Bodybuilding as a 12-Hour Shift Worker: Maximum Muscle Growth

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We get it, you’re working 12-hour shifts, often on a rotational basis and you’ve got it stuck in your head that achieving maximum muscle growth is not possible. Think again. Bodybuilding takes discipline not a certain type of life calendar. Let’s truly explore how you can start seeing maximum gains with maximum efficiency. 

There’s no magic potion to building maximum muscle as a 12-hour shift worker but there are hacks to fast track doing those daily double-takes in the mirror. The best way is to remove friction when it comes to our five critical aspects; clearly defined goals, access to gym equipment, nutrition, quality of sleep and keeping yourself accountable. 

We’re going to explore these critical aspects in depth, but the mistake shift workers and people in general make most often when it comes to maximising muscle growth is thinking they need the greatest gym plan ever known to mankind, and access to every piece of equipment ever made. Nothing could be further to the truth. What is required is consistent effort over a sustained period. 

Let’s take a closer look into the five critical aspects that are going to help you build muscle in and around your 12 hour shifts. 

Goal Setting 

Before you go any further, you must have a clearly defined goal to achieve. Write down notes and speak to someone close to you, attempting to clearly articulate what your goal is and approximately the timeframe you want to achieve the goal within.

“Having big muscles” or “I want to be ripped” is too vague and you’ll end up feeling disheartened at some point. 

Start with a small, yet challenging goal that you know is achievable. But you need to work for it!

Maybe it’s something like gaining 7lbs on the scales and increasing your muscle mass. Or it might be to reduce your body fat by a certain percentage. 

If you’d rather not focus on key body metrics, turn your focus on how you feel, both physically and mentally each day.

For 30 days to start with, you could rate how you feel both physically and mentally at the end of each day from 1 to 10 – 1 being not great and 10 being excellent across both categories.

You have to do this every day though and be brutally honest with yourself.

Your baseline average after 7 days might be a 5 so the goal could be to reach an 8 by the last week of the 30 days. 

To be able to see real progress in your increased capacity to lift heavy, your goal could revolve around numbers when you’re completing your bodybuilding workout plans.

Progressively increasing your weights on specific exercises and / or the number of reps you’re completing is a sure and fast way to have tangible goals. If you start your workout plans and your baseline for a squat is 65lbs, great! Set yourself a goal to reach 110lbs within 6-8 weeks (or even shorter).

If your baseline deadlift is 110lbs, aim for 165lbs within 6-8 weeks. By setting goals to increase your strength when working out will be a sure fire way to see results for yourself physically and mentally.

Once you’ve clearly defined your goal, telling a friend about it or posting publicly about your goal on social media platforms might sound scary, but it will go a long way to keeping you accountable to achieving your outcomes.

Where there’s smoke there’s fire, putting your goals out there to friends or on social media will keep you honest. It’s one thing to internalize your goals and write them down but once you make a commitment to others, you’re making a social contract between yourself and others close to you. 

Further to this, consider making a bet with a friend whereby if you don’t achieve your goal in the set timeframe you’ve both agreed upon, you have to donate money to a cause or charity you might dislike, or simply to the friend you have the bet with.  

The point is loss aversion of money has stronger emotional ties to our mind than making additional money. You will be spurred on more to avoid having to cough up the money. It’s been proven time and time again that humans will work much harder to avoid losing $100 to someone than they will if someone said to them they could receive $100 by doing something very simple. 

Access to Body Building Equipment

For some, this is often thought of as the sexiest part of the equation when we think about bodybuilding and making changes to our physique.

We have images in our mind of a big gym floor covered in weights, benches and machines and we’ve got our workout plans ready to go! There is nothing wrong with those images of you picturing yourself in the gym in a scene like that. It’s healthy. 

But what is going to ultimately make or break you in reaching your goal is to have fall back plans so you’re consistent with your training.

Remember earlier, we spoke about reducing ‘friction’ across our five critical aspects. As shift workers, we often don’t have as many discretionary hours in the day as our traditional 9 to 5 counterparts do. This might mean, making it to the gym at some point during your day is not feasible. So what’s plan B? 

Plan B needs to be what you have at home. We should acknowledge as we write this, the world is facing the coronavirus global pandemic with gyms and fitness studios being shut in many corners of the globe. This has seen gym goers plan A, quickly be replaced by plan B, a mini (or large) home gym. 

Besides the fact you may not have the option to attend a gym right now, it’s still going to be a good thing for you to have a mini home set-up irrespective.

We’ve all had that feeling when we wake up in the morning, with intentions of hitting the gym but even the thought of making yourself half presentable to go into public and jump in the car to drive 10-15mins down the road seems like an insurmountable task.

