Two-A-Day Workouts Explained: Better Results Without Overtraining


Some lifters believe the more they work out, the better their results will be. That might mean training every day of the week or grinding out monstrous three-hour sessions in the gym. However, to paraphrase a warning from the philosopher B.I.G. — mo’ training, mo’ problems.

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Excessive training is a good way to burnout and pile up injuries. But here’s an important point: excessive isn’t always the same as more. You can walk the line between “a lot” and “too much” if you follow a few key principles. You can even train twice a day if you know what you’re doing. Lucky for you, when you’re done reading this, you will know what you’re doing.

Two-A-Day Workouts Explained

The phrase “two-a-days” might give some high school or college athletes flashbacks of yelling coaches, sweat-soaked practices, and all-around good times. But in this context, we’re talking about performing two workouts per training day instead of one more traditional workout.

Two-a-day training requires precise attention to program design for the workouts and, possibly more important, the resting periods. Training twice per day isn’t a method for beginners and it isn’t for lifters who freestyle their training when they walk through the gym door each day.

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Training twice a day requires you to not only know in advance what you’ll be doing in each session, but it requires that you actually follow the plan and improvise as little as possible.

This method has been a reliable approach for traditional sports athletes, strength athletes, and physique competitors because it can optimize performance and recovery, resulting in a greater net benefit than a more conventional approach to training. (1)(2)

Two-a-day workouts can be tailored to emphasize skill, strength, muscle size, or fat loss depending on the exercise choices, sets, reps, and intensities of each training session.

It’s also important to recognize that performing two workouts per day isn’t the same as performing two workouts every day. Just like with conventional training, rest days are necessary, likely more so for obvious reasons.

Benefits of Two-A-Day Workouts

Training twice in one day may seem like something only professional athletes need to do, but plenty of recreational lifters can benefit from hitting two training sessions in one day.

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Not only can it provide an exciting and engaging change of pace, it can yield a serious boost to strength and muscle when properly programmed. Here are more reasons to consider two-a-days.

Shorter Workouts

Performing two workouts per day may not initially sound like a time-saver, but it’s essentially based around performing brief workouts. It can be easier to schedule into your training day when you use basic at-home workouts instead of making multiple trips to the gym. You can also chop up one longer session with into two separate, faster paced minute workouts.

Whether it’s one quick training session before work and one after work or capitalizing on a free weekend to swing by the gym in the morning and afternoon, shorter, more frequent workouts can often fit better into a hectic weekly schedule because they offer more flexibility and can be “squeezed in” without sacrificing effectiveness.

Improved Performance

Two training sessions per day, targeting the same body parts in each session, has been shown to increase strength gains compared to one session per day. (3)(4) This makes it an ideal technique when the goal is to increase strength and power.

Shorter workouts combined with relatively lower volume per session allows a greater focus on form and power output with less cumulative fatigue during the workout. This lets you focus on maximum performance without worrying about pacing yourself throughout a longer workout.

More Muscle

When you dial in the correct balance of training stimulus and recovery methods, you put your body in an ideal position to build more muscle. Research has shown that increased training frequency can lead to increased muscle growth because weight training stimulates protein synthesis, which is ultimately responsible for adding new muscle (5)

Training twice per day certainly falls under the high-frequency umbrella. When supported by proper nutrition to encourage muscle growth, two-a-day sessions can be a highly effective approach for packing on size.

Drawbacks of Two-A-Day Workouts

Training twice a day has the potential to become too much to recover from if the training and recovery methods are improperly planned or planned well and not followed.

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Two-a-days aren’t suitable for every lifter. The most significant requirement is an ability to follow a predetermined plan and stray from the program as little as possible. There are a few other potential issues.

They’re Time Consuming

As counterintuitive as it sounds, two-a-day workouts can be time-saving because the workouts are typically brief. However, they can also be difficult to schedule if you’re unable to train at home, if your gym is a relatively long distance away, or if your work hours are exceptionally long.

It’s a tired cliche to say “if you want it bad enough, you’ll find time.” The fact is, not everyone can feasibly perform two workouts per day. As much as the training session itself can be shorter than a standard workout, it still requires twice as much planning and preparation. Having the most basic equipment at home can make it more likely, but this approach isn’t for everyone.

Recovery is Essential

Recovering from any training session is essential for progress. Recovering from two-a-day sessions is even more important to avoid digging a deep hole of muscular stress that you can’t crawl out of.

When you’re training twice a day, your nutrition plan needs to deliver enough total calories, protein, carbohydrates, and fats to allow optimal performance in each session and deliver a net-positive result in strength and muscle. (6)

Time spent between workouts should, ideally, be non-strenuous. If you work a high-activity manual labor job and plan on training twice a day, your baseline physical stress is already increased and fitting in added training sessions requires that much more attention.

No Ego Allowed

Allowing your ego to get in the way during a workout is almost always a bad idea but, okay, it happens. In a normal workout, presuming you get away injury-free, there’s no real harm done with a spontaneous extra-heavy set once in a while.

But when you’re training twice a day, that extra work comes with an extra recovery cost because you’ll have more effort to recover from with just a few hours before your next training session. If you’re the type of lifter who has trouble ignoring that little devil on your shoulder telling you to pile on an extra plate, you’ll probably run into issues with two-a-days.

