WHEN YOU HAVE major fitness or physique goals you’re striving to accomplish, it can feel like every moment you don’t spend training is a moment wasted. Unfortunately for you, there are only so many hours in the day, and so much energy you can expend before your workouts become unproductive (or worse, unsafe and unhealthy). Instead of taking on marathon, all-day exercise sessions without stopping, some guys turn to two-a-day splits, with one workout in the morning, and a second later in the day. This allows them to have some rest and recovery between sessions so you can pack more total training volume into your day.
This type of two-tiered plan isn’t necessarily a new school approach (although double sessions fit perfectly into the ‘grind over everything’ mindset prevalent in certain social media circles). Competitive athletes commonly fit multiple training sessions in a single day, particularly in the lead-up period before a season or one particular competition. Along with the added volume, these athletes are able to commit each section to a different focus—say, a conditioning-focused period in the morning, and a sport-specific period in the evening.
You might not have the same need for structure, just given your goals—but that doesn’t mean you can’t be curious about what a double-workout day might look like for you. The question is, how can a two workout day work for you if you’re not a hyper-focused athlete? And how much volume is too much for a productive training plan? We have answers to those questions, and much more.
Benefits of Twice a Day Workouts
- Extra training opportunities
- Higher intensity
- More focused training
- Training for multiple goals
You’ll be able to add extra training opportunities to your day by fitting in two workouts. This isn’t a reason to throw lots of junk volume into your routine; instead, think of the double as an opportunity to concentrate on different aspects of your training. You’ll also be able to ratchet up the intensity compared to one single long workout session, since you’ll have taken some time to recover between bouts (that makes the key to two-a-day workouts utilizing your rest periods properly). If you have multiple types of goals—like strength and endurance goals—you’ll be able to concentrate on both individually, rather than trying to fit everything into one workout.
Cons of Twice a Day Workouts
- Tough to schedule
- Lack of focus
- Potential for overtraining and injury
That’s not to say there aren’t risks or downsides to implementing a two-a-day workout split. Most obviously, this type of commitment to so much training time might be difficult for your schedule and responsibilities. More practically, you’re taking on extra training volume, so you have to be careful about how you balance out your sessions. Rest and recovery become paramount, and if you don’t give that enough focus, you’ll put yourself in a bad spot for injury in the short term and overtraining in the long term.
How You Can Plan to Make Twice a Day Workouts Fit Your Goals
Balance Your Two Sessions for More Productivity
For starters, while you probably shouldn’t be doing two all-out workouts per day, splitting up your workout—doing half of your workout in the morning and the other half later in the afternoon or evening—is actually a pretty good idea. It helps give your body rest, allowing you to work at your highest level of intensity, LA-based trainer Mike Donavanik, C.S.C.S., told Mens Health.
“Think about it like work. The reason people take breaks or lunch breaks is in an attempt to give their mind and body a rest… so when they get back into their shift—they are hopefully more clear-headed and productive,” he said.
While the exact duration of your workouts depends on your activity level and fitness goals, you can try exercising for 30 minutes in the morning, and then 30 again in the evening. (It’s also important to keep in mind that some workouts might take longer for others — for instance, lifting might take longer than straight cardio—so they don’t have to be evenly split up.)
“For that 60 to 90 minutes when you’re going all out, it can be both physically and mentally draining,” he said. By splitting up your exercise, you can be more focused and have greater energy and strength output, he advises.
Another effective way to jam more work into a day is to split you AM and PM sessions by body parts or style of workout. Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., separates his doubles in that method.
“The way I break it up now is skills/athleticism/conditioning/flexibility in the morning, body part strength split in the evening,” he said.
Another tip from Samuel: Prioritize your prime goal in your prime time workout split. Identify which goal you want to achieve the most, and focus on that session when you’re going to be able to perform at your best. So, if you want to gain strength and you know you’ll perform best with fresh legs in the morning, make your weight lifting split workout number 1, then make your additional cardio the second workout in the evening.
How Your Body Handles Twice a Day Workouts
As you’re raising your heart rate, boosting circulation and blood flow to the muscles, and getting a sweat on, your body undergoes stress and those muscles begin to get tired. But once you’ve finished that first workout, getting a few hours of rest allows your body to recover and bring itself back to homeostasis levels.
“Heart rate, blood flow, hormones—they all start to balance back out, so your body is not in a ‘stressed’ state,” according to Donavanik. In that time, you’re able to reboot for another workout, particularly if you eat a post-workout snack or use a foam roller beforehand.
As an added benefit, if you hit the gym twice a day, your muscles can actually increase in mass and strength over time, according to Dr. Paul Mostoff, Chief of Physical Therapy at the NYC-based All Sports Physical Therapy. “By hitting each muscle twice a day, you literally double the amount of stimulus that your muscle receives. Every time you train, you provide your body with a stimulus, which promotes greater protein synthesis and muscular adaptation,” he said. “So by training twice per day, you’re giving your body the signal to ‘grow and get stronger’ twice as often.”
What’s more, you may also reap the benefits of Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), known as the “afterburn effect,” which means your metabolism spikes for the next few hours. With EPOC, you’ll burn more calories in the body. When you’re doing two-a-day workouts, you get that afterburn twice. That doesn’t, however, give you an excuse to gorge yourself on mac and cheese balls post-workout; some research indicates that the afterburn effect is relatively small.
Plus, if you have a busy day filled with work and social obligations, splitting your workout in two for a morning energy boost and an evening refresher could be a smart idea. “Any time you work out, hormones kick in to make you more alert and productive in that time. Your body will also fight fatigue for some time after the workout,” said Donavanik.
If you’re struggling to get to sleep, your rest might also improve if you work out in the evening, too. “Most people will find it easier to fall asleep because they’re placing a greater demand on their body, so they’ll naturally feel more exhausted and be able to fall asleep easier.”
Samuel recommends taking at least four hours between each session. You won’t be as productive as you possibly could be without that recovery period—and that defeats the entire purpose of a two-a-day fitness plan.
How to Avoid Burnout from Twice a Day Workouts
There is, however, one caveat: If you’re not used to training hard and you go right into two-a-day workouts, you might be more sluggish than usual. This can happen even if you’re splitting one workout in half, as your body isn’t used to all that work. Either way, seek guidance from your doctor before diving in.
It’s also important to note that you shouldn’t just stick to the same workout for every session. There is a chance you could overtrain and burn out, which isn’t only counterproductive to your goals—but can also be dangerous.
Don’t try to jam too many HIIT workouts into a short period of time, for example, and listen to your body when it’s telling you enough is enough. Continuing to push yourself beyond your limits is a recipe for disaster.
So should you try out a routine built around two-a-days? That all depends on your goals, and how much time you can commit to each session. But if you’re smart about your rest and recovery when you’re not training, anyone can use two-a-day workouts to ramp up their fitness.
“Paying special attention to proper warmups, hydration, sleep, nutrition, and giving yourself enough rest between training sessions in the same day (at least 4 to 5 hours), will help avoid the pitfalls of overtraining,” said Mostoff.
Brett Williams, a fitness editor at Men’s Health, is a NASM-CPT certified trainer and former pro football player and tech reporter who splits his workout time between strength and conditioning training, martial arts, and running. You can find his work elsewhere at Mashable, Thrillist, and other outlets.