Perhaps you’re training for a physical event, such as an Ironman or a sports competition. Or perhaps you’re simply on a workout kick after showing up to the gym several days in a row. Whatever the reason, you may be considering upping the exercise ante to working out twice a day. Most people have difficulty finding the time to do this. However, it’s not uncommon, especially among those training for big events or preparing for an upcoming sports season.
Experts say that two-a-days are totally safe if done right. However, much of this depends on what type of training is taking place. “If a client of mine wants to do a 45-minute boot camp session followed by one hour of slow yoga, walking, or stretching, then I’m good with that,” says Ben Boudro, C.S.C.S., owner of Xceleration Fitness in Auburn Hills, Michigan. “But if a client wants to do cardio in the morning followed by intense weight training at night, I’m probably going to shut that idea down.” Here’s a close look at the major risks involved in working out twice a day, plus how to do it safely and effectively if you choose to.
What to Know About Working Out Twice a Day
Working out twice a day is not recommended for everyone. For example, if you’re new to working out, doubling up is not advisable. “It’s important to have kind of a base-level fitness foundation to build on so that you aren’t overtraining in the beginning, putting yourself at risk for injury,” says Hope Pedraza, ACSM-certified personal trainer, nutrition coach, and founder of inBalance in San Antonio, Texas. It also depends on the type of classes or workouts you are doing. Many of Pedraza’s clients like to do a higher-intensity class in addition to something lower intensity. For example, they could do a dance cardio class and then attend a yoga or mat Pilates class later. Pedraza says this is a great combination. It allows the body to have a shorter recovery period with a class that focuses on flexibility and core training.
Eat Well to Perform Well
“If the two-a-day workouts are both high intensity, then you should be mindful about monitoring your heart rate and your fatigue level, as well as what you’ve eaten throughout the day,” Pedraza explains. “If you are, in fact, going to do two-a-day workouts, it’s crucial that you have nourished yourself to do so.” Proper pre– and post-workout meals are critical for recovery. “They also ensure that you aren’t burning through your muscle, using it as fuel for your workout, rather than using the carbs you have eaten (or should have eaten!) before your workout,” Pedraza adds.
She suggests focusing on high-energy, complex carbs before a workout to give you energy. Additionally, eat a good source of protein post workout to rebuild any damage done. If you’re working out twice a day, you need to do this before and after each individual workout, not just once a day total.
It’s also incredibly important to hydrate throughout the day, especially before, during, and after each workout. “Shoot for at least three liters of water during the day. If you are hitting two hard workouts, I would even increase that to one or one and a half gallons a day,” Pedraza says. “This might sound like a lot. But it is going to help keep soreness away and prepare you for your next workout, whenever that may be!”
Know the risks involved.
Like anything extraneous, there are risks involved with working out twice a day. This specifically pertains to injuries due to fatigue-induced mistakes and overtraining syndrome. “Overtraining syndrome can happen when one puts too much demand on the body. You can work out so much that your body is just unable to adapt,” says Alex Tauberg, D.C., C.S.C.S., chiropractor and certified strength and conditioning specialist. “This can induce overtraining syndrome. [It] may present itself as generalized fatigue as well as a plateau or even decrease in performance.”
Because working out twice a day is so physically taxing to the body, injuries are common. “Putting excessive load on your joints without adequate recovery time can be too great for your body to handle to the point where it starts breaking down,” says Susan Fu, P.T., D.P.T., C.S.C.S., co-director of rehabilitation services at Providence Saint John’s Health Center Performance Therapy in Santa Monica, California. “If your tissue fails you, it will only create a setback that you didn’t anticipate. You start at ground zero and have to rebuild from there.”
Fatigue is another top concern. You need sleep and recovery in order to perform your best physically, mentally, and emotionally. “Sleep is your body’s natural recovery system where your muscles can repair themselves. So when you skimp on this, you are hindering your progress,” Pedraza says. “If you are going to do two-a-days, especially if you are doing this multiple times a week, give yourself at least one recovery day where you don’t work out at all, except maybe some stretching or gentle yoga, and can let your body rest and recover.”
Trainer-Approved Two-a-day Combos
To properly execute a two-a-day program, you must have a safe and effective plan in place. “The morning session and afternoon/evening session should focus on training different body parts in a different manner,” says Gregory Mallo, M.D., orthopedic surgeon and co-chief of the Department of Orthopedics at St. Charles Hospital in East Setauket, New York. Here are some trainer-approved combos.
Strength + Yoga or Stretching
Mallo recommends focusing on low-impact cardiovascular training or stretching, such as yoga, during the morning session and strength for the second session. “A heavy weight-training session first thing in the morning jeopardizes stiff muscles, tendon, or joints. It’s much better to perform strength training after your muscles are warm from daily activity,” he says.
Strength + Cardio
According to Pedraza, combining a HIIT session with a yoga or Pilates class, or doing a cardio session in the morning and strength training session in the evening is ideal. “These are great combinations that can actually help improve your results and overall fitness,” she says. “Adding the flexibility session to your HIIT or strength training session not only helps the body recover, but the flexibility work allows these tight muscles to stretch. [This] will allow for greater tension to be placed on them later.”
“When you’re training for a serious competition, e.g., the Ironman, you can split your training to focus on your goals in each event,” Fu says. “If you are recovering from injury, it is critical for you to do your rehabilitative exercises that your physical therapist has prescribed for you as a training session.” This, she explains, will ensure success for your training goals.
Of course, the mix-and-match combinations are endless. But as Mallo advises, the main principle is to alternate intensity and type of exercises to avoid injury.