What’s the Best Exercise Workout Routine for Shift Workers?

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Over the years as a shift worker, I have constantly asked myself, what is the best exercise routine? Should I exercise before going to bed? Does walking excessive amounts of steps throughout my shift count as exercise? Are there times where I shouldn’t workout and if so, what’s the worse thing that can happen?

Women running | What's the Best Exercise Workout Routine for Shift Workers?

The best exercise routine for shift workers is one you can do conveniently around your shifts without it seeming like a chore or hassle. It’s affordable, a difficultly that’s achievable so you don’t give up and doesn’t negatively impact on your sleep. It must be an activity you enjoy doing to make it a sustainable habit.

I know exercising around your shifts can sometimes seem impossible, so I want to make the choice to workout an easy one. Throughout this post, I will dive into the best exercise workout routine for shift workers based on the shift you’re on. I also want to highlight common exercise excuses I have used many, many times, giving suggestions on how to easily overcome them. The fitter, healthier you is just around the corner.

The Best Exercise Routine as a Shift Worker… Is the One You Keep Coming Back To

I know this sounds really corny, but the best exercise routine is the one which is hard enough to give you a “huff n’ puff” but not so hard you’re sore for a week, unable to sit on the loo.

But finding this routine is half the battle, particularly when you work rotating shifts. Read Essential Guide to Working a Rotating Shift Schedule for helpful tips on managing this irregular schedule.

Your exercise routine should make you feel great rather than embarrass you, be affordable rather than financially taxing and be so convenient, your excuse not to go sounds ridiculous.

I think it’s important to ask yourself a few questions before starting a new routine and “getting fit”. This is not the typical process for those who make exercise as part of our new year’s resolution or when randomly starting something new.

I know personally, if I don’t analyze what went wrong in the past or stopped me from exercising (or reaching any goal) then it’s likely I’ll fall into the same traps. Sounds familiar?

  • Why am I exercising? Do I have a goal in mind to lose weight, build strength and stamina or is it just to live a healthier, shift work lifestyle? Your answer should get you thinking about the type of exercise you need to be doing.
  • What is convenient for me? Is there is a gym close by? Do I have a space for a home gym in a spare room or is there a gym at work I can use around my shifts to save time in commuting?
  • Do I have the money to pay for an expensive gym, yoga or pilates membership or do I need to look at other cost-effective options like jumping rope, running or using a fitness app?
  • How do I like to exercise? Do I need other people around to keep me motivated or do I like to be alone listening to music and doing my own thing? Again, everyone is different so choosing a method of exercise you’re comfortable with makes it more likely you’ll keep doing it, even on the days you don’t feel like it…aka… night shift.
  • What has stopped me from exercising in the past? We talk about the common excuses later, but it’s interesting to think about the things which have previously stopped you reaching your fitness goals. It could be time, your roster, kids and even your health but I bet there is a way to still workout even when taking these roadblocks into consideration.
women lifting weights | Shift work exercise workout routine
What are your fitness goals?

When to Exercise Around Your Shifts

I want to give you a few suggestions on when to exercise based on the common shift work roster so you can see how easy it is to “fit in.”

Early/1st Shift


Working out before a shift can obviously be VERY difficult due to the early start time. So what may be a more viable option is to either ride your bike or walk to work if you live close enough. While this takes longer you’ve pretty much completed your workout before the day has even really begun.

Check out bike tracks or even public transport which requires you to walk to the stop/subway.


Popping on a pair of sneakers and walking around the block during your main break can be a great way to squeeze in some exercise, particularly if you work a desk job. Click here to check out a post we wrote about staying healthy while working a desk job.

However, if you have an active occupation like a nurse, you might actually gain greater benefit sitting down for a while and resting your legs so you have the energy to work after break. Read – How to Relieve Foot and Leg Pain from Standing All Day


Working out immediately after I arrive home works amazingly well for me.

In saying that, I don’t have children to pick up from school. If you do, can you pick up the kids and workout from home? Can you go for a walk after dinner with your spouse/partner/dog?

Can you buy/borrow an exercise bike and place it in front of the TV while watching a film or mindless reality TV instead of sitting on the couch?

