then lifting. I wonder if lifting heavy during the day and then working all night is a Gains killer.
In other words, when I am able to choose, should I prioritize being fully rested before I lift or the ability to get a full night of sleep after I lift to recover?
Does anyone have any recommendations or experience with this?


I wouldn’t call myself a powerlifter since I don’t compete, but:
I work 4-10hr shifts then off 3, 8 pm til 6 am.
I never lift after work, always about an hour after getting up.
I sleep around 6 hrs for the four days I work, then sleep 9-10 hrs for the 3 days off.
I do 5/3/1 with some strongman here and there, lots of sled work, also.
-----> I judge my workout days by feel. Sometimes I work out 2 days in a row, sometimes I take off 2 days in a row. I always get in 4 workouts a week, sometimes 5. I think this works best for me.

I vote recover.

More (work/volume/intensity whatever) is only useful if you can recover from it. If not it just digs you into a hole.

Fatigue management is part training/programming, part sleep and part diet. How is diet currently?

Even if you don’t make optimal gains the way things are now you’ll be able to still make plenty of good gains.

I agree that feeling it out is the way to go. I am trying to always give myself 1 day in between lifts because all of the squat and deadlift volume has been taxing on my lower back. If I need to take two days between to account for sleep then I do that.

I am not a nazi macro counter by any means but I think I maintain a good diet. Approx 150-180g protein per day and majority of carbs post workout. My weight has been pretty steady throughout the past year which is good because I like my physique and my primary focus is on building strength.
I have heard that nightshift work and sub-optimal sleep leads to binge eating or high carb craving for some people but I have not had this issue.

Ffs lel.

Fatigue management comes down to sleep, diet and drugs. If sleep is sub-optimal you gotta try to make up at least in part for it somewhere else if you want to move forward.

Not sure what a good diet means exactly lel but I’m thinking more along the lines of enough food. Within reason you shouldn’t be overly fussed about what and when.

Building strength and muscle are related and is one of the best ways to get stronger once you clear beginner levels. You could end up stronger at the same weight by recompositioning to carry more muscle at the same bodyweight but that doesn’t sound like what you are doing and I reckon being at maintenance is holding you back from all kindz of gainz.

Slap some mass on your lower body and your squat and deadlift will go up ez. If you get too thicc just wear pants or tights ala @guineapig and you’ll be alright.

Tights make you like thiccer though?

Anyways I know a few tradies and factory workers who still smash it in the gym by out eating their poor sleep and physically demanding jobs. Personally I got away with working long shifts and shit sleep while I was mid bulking but that was only for like a few weeks.

Lol thicc would be good.

Sounds like you guys are saying that ensuring a caloric surplus is more important in my case because I can’t rely on good zzz’s for muscle growth.

Sounds like solid advice. Thanks

Get your diet dialled in. I’ve been shift working since 2009, hasn’t had any negative impact but I’ve either been in a decent caloric surplus or had by diet pretty bang on. Pretty bang on is better than just a surplus IMO.

Also, get catch up sleeps when you can. They help a ton.

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There’s only one remaining option.

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One thing I occasionally do is take the lower back work out of upper days, like doing chest supported rows instead of barbell rows, log presses off the rack and leave out the clean, etc.

I’ve worked day and night shifts as well as traveling between time zones and flying frequently. Sometimes if I’m still adjusting I find it easier to lift right after my shift to try to sort of bank as much potential for sleep after as possible, and when I’m working a night or swing it’s often beneficial because my gym is always empty around midnight. I’ve found the nature of your job and what you’re doing when you’re not at the gym can make a big difference too and ultimately it depends both on how often you train and how your work/sleep schedule affects your fatigue and recovery.

I recently injured my biceps tendon benching a weight that was really easy for me. I determined that because the 10 hours before my gym session was spent crammed inside an airplane landing gear, I had an impingement or maybe a joint that had been stressed or hyper extended during my job that finally failed at the gym. I felt fine when I got there, but your at rest posture and what you do outside of the gym can potentially affect your lifting time as well. So if your job is physically stressful, it might be a good idea to lift after sleep, before your shift. If your job leaves you relatively sedentary I suppose you could argue the same, or that you have a bit longer warm up to get your muscles fluid.

Ultimately I think I’ve had the most benefit of just learning what my body is trying to tell me, as well as analyzing the ways your work/sleep/rest affects your unique body and try to leverage your strengths when you’re feeling good and identify when fatigue needs to be cared for. I’ve never regretted a day at the gym but there needs to be an equal appreciation for the days when your body is telling you to stay home. Good luck

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Thanks for the thorough response! At this point I am certain that My CNS handles heavier weight better after a full night of sleep, as for recovery of strength or hypertrophy training I have not fully learned what works best yet. I think it will take some time to, like you said, analyzing the ways work/sleep/rest affect me.

Lots of good stuff, and I would agree with everyone here.

I don’t work overnight, but I have insomnia, that I don’t try to fight anymore, I just adjust my life around it.

Even if you can’t manage optimal amounts of sleep, it does wonders if you just eat. Keep the better food options in check, but I find that sodium packed foods like ramen, and protein based foods like peanut butter, Kiefer, meat of whatever kind, and frozen veggies go a long way when you haven’t slept well, or slept at all.

There have been recent times where I didn’t sleep for a consecutive 48 hours, but surged a bunch of carbs and protein, and my training held up very well.

I’m not completely sure why, but I think the extended amount of time of you just being up, also extends the amount of calories you need, so just keep steadily giving yourself food and water and a few supplements here and there.

Once I go to sleep however, I’ll stay asleep for well past 12 hours, so if you too tend to crash for well over the recommended 6-8hours, maybe just wake up every once in a while, down a quick pre made meal or shake and go back to sleep. And maybe have that day be an off/rest day, so the decreased amount of calories can semi mimic like carb cycling or something like that so you can keep your body composition looking decent, but you also aren’t waking up completely depleted.

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