How Do You Get It Done ? - Part 3 - The Shift Work Shuffle

Getting It Done – Sleep, Shift Work and Non-7 day work cycle.

Since 321 AD, civilisation has operated around a 7 day week. But why ? A year is the earth’s revolution of the sun. Months, supposedly, mark the time between full moons.  The seven-day week, however, is completely man-made. The phenomenon of a 5 day working week started in the late 19th century. Both the 7 day week and 5 day working week have historical foundations framed by religious observations.

One thing is for sure, no one had in their minds athletic performance or the ideal micro-cycle of a long distance athlete when designing the 5/7 week. So it is probably no surprise that human resource managers give little consideration to giving you enough time to train for your next Ironman event when designing a FIFO miner's roster or a police officer’s day/night shifts.

There’s no secret that our programs, indeed most triathlon programs work on a 7 day rotation. But this is without knowing YOUR working week, home life, stress levels etc. Sleep is a vital part of human existence and our functioning is based around our circadian rhythms do it is little wonder we are often asked how the program works with shift work.

We try to answer that question but it falls really into our “Dark Arts” area of coaching. What follows really applies to any athlete trying to adjust our training programs into an atypical work / shift routine, primary caregivers (mum or dad), students, the self employed or really anyone with a life that requires flexibility…..regularly.

The Dark Art Stuff

Where does participating (whether that be just crossing the line, doing a PB or winning your AG) in a triathlon rank in order of the following other life priorities; family, friends, training, work,health(mental and physical).

Usually training is the last priority of these five. If you really want us to be candid, triathlons are really just a hobby. We think it's a better hobby than golf or stamp collecting or going to the pub every night (usually) but it is still just a hobby.

With that in mind, fitting in the training for your hobby should be balanced against the other life priorities and their importance to you.  Keep perspective about what you are doing and why. Remember too that the ultimate outcome, finishing, PB, podium finish, qualifying, is not entirely controllable by you. Who turns up on the day, is there a dark horse in the field, does the weather impact, is one of your kids sick did you get a flat ? There are many more potential variables outside of your control.

Mixing Around The Schedule

We ask you to believe the following. Firstly, it is ok to miss the odd session (even if it is a Priority Session) because another life priority intercedes. It won't be the end of the world. Secondly, it is ok to mix around our sessions within a 7 day (or even a 10 day) cycle. Finally, just because it hasn’t been done doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

When juggling things around we recommend the following rules;

Rule #1 – Sleep is crucial to athletic performance. Get the right amount of sleep, everything else comes second.

Rule # 2 – focus on the Priority Sessions

Rule #3 – apply common sense to re-scheduling a session. This follows from above. Whilst a long run followed by a long ride the following day is ok, the reverse isn’t true. Don’t follow a long aerobic session with a hard me session running but you can get away with this on the bike. In simple terms, swimming leaves the least residual physiological impact (such as chronic fatigue and muscle soreness) whilst running has the most. Indoor cycle training has slightly less residual impact than out on the road. Treadmill running (where grade is not less than 1% AND USING A MORE MODERN MACHINE) has the same physiological impact as outdoor running.

Rule #4 – read your own gauges

Rule #5 – think outside the box (see How do you get it done) Get creative.

Rule #6 – nutrition becomes more important, particularly hydration.

Rule #7 – try to optimise time of day with type of session. Endurance sessions respond better in the morning whilst interval sessions are better performed in the evening. (There is science supporting this !)