This Folding Magnetic Upright Exercise BikeOpens in a new tab. from Amazon is reasonably priced and foldable, making it easy to store when not using it. Check it out here.

Or, if there is a gym at your workplace, could you make a visit before venturing home? If yes, there is likely showers and lockers to store your things safely.

Late/2nd Shift/Swing Shift


I have my workout clothes ready and waiting by the bedroom door for when I get up before a late shift, as it encourages me to just “get it done.” Stepping over these clothes to go watch TV or do “other jobs” is a no-go.

If this is not enough and you need more inspiration, you can pre-pay for a class or organize a walk with a friend so you can’t cancel on either one?

This shift generally provides enough time for a workout, a sleep-in and putting on a slow cooker if you’re strategic enough… Read – 12 Valuable Meal Prep Tips for Busy Shift Workers.

I should mention, sometimes I don’t want to sweat and totally wear myself out before a late shift, but still want to be active. In these times I love doing a pilates or yoga workout. Booking in a class and buying a x10 pass (cheaper rate) may be a great way to trial different types of classes in your area to find what works.

If you’ve got kids, is there a way you can incorporate exercise into your mornings by walking them to school or riding your bike?


Depending on the time of your break it could be dark outside making a “walk around the block” hazardous. Could you instead walk up and down the stairs in your workplace (if multi-story or jumping rope for 10 minutes before you eat?) Here is what we love about jumping rope as a shift worker.


Most late/2nd shifts finish around 10pm-midnight making exercise not overly desirable for the majority. Some even argue it can affect your sleep.

Sleep (for 7-9 hours) should always be our priority, even over exercise and food, so keep this in mind if considering exercise after this shift.

However, if exercising late at night doesn’t impact your sleep, utilizing a 24-hour gym may be a great option for you. Swimming some laps down at the local pool could also work as it’s likely you’ll have the entire lane to yourself.

Related post: What’s a Swing Shift? 5 Essentials to Managing This Schedule​

Person shooting basketball at dusk | What's the Best Exercise Workout Routine for Shift Workers?
When it’s daylight savings you may have more flexibility in when and how you exercise…

Night Shift/3rd Shift

Depending on how your night shifts are structured will dictate how and when you exercise, so for the sake of this article, I’ll run you through what we do.


In the article, we wrote titled How To Best Prepare for the Night Shift and Stay Healthy we talk about how important exercise is to complete in the days leading up to your nights. Exercise not only keeps you more alert but it allows for a night/day of better sleep in my opinion.

Plus, it stops you falling into the “night shift rut” of simply eating-working-sleeping..repeat.


I once worked with a guy who put on a head torch and ran for an hour on his break overnight. He said it stopped him eating all the sugary snacks left around the tea room. While this is pretty incredible, I know he is definitely the minority.

However, if you are able to do an office workout, run the stairs, skip or use the staff gym and it’s safe, go for it. Read Bored on Night Shift? How to Stay Busy Without the Internet for a lot more suggestions on staying fit on 3rd shift.


Working out after night shift is a little controversial. Some say it prevents you from falling asleep because you’re “too wired”, while others don’t experience any ill effects.

We wrote a post titled, Sleep or Workout? What Should I Do After Night Shift? which we encourage you to check to find out more.

When I am working nights I tend to workout immediately after waking in the afternoon. If I wait too long, say an hour after doing other things, I won’t go and exercise won’t happen.

I need to put on my workout clothes immediately after getting up from bed to make the decision an easy one.

I should highlight that exercise is sometimes a struggle. We are human, but saying yes and moving more times than you don’t should be your aim.

If you work 12-hour shifts, check out these two posts, 10 Helpful Tips to Survive 3 Brutal 12 Hour Shifts in a Row and How Can I Lose Weight Working 12-Hour Night Shifts? for helpful tips related to your unique schedule.

VIDEO – Best Time To Exercise When Working Night Shift

Other Exercise Tips for Shift Workers, Helpful in Establishing a Go-To Workout Routine

Here are 4 other solutions which have helped me immensely in keeping my weight at bay and making sure my scrub pants still fit!

1. Find a workout partner

Whether it be your other half, friend, pet or workmate, pairing up with somebody else makes the whole fitness game easier.

