Since you first started in the gym, you’ve probably been on a pretty standard routine. Most workout plans involve training between three and five times per week for an hour or two each day. It’s straightforward, simple, and it works.
It may sound like a massive commitment at first, but training more than once per day could produce a ton of progress towards your goals. The surface-level allure is simple enough — if training is good, more training must be better. While grinding through lots of volume in the gym can boost your gains in the short term, you must go about it properly.
As an athlete, you only have so much gas in your tank at a time. It might be hard for you to achieve all your fitness goals if you try to pack them into a single daily session. Splitting things up might be the best option for you, but before you make that leap, there are some essential things to consider:
- What Are Two-A-Day Workouts?
- Benefits of Two-A-Day Workouts
- Drawbacks of Two-A-Day Workouts
- Who Should Do Two-A-Day Workouts
- How to Program Two-A-Day Workouts
- Nutrition for Two-A-Day-Workouts
What Are Two-A-Day Workouts?
In many cases, two-a-day training organizes or divides training time between sessions to optimize your ability to focus on specific goals. You could build one workout around resistance training and the other as cardio. Alternatively, it could simply be a way to pack in as much training as possible for those on a tight schedule.
Benefits of Two-A-Day Workouts
There are many reasons why you might work out, and the benefit of two-a-day training lies in the flexibility it can provide. Training twice a day can be helpful for time management, to increase training variability within a program, improve skill development, and account for sessions dedicated to less structured enjoyment.
You may not have hours each day to train. Thankfully, you don’t need long sessions to see results, and two short workouts might be more realistically possible for you long term. If you feel rushed in the gym, the quality of your training might be taking a hit as well. Splitting your daily work into two brief sessions can help you maximize each exercise if your schedule can accommodate it.
Increased Training Variability
Variability is a fancy way of saying multiple training qualities at the same time. This can be building muscle, building strength, improving cardiovascular health and performance, or flexibility, to name a few. While some of these training styles may naturally overlap, some are more difficult to pin down within the same session.
Increasing your variability in training can be accomplished by adding additional sessions per week. Where single sessions per day may limit the amount of focus or energy you have, adding an extra session lessens the burden of trying to cram everything together.
Increased Skill Development
Getting good at lifting is a skill, and developing a skill depends on how often you can practice it. Since lifting properly involves many muscle groups and different energy systems, a single workout per day may not give you adequate practice if you’re working on complicated movements or also training for a field sport.
You can drill your technique twice as often by incorporating twice as many workouts per day. This should pay dividends regarding your movement competence and strength or muscle gains. More practice means more emphasis, and more emphasis usually means more progress.
Something that often gets forgotten is that two-a-day training is suitable if you enjoy moving. While your primary goal might be changing your body composition or muscular development, cardiovascular training or a yoga practice could also be part of your two-a-day.
Although these sessions are pulling in pretty opposing directions, the mental health or pure enjoyment factor trumps the need to pursue only one thing constantly. Enjoyment fuels consistency, and consistency is the root of all progress. Accounting for time doing the things you enjoy that might not be the specific exercise for your primary goal is also a huge benefit to two-a-day training.
Drawbacks of Two-A-Day Workouts
Although two-a-day training may seem like all positives, there are certain drawbacks. While the obviousness of time stands out as one drawback, there are also dietary considerations and the risk of overtraining to consider as well.
Without a doubt, the most apparent drawback is the necessity to commit a greater amount of time of your day to training. Although there are benefits, training twice per day also means greater stress of coordinating transit, social or family engagements, daily chores, meals, and any number of other scheduling conflicts. Even if each session is relatively short, you still have to balance it as part of your daily schedule.
If training twice per day is something you’re considering, you may also need to adjust your dietary intake. Meals and especially certain macronutrients such as carbohydrates and protein, will be essential for recovery. Staying hydrated is also a crucial consideration to ensure that each session is as productive as possible. Assuming a threshold level of intensity, you may need to think about structuring a diet around your training to ensure that you’re not overkilling your current ability to recover.
Risk of Overtraining
Overreaching is the structured but temporary accumulation of fatigue over a normal level that you can typically recover from. It’s a strategy used commonly to trigger supercompensation, or a larger upswing in physical progress after a period of rest.
Overtraining is the negative outcome of not recovering properly for too long of a time period. Overreaching gone wrong. With two-a-day training, while not extremely common, there is the risk of your fatigue levels outpacing how fast you can recover. Overtraining may lead to burnout, loss of muscle mass, or disturbed sleep. (1)
Who Should Do Two-A-Day Workouts
Although anyone can perform two-a-day training, certain populations may benefit more than others. If you’re an athlete with a high skill-based demand to your exercise of choice, practicing twice a day is great. However, that doesn’t mean two-a-days are only suitable for the most dedicated gym-goers.
As an athlete, the closer you get to a competition or meet, the more specific your training becomes. However, that doesn’t diminish the benefits of maintaining your general fitness. Separating your strength or conditioning sessions from your sport-specific practice can be a great way to keep yourself fresh and healthy. Your practice might suffer if you try to work on your sport directly after a heavy leg workout, for instance.
Training for both cardiovascular performance as well as strength and muscle building can be a tough road to walk. There is only so much time and energy in a training session, and optimally challenging both sides of this equation can be quite difficult. Separating one session primarily into weights and the other cardiovascular training can benefit your progress on both fronts.
