How to fit Ironman training around shift work

Want to improve your long-distance PB but struggling to find training time due to working shifts? We can help…

Fitting Ironman training around shift work

If you’ve got hooked on Ironman racing but are struggling to fit in enough training around shift work then take comfort in the fact you’re not alone – try these tips… 

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There’s more than one way to skin the Ironman cat. It’s a long day, not a quick effort, so muscular endurance and efficiency are paramount; and the modest aerobic level means there are many training, diet and equipment tips that’ll provide easy gains, irrespective of your work hours.

Night shift tactics

The hardest days to train, mentally, are those between and after the night shifts. Night shift work plays havoc with the hormonal systems and ability to recover.

It’s no coincidence that elites try to sleep at regular times and around 55-70 hours a week. Have easier days lined up just before and after the night shifts – short swim or bike skills work, not hard weights or very long sessions.

Build training and recovery

Typical training phases of three ‘build’ weeks and one off won’t work for you. A better fit may be two blocks of 10 days’ ‘build’ and one 10-day block of recovery/adaptation.

Work on efficiency in the next 4-6 months, e.g. swim economy (stroke mechanics, breathing, muscular endurance), bike economy (fitness, aero positioning and strength-endurance) and run economy (optimum body mass, correct shoe choice and injury prevention).

Upping volume

The weekly volume still needs to progress from the early part of the year (but not too early). Being consistent and hitting peak volume from 12 to four weeks out from race day is vital. Look at warm-up tri events of 3-5 hours to get you and your equipment ready for the next Ironman.

Diet and equipment

Wetsuit fit, kit familiarity, bike technologies (low-drag tyres, aero equipment, elliptical chain rings, etc.), race-bike practice and recovery accelerators (good sleep habits, massage, nutrient-dense foods, quality red meat) and minimising ergolytics (dietary trans fats, excessive alcohol, tobacco smoke, over-use injuries, body shape neuroticism, poorly maintained equipment) all have a part to play.

If a bit more jiggles than you want it to in the finish chute, now is the time to start the slow trim down to a faster Ironman next year.

(Image: Ben Winston)

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For lots more long-distance advice head to our Training section