Or similar, when we get off our shift and it’s been an energy draining day, all we want to do is go home. This is going to happen whether you like it or not. 

This is why having a mini home gym is so important. You can access it anytime by walking a few seconds to your garage or spare room or wherever you can find a bit of space.

Even getting a 15-20min workout in on days you just feel like your motivation is waning is going to have huge benefits in the long run because consistency is key! 

A famous quote from Arnold Schwarzenegger,

“If you don’t find the time, if you don’t do the work, you don’t get the results.” 

So let’s talk equipment to help you build out your mini home gym: 


These are great additions to any home gym and you can vary up exercises with one simple kettlebell like this one Opens in a new Day 1 Fitness.

If you can afford two of the same weight, fantastic, you’ve just increased the number of exercises you can complete. On one of Joe Rogan Experience podcasts, having a kettlebell is considered an essential item

I wear these training glovesOpens in a new tab. I found on Amazon and they are excellent to stop the blisters.

Barbell and Weight Plates

Getting a sturdy barbell and a number of interchangeable weight plates will enable you to complete squats, deadlifts and bench press. 

While scrolling through Amazon, I found theses Micro Gainz 1LB Dumbbell Fractional Weight PlatesOpens in a new tab. which have proven to be super versatile and exactly what I was searching for. You can buy them in a set too. See them here.Opens in a new tab.

Workout Bench

This is required for your bench press but will also provide you with greater flexibility to complete a variety of exercises using dumbbells. 

The price of workout benches varies greatly. You can buy them on their own or built into a full-body workout home-gym type set up. If you’re simply looking for a study workout bench, this is oneOpens in a new tab. you want.


You can opt for a full set. For example, you could get dumbbells from 2lbs all the way up to 50lbs but this isn’t necessary. If your budget only allows for a few pairs of each weight class, opt for a light pair (2lbs – 5lbs), a medium pair (8lbs – 20lbs) and a heavy pair (30lbs – 50lbs). 

Though an investment, I opted for these adjustable dumbbellsOpens in a new tab. after much deliberation. If the price is out of your budget, these dumbbells will do just fine.

Pull-up Bar

An underrated piece of equipment. If you can identify a place in your garage to put a pull-up bar, do it! If you don’t have a garage, there are a number of options to install portable ones in doorways at your home but ensure they are sturdy enough to hold your weight. 

This Barbell Power Rack Exercise StandOpens in a new tab. could be a good solution if you can’t go around drilling holes in your doorway for whatever reason.

Squat Rack

These can be a little pricey but as you progress with your squats into heavier lifts, you’ll want to ensure you have one of these for your own safety. 

If you want to maximize your squats it’s worth looking into this dip belt with chainOpens in a new tab. if you don’t own one already.

Full Body Workout

If you’re tight for space like I am, consider investing in a full-body bench with weights. I use the Marcy Olympic Weight Bench for Full-Body WorkoutOpens in a new tab. and cannot recommend it enough

Nutrition Required for Building Muscle for Shift Workers

You hate to hear it but you need to hear it.

Working out is only one piece of the puzzle to maximizing muscle growth. If you don’t feed your body the fuel it needs to not only cope with your 12 hour work shifts but your workouts themselves and recovery time, your efforts in the gym will be diminished. 

When trying to stack on muscle, getting enough protein is a must. Ideally, you want to get the majority of your macronutrients from food sources but supplementing your protein intake with protein shakes and smoothies is something to consider.

Somewhere in the vicinity of .6 to .9 grams of protein per pound of body weight would be suggested. So if you weigh 190lbs, you could be looking to consume 103 to 147 grams of protein daily. 

In terms of total calories, to put on true size, you’re going to need to be in a calorie surplus.

For example, if you establish that on average, you consume and burn through 2,200 calories per day, you would want to consider consuming approximately 2,600 calories per day. As the intensity of your workouts increase, your calories will need to increase also. 

A simple way to ensure you’re getting the right amount of vegetables and foods which support energy, better focus and concentration, anxiety, sleep, health and immune function is to drink SuperGreen TONIK. Opens in a new tab.

It’s a green juice powder which trumps any others I’ve tried before. We did an extensive review hereOpens in a new tab. if you want to check it out.

Quality of Sleep 

We get it and we’ve spoken a lot about this in our previous blogs, sleep for shift workers is hard. But it can be even harder if we don’t give ourselves the very best opportunity to gain quality sleep.

Unfortunately, as more and more research comes to the forefront on sleep (or lack of it), there is evidence to point towards a lot of unfavourable circumstances if you’re consistently missing out on the body’s primary and most powerful way to grow and regenerate. 

So what are some hacks to help you gain quality sleep

Put It Down!