You can spur each other on in the middle of winter to get out of your PJ’s and give each other a boost to complete the class you’ve already signed up for.

Teaming up also ensures you don’t cancel on each other which is easy to do when nobody else is watching.

Exercise will suddenly feel less of a chore and more of an occasion you look forward to.

With a mate, furry or not, you may be more likely to go outside and enjoy the suns rays on a nice day too, exposing your body to some vitamin D which is excellent for your skin and bones.

Read – Is Night Shift Bad for You? 11 Truths Uncovered for more helpful tips on staying healthy while working the night shift.

If going to the gym with a friend is not something that floats your boat and you would prefer a home workout, here are our favorite home gym essentials to create the perfect space.

Getting started is the hardest part

We all have bad days, but relying on somebody else to push you through a “slump” (visa versa) makes a HUGE impact on your workout.
Two women working out together smiling | What's the Best Exercise Workout Routine for Shift Workers?

2. Have Your Comfortable and Practical Workout Clothes Ready

Dan struggles to exercise without pockets in his shorts because where does his phone go? And, I become pretty frustrated when my leggings continually fall down.

Your motivation can’t waver purely because you feel uncomfortable in what you’re wearing. 

It won’t break the bank to invest in new athleisure wear so you feel comfortable in completing the hard yards required.

Men – If you are looking for a new pair of shorts, Dan is obsessed with this Under Armour pair called Under Armour Men’s Raid 10″ ShortsOpens in a new tab. on Amazon. They have pockets, are available in an abundance of colors, are light-weight and are not too long.

For the ladies, as I mentioned earlier, I appreciate leggings that don’t fall down, have a small pocket for my phone and are not see-through. Is this too much to ask? 

I found this pair on Amazon a while ago and they tick all the boxes. The search is finally over.

3. Exercise Doing an Activity You Enjoy 

If the gym is not for you, then there are plenty of options out there to work up a sweat:

  • Head down to the local rec. center and play pick up games with friends
  • Look online for local running groups in your area
  • Get a few office workers to commit to a “steps challenge” each day, whereby you go for walks on your lunch break
  • Commit to a public exercise event like a marathon, half marathon or fun run. Theses are great as there is a non-negotiable timeline you need to stick too, plus you’ve probably already paid to compete. Most of the proceeds for these types of events support a charity which always feels good to contribute to.
  • Pilates or yoga classes either online or locally. These sessions are usually capped with the number of people who can participate, making the whole experience not overwhelming, particularly if you’re new.

4. Do a Workout at Home

The inconvenience of getting dressed in workout attire, putting on your sneakers and driving to the gym, gives us a big list of possible excuses to avoid exercising!

Why not try streaming your routine to the TV using the brilliant Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote | Streaming Media PlayerOpens in a new tab. (click to see via Amazon), be it yoga, pilates or something more intensive you found on Youtube?

  • You can wear what you like
  • Have the volume as loud as you desire
  • Make as many unattractive noises as you deem necessary
  • You can also invite your exercise buddies around too

I find exercising at home extremely useful and time-effective. This is also a great option for those shift workers on-call too. 

If you opt for this method, you do need to be motivated enough to not be distracted by the washing, cleaning etc. But once you have established a routine and healthy habits it becomes a lot easier and could be your go-to method.

People running outside together | What's the Best Exercise Workout Routine for Shift Workers?
Is there a local running club in your area?

Know What Your Exercise Excuses Look and Sound Like as a Shift Worker

Dan and I have witnessed some truly unique and almost believable exercise excuses from fellow shift workers (and even ourselves!) to weasel their way out of exercising.

Lack of time and needing to catch up on sleep are real struggles constantly voiced as excuses, but our schedules do open opportunities to exercise around the traditional hours, we just have to look for them.

Read – 13 Advantages of Shift Work for Employees because they do exist!

Here are some of the common excuses we need to overcome to make exercise a regular habit:

1. “I’m on night shift…”

This is a doozy.

Night shift is a real trap for repeating the working, sleeping and eating routine for days to weeks on end. It gets worse when you’re on a rotating roster, moving from days to nights and vice versa.


Building on what I mentioned earlier, exercise within an hour of waking from every night shift. Have your exercise clothes ready, know your workout of choice (be it running, a spin class, swimming some laps or jumping rope) and don’t overthink it.

