Ashlee Murray: Spinning Her Way Through Shift Work


Ashlee Murray, 30, is an Emergency Department clerk in a busy Eastern Ontario hospital. Amongst her many side gigs, Murray teaches high-octane spin classes at RIDE Indoor Cycling Studio in Cornwall, ON. In this interview, she gets candid about the toll of rotating shift work and how her own experience has fuelled a passion to help other shift workers stay fit and tackle their stress through spinning.

–– As told to Lauren McGill. Edited for clarity and conciseness.

Can you describe your job? What does a typical shift look like?

I’m a clerk in the Emergency Department. It’s a hectic, crazy, high-stress, high-tension type of job. You have to be on your toes at all times. I see happiness. I see sadness. I see death. I see everything. Some stuff I don’t really want to see but that’s part of the job.

Tell me about your work schedule.

I work full-time, so I work 75 hours bi-weekly. I work on a 14-week rotating schedule and every week is different for those 14 weeks.

Usually, I have a few days off in between my chunk of day or night shifts. There is one week where I work Monday to Friday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.; another week has a chunk where I work one 12-hour day shift and then three 12-hour night shifts in a row. That is difficult, and definitely not ideal for the everyday person.

What’s life like outside of work? 

I am a fiancée, a mother of three (ages 3, 7 & 8), and a spin instructor. I also do medical transcription on my days off, which is a new position I just took on. I am also an online stylist with Silver Icing, a women’s clothing and accessories website and for I Dress Myself, which is more of a children-based clothing company. I don’t like to be bored so I am constantly looking for more things to do.

What is the most challenging part of your schedule?

The night shifts. Those have always been difficult for me. They throw you off your schedule completely. You don’t feel great. I get that weird, sick feeling around 3 a.m. I completely feel a difference in my body when I’m working night shifts. It’s sluggish, it’s slow. I think that’s normal for most people. 

When you’re working in a rotation that has random night shifts, your body reacts differently than someone who would be doing straight nights because their bodies get accustomed to that. For people like me, every single night shift leads to that sluggish, slow, tired, sick feeling. 

Sleeping during the day is not fun – you want to be outside getting vitamin D and enjoying life but, instead, you have to be up all night while everyone else is sleeping.

Why spinning?

I have been addicted to spinning for the last five years. It is my happy place. Spinning is part of what makes shift work possible for me. I get a big amount of energy out of a spin class and it carries through to the next day.

Spinning is part of what makes shift work possible for me.

What’s your approach to teaching spinning classes?

My classes are geared towards a beginner’s crowd. No intimidation factor there. I try to be very welcoming, supportive and positive and make sure people feel they can be comfortable with me and comfortable in the studio. 

I find it really gratifying to teach classes that many of my colleagues attend. Being a shift worker, especially in the healthcare field, is definitely a challenging job—whether you’re a nurse, whether you’re a clerk, whether you’re a housekeeper. There is stress everywhere in a hospital setting. Being able to accommodate and work out with individuals that work on the same level as you – the same stress level, the same shifts – is rewarding.

As a spin instructor, being able to bring class availability to shift workers was a huge priority for me and I’ve planned my class times around that. 

How do you balance teaching spin classes with shift work? How do you get the time off to teach?

I am very lucky that one of my good friends owns the studio where I work. I submit my schedule to her every month for what I can teach and she lets me teach those classes.

I teach most of my spin classes at 7:30 p.m.. As a spin instructor, being able to bring class availability to shift workers was a huge priority for me and I’ve planned my class times around that. 

What advice do you have for shift workers who are trying to improve their fitness level?

Eat as best as you can. I know it’s not always easy— it’s often a grab-and-go kind of thing unless you have time to meal prep, which is very rare for me, personally. Make sure that you grab that healthier option and try to keep hydrated. Rest is key. You won’t get very much done with a tired brain. Keep healthy, keep fit. Exercise—even walking—is helpful. 

Thank you, Ashlee, for sharing your passion for spinning with us! We love your positive vibe and can-do attitude. If you want to find out more about Ashlee’s approach to spin classes, check out her FB @sitsweatcycle

Photo: Ladouceur PHOTO

A 10 Minute Staircase Workout for Night Shift

Here we go! Try this workout session that takes less than 10 minutes. All you need is an empty stairwell – so it’s perfect for night shift.

  1. Warm up for two minutes by slowly walking up and down stairs.
  2. Run up the steps as fast as safely possible for 20 seconds. Head back down slowly.
  3. Walk the hallway for two minutes.
  4. Run back up the stairs for another 20 seconds. Head back down slowly.
  5. Walk for two more minutes.
  6. Run the stairs for a final 20 seconds. Head back down slowly.
  7. Cool down with three minutes of stair and corridor walking. 

How to Exercise at Work on Night Shift

Hitting the gym might be the very last thing you feel like doing while working a stretch of night shifts. Good news! You can absolutely get your fitness fix while working nights – here are several ways to squeeze in some mini workouts on the job.

Make your commute a workout

  • Walk to work.
  • Bike to work.
  • Get off the subway a stop early.
  • Park in the furthest parking lot.

Sit on a stability ball

Strengthen your core by sitting on a stability ball, forcing your abdominal muscles to compensate for changes in balance. You’ll be doing a low-intensity workout every time you sit down, and all those nighttime hours will really add up.

You’ll also improve your balance and tone your core muscles while sitting at your desk. Well done, you!

Take the long(er) way

Find ways to sneak in extra steps – all those steps add up at the end of the night.

  • If you need to deliver something to another department, take it yourself.
  • Instead of calling a coworker, walk to their desk.
  • Use the bathroom at the far end of the building.

Skip the elevator

If you don’t have big boxes of paperwork to carry, what’s stopping you from taking the stairs? The stairs are free and pack a serious cardio punch. (Other people are actually paying big bucks to use a stair climber at their gym!)

Stand up for yourself

Get out of that chair! Try a standing desk. (Improvise with a high table or counter if you need to.)

Stand and walk while talking on the phone, if possible. Standing is so much better than slouching in your chair.

Work out with colleagues

You’re probably not the only one trying to fit in some extra fitness at work. Grab some like-minded colleagues and form a push-up club that meets before your shift or a running club that heads out for a quick jog on your midnight break. It can be as simple as doing squat or plank challenges together.

The camaraderie is great and you can hold each other accountable for regular exercise — and offer some much-needed cheerleading to one another when the going gets tough.

Volunteer

There are always little things that need to be brought back and forth. The paperwork, the forms, the coffee, the printer paper… so volunteer yourself! By doing errands, you’ll still be valuable and productive but getting a bonus boost of fitness as you get things done.

Keep fitness gear at work

Keep a stash of resistance bands or small hand weights in your locker or desk drawer for an impromptu workout. Does your company have an on-site gym? Even better! 

How do you squeeze fitness into your night shift? Any tips or tricks to add to this list? Please add your suggestions below in the comments section.