30 minutes before you plan to go to bed, put your screen devices down. TV might be okay for some but ultimately, the idea is to gradually wind the brain’s thinking down for the day and this can’t be achieved when you’re scrolling through your phone or reading articles on your laptop or tablet. 

Prioritize Sleep

We’ve found as fellow shift workers that it often comes down to where you prioritize your sleep in your daily lives.

If you have the belief that sleep is important, you can build a framework around this and ensure you’re not compromising time spent asleep. Sure, they’ll be the occasional night you struggle with tossing and turning but don’t beat yourself up over this.

The goal is consistency over time, not perfection. 

Check out our night shift sleep essentials here.Opens in a new tab.

Turn your bedroom into a sacred place (if it’s not already)

What do we mean by this? The bedroom needs to be associated with sleep for your brain to respect the environment it’s in.

If you utilize your bedroom to workout, study, watch TV, etc, your brain is less likely to be able to switch off. Also, try to avoid having illuminated clocks or digital devices in your room of rest. Take a look at these shift work friendly alarm clocksOpens in a new tab. instead.

Drink Less Alcohol

You’re not going to like this one, sorry. You need to reduce your alcohol consumption, especially prior to going to bed.

Alcohol inhibits your ability to get important REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. REM sleep is associated with the dreamy period of your sleep cycle. If a beer or two, or a few glasses of wine is your go, sure, we’re not here to say stop. However, be mindful that drinking does play a role in the quality of sleep you will get. Everything in moderation right. 

Is it okay to drink alcohol after night shift? Check out this post Opens in a new tab.for more information.

Be Cool

This might be a controversial topic, especially if you and your partner have different internal temperature gages but for the body to sleep, its temperature needs to drop.

A good hack is to take a cold shower prior to going to bed. You’re also getting many additional benefits that cold showers deliver.

In addition, try to keep your bedroom cool. 

Take a look at sleep professor Matthew Walker’s TED talk on the topic of sleep. 


Peter Drucker, a famous business mind and educator is well renowned for some insightful quotes and maybe none more so that “What gets measured, gets managed.” 

When it comes to our accountability to our goals, we need to take care of managing the little steps along the way. 

Sometimes, assistance from technology helps. So here are apps that you could consider: 

  • MyFitnessPal – this will help you track your calories and give you a broader picture of your nutrition 
  • Way of life – an app to build momentum with daily tasks you need to tick off

We also suggest taking before pictures of yourself, which will be great to look back on once you achieve your goals. Before and after pictures are very powerful in reinforcement for future goals. 

Here are someOpens in a new tab. other must-have shift working apps you’ll want to check out.

Motivation versus Discipline

Motivation is great and probably a driver as to why you’ve taken the time to read this article right now, but discipline is what is going to have a longer term net positive outcome for you.

You are not always going to feel like working out or meal prepping healthy meals. In fact, you may find yourself feeling like you don’t want to work out more often than not. It’s during these times, you just do it anyway.

Not every workout will be your best and that’s completely normal, but you must find ways to stay disciplined and do it anyway.

We like to say to ourselves, “Didn’t want to do it, did it anyway.” 

Body Building Extra Tips for 12-hour Shift Workers


Supplements can be great to do what their name suggests, supplement! But nothing will replace a nutritious diet.

Protein powder, as we referred to earlier, is a great way to assist with additional protein consumption in our daily diets. 

Magnesium supplements can also assist with muscle recovery and sleep. Zinc and Vitamin D3 are other recommendations, particularly for shift workers who might be missing out on some sunshine. 

Read more about how magnesium can help shift workers here.Opens in a new tab.


Access all your favourite tracks to workout to or listen to any topic in the world via a podcast. Make sure you take a little bit of time to set-up your workout Spotify, Apple Music or Amazon Music playlists and pump those beats loud to help you get through your workouts.

If music isn’t your go, try some podcasts. Using audio whilst meal prepping is another great way to make what can feel like a mundane task a little more enjoyable! 

Try Amazon Prime music by clicking on the image below.

Summary: Bodybuilding as a 12-hour shift worker for maximum muscle growth

Obtaining the body you desire as a 12 hour shift worker is absolutely possible if you have the will, desire and a few special tips we mentioned throughout this post.

Now it’s time to go get those gains… 



Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning we receive a commission if you decide to make a purchase through our links, but this is at no additional cost to you. Please read our disclosure and privacy statement for more info.

Daniel Smith

Managing a global sales team I've experienced the challenges of working at all hours of the day and night. Being a shift worker I know how tough it can be balancing everyday life when you feel like you haven't slept in weeks! Providing advice and tips on how to manage your schedule, whilst still staying healthy is where I can help.

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