This method leaves time to share a meal with your family and adequately prepare for your workday ahead.

Make an appointment with a personal trainer or enroll in a gym class for a particular time. The fact your paying money could be the inspiration you need to make sure you attend the class.

We wrote a post titled How to Quickly Switch from Night Shift to Day Shift which gives some great suggestions on managing your time better and fitting in exercise.

Nurse walking | What's the Best Exercise Workout Routine for Shift Workers?

2. “I already walked the recommended amount of steps during my shift and don’t need to exercise”

As a busy ER nurse, I can really rack up the miles during a shift, leaving my legs sore and brain exhausted. But is that enough?

Most likely in terms of steps (as 10,000 per day is recommendedOpens in a new tab.), but for strength and toning, we can do a little more.


This is my personal favorite. If you’re tired after a long shift, put on a film or the Netflix series you’re currently addicted too and workout in front of the TV at home.

Focus on toning and strength exercises rather than cardio.

Rotate between using your own body weight (wall sits, holding the plank, push-ups, sit-ups, etc.), yoga and pilates movements.

These stretches are brilliant for not only toning your muscles and building strength but to minimize the risk of developing conditions like arthritis and back pain.

I recently stumbled across Amazon Prime’s service after reckless spending on Amazon and thought it’s worth mentioning while setting up your home gym and needing something to watch on the TV.

There Prime service offers:

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  • FREE Two-Day Shipping on millions of items
  • Unlimited, ad-free streaming of over a million songs and more Prime benefits

Click the image below to find out more…

3. “My roster sucks and doesn’t leave time for exercise”

What would happen if you mapped out every minute of your day? A tedious game I know, but how much time would you really find you spend scrolling Facebook and browsing funny cat videos?

It all comes down to what’s your priority. If you don’t find time for exercise, injury and illness may find time for you. Very harsh, but true and I don’t want that for you.


If short on time, search for high-intensity exercises that are brief in duration such as jumping rope or a quick workout found easily on YouTube for 7 – 10 minutes.

Utilize odd, unconventional times such as your break on night shift, after the 1st (early) shift or prior to the 2nd (late) shift for exercise (even waiting for the kettle to boil!)

Investigate if there is a gym available in your workplace as most shift working facilities cater for us on unusual schedules.

If you love gaming or watching TV, consider investing in a stationary exercise bikeOpens in a new tab. and place it in your lounge room in front of the big screen. Get some wireless controllers and headphones and play a little differently.

Dan plays the PlayStation, whilst ridding 30 miles, as part of his exercise routine and believes it changed his world.

Related posts about maximizing your roster:

4. “It’s my day off, I’m tired, feeling lazy and I don’t want to exercise”

Sleep in and nap if you need to, but ensure you have allocated some time for exercise over the course of the day.

The funny thing about exercise is that it will actually make us feel more energized despite making our muscles physically tired, plus it will do much more for our mind and body, over lazing on the couch!


  • If you’re feeling lazy reward yourself in exchange for exercise. Using a reward such as extra TV viewing, buying yourself fresh flowers or getting a massage can be brilliant for exercise motivation (No…a bag of chips or donut is not a good reward in case you’re wondering).
  • Try exercising in the morning to stop you thinking about it all-day
  • Change the order of your gym workout or alternate between workout styles. Swim instead of running, squats instead of push-ups, row instead of biking. Keep things interesting and make a change when it feels repetitive.
  • If you don’t care much for exercise, but know it’s good for you, try scheduling it in so it’s a non-negotiable.
Swimming | Shift work exercise routine

5. “I am a busy parent and also a shift worker” – ain’t nobody got time for that!

From observing others and discussing the challenges of this juggling act with parents and caregivers, it’s all about being creative and scheduling your workouts into your life like it’s an appointment that can’t be missed.


  • Parents/caregivers with babies – Work closely with your partner or spouse and make time for exercise either before or after your shift. 30 minutes will suffice (or even x3 10 minute intervals) then swap over and let them work out.
  • If you want to exercise together with your partner, research health facilities that have adequate childcare or babysitters available and consider utilizing this option.
  • On days off between shifts, place your child in a jogging stroller for a few laps around the neighborhood and don’t forget about your home gym when they’re sleeping.
  • Parents/caregivers with young children – Make it fun and involve your kids by trying a family plank challenge, going on a family bike ride or enjoying a walk to school together.