The On-the-Go Lifter
Two-a-day training actually comes with a lot of flexibility. Balancing your work, school, or familial responsibilities with getting a heavy session in is difficult at best. If you organize it properly, splitting your workout up into two bite-size sessions may allow you to accomplish all of your training goals without disrupting your entire day.
How to Program Two-A-Day Workouts
Setting up your two-a-day program follows all the same logic as creating any other training plan. Here is a step-by-step guide to get you started:
Step 1 — Set Your Goals
The first step is to understand exactly what you want to accomplish. The number and type of goals that you’re interested in will shape the rest of your program. It’s also helpful to determine how much time per session you can commit — write out your goals and the length of time you can dedicate to each workout.
Step 2 — Establish Your Priority
Prioritizing training goals is the major driver behind all sound programming decisions. If you’re juggling many goals (strength, muscle, cardiovascular performance, etc.), decide what is the most important thing to you. Establish a ranking system so that you know how to arrange your workouts. You may have to put aside a low-priority goal to ensure you achieve your main focus.
Step 3 — Determine Your Exercises
Knowing your goals, their order of importance, and how much time you have to train should help you choose the right exercises. Write out the exercises that best correspond to the goals on your list and the time you can commit. Keep in mind that exercises using a lot of weight, such as deadlifts, will naturally take more time to complete.
Step 4 — Split Things Up
The most common way to split workouts is between resistance training and cardiovascular training. Whichever lands the highest on the list of priorities should be given the training session that you perform the best in. This can be first in the day or last depending on how you feel — but you should have the most energy and intensity for this session.
Step 5 — Make Adjustments
With each completed session, make adjustments on exercise order, intensity, or duration of each workout. Two-a-day training can be tricky, and recovery is the biggest challenge. Add or subtract things from each session as you find your optimal amount of exercise.
Sample Two-A-Day Workout
To help you visualize how to organize your daily sessions, here is a sample workout. Bear in mind that this template serves as a very general overview of how to design a two-a-day training plan focused on increasing your strength and boosting your cardiovascular capabilities as well.
- Squat: 3 x 5
- Barbell Romanian Deadlift: 3 x 8
- Walking Lunge: 2 x 15 per leg
For a session focused on strength, you should rest between two and three minutes during your squats and Romanian deadlifts. Ninety seconds is sufficient for the lunges. This workout should take you between 40 minutes and an hour, depending on how heavy you go.
- High Incline Treadmill Walk: 15 minutes
- Alternating Dumbbell Biceps Curls: 3 x 12
- Push-Up: 3 x 12
- Plank: 3 x 1 minute
To work on your cardio, keep rest periods under 90 seconds. A shorter, more cardiovascular-centric workout like this should take half an hour or so.
Nutritional Considerations for Two-A-Day Workouts
Nutrition is perhaps one of the most important aspects of maintaining two-a-day training and optimizing your results from it. When you mix different goals such as conditioning and muscle growth, it’s absolutely vital to ensure that your wires don’t get crossed and one doesn’t interfere with the other.
Consider Your Goals
Goals such as muscle building and cardiovascular endurance can be accomplished at the same time, but only for so long. Proper resistance training grows muscle, but going too hard on your cardio work can interfere with that process. However, there is some promising literature backing the idea that physically separating your lifting from your cardio can minimize some of the so-called “interference.” (2)(3)
You need the right amount of calories to build muscle. However, calories are also the preferred source of fuel for your cardio exercise. To balance this, you need to take in enough energy that your body isn’t forced to “choose” where to direct your nutrition. If you’re focusing on building your engine and your physique simultaneously, you don’t want to be in a caloric deficit along the way.
Timing your training sessions properly and eating enough can help you successfully navigate these waters. (4)
Training twice means sweating twice as often. Keeping tabs on your water intake is a major prong of successfully training multiple times in the same day. Fluid loss can easily impact your performance, so it’s critical to hydrate properly during your workouts. Sipping water throughout the day should be enough to satisfy two workouts, but in a pinch, consuming half a liter of water for every pound lost during a workout should have you rehydrated sufficiently. (1)
There are a number of benefits to training more than once in the same day, but the best way to set yourself up for success is to know the limitations. Don’t try to set up two complete workouts with the same volume or intensity. Nutrition and workout timing, adequate recovery, and training styles all play impactful roles in the results you can expect.
With all that in mind, you can be extremely successful at training for sports, multiple gym goals, or simply enjoy exercise a little more by splitting workouts into multiple sessions per day. Organize your workouts in order of priority, set limits on how long or how much your training to prevent overdoing it, and eat to support your goals. Check these boxes and you’ll see if two-a-day training is right for you!
1. Haff, G., & Triplett, N. T. (2016). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Fourth edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
2. Hickson, R. C. (1980). Interference of strength development by simultaneously training for strength and endurance. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, 45(2-3), 255–263.
3. Fyfe, J. J., Bishop, D. J., & Stepto, N. K. (2014). Interference between Concurrent Resistance and Endurance Exercise: Molecular Bases and the Role of Individual Training Variables. Sports Medicine, 44(6), 743–762.
4. Hardie, D. G., Ross, F. A., & Hawley, S. A. (2012). AMPK: a nutrient and energy sensor that maintains energy homeostasis. Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology, 13(4), 251–262.
Featured Image: Jacob Lund / Shutterstock