Staying in Shape with Shift Work

Shift work can be tough, especially if you’re in the emergency response career field. The best way to sum it up would probably be sporadic. There’s no telling when the next call will come in, or how long it will take before you’re back.


This means that fitness can become a challenge for first responders. This applies to both on and off-duty. On-duty, you’re lucky if you have access to a weight room or cardio equipment. Even with that, those calls always seem to pop up right when you’re in the middle of a workout. Off-duty, a long night full of interruptions can mean the only thing on your mind is getting sleep. That being said, let’s talk about some strategies for overcoming these challenges.


First, let’s talk about the sleep issue. Sleep is such a vital component that neglecting it is going to affect your life in more ways than one. If you’re not getting adequate sleep, then recovery from exercise becomes a secondary issue. You HAVE to address this sleep issue, meaning that it takes precedence. Even something as little as a 30-45 minute nap can do wonders for recovery and mental health.


Time is another issue that many first responders run into problems with. Just because your shift is over, that doesn’t mean that life at home is any easier. There are errands to run, things to finish around the house, and obligations to family. Where in all of this do you find time for working out. There are many first responders I know of that have fitness equipment at their house. This saves time from the normal commute to the gym and saves a little money in the long run. Something as little as a kettlebell or two is enough to get in a ton of challenging workouts.


Finally, let’s talk about on-shift. If you have access to equipment there, then the biggest challenge is probably the avoidance of being interrupted. I’ve been interrupted in a ton of workouts, and find that having a workout partner adds a sense of accountability to finish the workout after a call. If you’re working out on your own and have problems picking a workout back up, find little rewards for yourself for the times you are interrupted.


Shift work isn’t easy by any means. It takes effort, hard work, and a little creativity at times to stay committed. Find someone to hold you accountable, look for time saving measures, and reward yourself after those especially hard workouts.


Jon Griffith specializes in optimizing performance for firefighters & police. Jon is a personal trainer, firefighter, and former U.S. Army infantryman. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and 3 cats.

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