Avoid becoming the taxi, transporting your kids to various sporting commitments and waiting in the car for them to finish and instead use this time wisely.

Run the school stairs while waiting for basketball training to finish and walk the trails around the baseball field during practice. If you need to do the shopping and complete your jobs like making a phone call, can you do it while you walk?

Women walking with children at dusk | What's the Best Exercise Workout Routine for Shift Workers?

6. “It’s not a priority”

Now we are getting somewhere.

If exercise as a shift worker is not a priority or at least in your top five daily priorities, it probably won’t happen.

If you are honest to say it’s not a priority but you’re still reading this blog, I commend you because I think exercise is finally making it’s way up your list.

While you’re on a roll, sit down with your roster and book it in around your shifts. I know it seems silly to “book in exercise” but if you need a mental picture or reminder to do it, it could make it easier?

Exercise requires dedication on a daily basis but you will be rewarded for better sleep, improved cognition, a happier mood and hopefully a fewer less pounds. It will be worth the hassle. 

Bonus: Listen to Your Mood and Fatigue Levels When Choosing What Exercises to Complete

I know this may seem a little out of left field, but as a shift worker, you often don’t feel like doing the same exercise every single day.

Why? Sleep is pretty much the sole factor I have found which alters my mood and changes my mind.

If you are totally stuffed, why not do yoga instead in your lounge room? Stream a video from YouTube and do a slow workout for 30 minutes – even in your pajamas.

If you’re feeling really energetic, use it. Go for a run, climb the stairs, do a strength workout, skip for 30 minutes, etc. Don’t waste this energy on a soft, slow yoga routine when you’ve got more to give.

VIDEO – Going to the Gym After Night Shift. Good Idea?

This book pictured below titled, Too Tired to Cook: The Shift Worker’s Guide to Working (and Surviving) in a 24/7 WorldOpens in a new tab. available via Amazon.com is by an incredible Australian Nurse and trained clinical nutritionist Audra Starkey.

She specializes in shift worker health and is a delightful read if you need some inspiration and direction to live a healthier shift working life. See it here on Amazon.Opens in a new tab.


Finding the perfect shift work exercise routine to suit you and your needs will probably change depending on your mood, other commitments and of course your shifts.

I hope throughout this post I have opened your eyes to the possibility of trying new strategies to create a healthier you.


Emma signature | theothershift.com

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.

Emma @ The Other Shift

Hey there! I'm Emma Smith a passionate, Registered Nurse from Australia. Together with my husband Daniel, we run The Other Shift. Our sole aim is to help shift workers and those on unusual schedules find balance between work and life. I understand the challenges of fitting in exercise, maintaining relationships and getting enough quality sleep, but I'm excited to show you that it’s possible to do shift work and still thrive. Read more about us and our story here.

4 thoughts on “What’s the Best Exercise Workout Routine for Shift Workers?

  1. Hi would you mind letting me know which web host you’re utilizing? I’ve loaded your blog in 3 different browsers and I must say this blog loads a lot quicker then most. Can you suggest a good internet hosting provider at a fair price? Cheers, I appreciate it!

    1. Hi Doris,
      We use BlueHost for our hosting. I know you can get a pretty great deal for the first year with the price increasing each year after that. I also think the speed may have something to do with the theme. We use Acobado on WordPress which was produced by Income School as it’s lightning-fast due to simplicity. Hope this helps. Em and Dan.

    2. Hi Doris,
      We use BlueHost for our hosting. I know you can get a pretty great deal for the first year with the price increasing each year after that. I also think the speed may have something to do with the theme. We use Acobado on WordPress which was produced by Income School as it’s lightning fast due to simplicity. Hope this helps. Em and Dan.

    3. Hi Doris,
      We use BlueHost for our hosting. I know you can get a pretty great deal for the first year with the price increasing each year after that. I also think the speed may have something to do with the theme. We use Acobado on WordPress which was produced by Income School as it’s lightning-fast due to simplicity. Hope this helps. Em and Dan.

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