Who Should Do Two-A-Day Workouts

Two-a-day training isn’t reserved for elite athletes. Whether you’re looking for a short-term change of pace or a restructuring of your training plan, you can use two-a-day workouts for a bump in size and strength.

Strength Athletes

Competitive strength athletes — powerlifters, Olympic weightlifters, strongmen and strongwomen, and CrossFit athletes — have frequently broken their training days into multiple sessions, often using each separate workout to focus on a specific lift or type of training.

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Recreational lifters who don’t compete but want to prioritize strength can also benefit from a similar approach. For example, you might perform only deadlifts in one workout followed hours later by less intensive back and hamstring exercises.

Training for Body Composition

If you’re trying to put on muscle, training twice daily can yield greater potential gains than one workout per day. This is due to increased protein synthesis (triggering muscle repair and growth) and a chance to increase overall training volume, which is associated with muscle gains. (7) For example, working a body part with eight sets twice daily compared to 12 sets in a single workout.

If your goal is to burn some fat, knocking out two workouts per day increases your daily caloric expenditure, making it easier to achieve the caloric deficit needed for fat loss. Training twice per day may also increase excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), which is the increased rate at which your body burns calories in the hours after a workout. (8)

General Sports Athletes

Two-a-day training sessions may be most familiar with general athletes — football, baseball, hockey, combat sports, etc. It’s not uncommon for these athletes to practice their specific sport in one workout and return to the gym hours later for a strength and conditioning session.

This approach allows each specific session to be performed with minimal fatigue from the previous session since the type of training is so different. There’s little carry-over between throwing a football and squatting a barbell. This allows greater focus and improved performance in each targeted workout.

Programming Two-A-Day Workouts

Proper programming is one of the make-or-break points of two-a-day training. Regardless of your goal, several general principles should be followed when setting up a two-a-day routine.

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There are also several specific considerations to set up an effective plan according to your goal. Approaching two-a-days with a well-designed plan is essential for results.

Skill Session/Weight Training

This is familiar territory for general sports athletes. You work on your sport in one session and hit the gym later in the day. This approach can be adapted to anyone who participates in recreational sports like tennis, MMA, pickup basketball, adult-league dodgeball, or whatever you’re into.

This is one of the simplest plans to program because the movements performed are inherently different in each session and overlap is minimal. Still, you want to work on your skill-specific training and then train weights.

Cardio Session/Weight Training

This approach is popular with competitive bodybuilders as it works exceptionally well for body composition changes. By separating weight training (muscle-building) and cardiovascular exercise (fat-burning) stimuli, you can make the most of each session for greater overall results.

The sessions can be performed in either order, depending on your schedule and preference. Cardio training isn’t shown to burn significantly more fat when performed first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, as some popular suggestions recommend. (11) Hitting the weights during the day and a long walk at night after work, for example, is equally effective.

Weight Training/Weight Training

Performing two weight training sessions per day requires precise planning to balance recovery and muscle-building/strength-building stimulus. But when set up correctly, it can be one of the most effective ways to train.

This approach can be used for strength-focused workouts with a priority lift (like the squat, an Olympic lift, bench press, etc.) in a single workout followed later by minor assistance work (like lunges, ab training, general upper body exercises, etc.).

It can also be designed to split up traditional training splits like full-body workouts, upper/lower splits, or push/pull/legs splits. Chop your standard workout roughly in half and perform one section in each workout. For example, you could train your whole body each day with several lower body exercises in one session and several upper body exercises in the next session.

For an upper-body-focused workout, you could perform chest and triceps exercises in the morning with back and biceps exercises at night. “Leg day” would be a few quad exercises followed hours later by your hamstring and calf training. Have a big dinner that night. You’ll have earned it.

Recovering From Two-A-Day Workouts

Recovery is always the other side of the training coin. When you’ve decided to train twice daily, recovery methods like nutrition and sleep become much more important because you are applying extra strain on your body’s systems.

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Here’s how to make your recovery as effective as your training plan.

Nutrition

Whether you’re trying to build strength, add muscle, or even burn fat, you won’t get far with two-a-day workouts if your nutrition doesn’t supply enough calories. Ample calories from all three macronutrients — protein, carbs, and fat — are needed to fuel intense workouts that build size and strength.

Regarding fat loss, “calories in vs. calories out” is a general and somewhat accurate guideline. (12) Fundamentally, you need to burn more calories than you take in. Two-a-day workouts increase the “calories out” by increasing your daily activity, which means you may not need to cut your calorie consumption drastically.

This logic is why many bodybuilders add a cardio session to their weight training regimen. Eventually, they reach a point where it’s not feasible to cut out more calories in the form of food, so they perform more calories to increase their caloric burn.

Creating a calorie deficit of roughly 500 calories daily is a realistic, reliable, and effective target for sustained fat loss. (13) Many people would instead hit that extra gym session while cutting back very little on their diet compared to reducing their intake more significantly. As long as your rate of fat loss is one to two pounds per week, you’re on a steady path to losing body fat and preserve muscle and strength. (14)

Sleep

Sleeping is an under-appreciated way to boost your results in the gym. If you’re not getting seven to nine hours per night, your recovery, gym performance, hormone levels, muscle mass, and strength gains will be compromised. (15)(16) That’s how important a good night’s sleep is.

Before you think about training twice a day, address your sleep quality and quantity. Adding two-a-day sessions on insufficient sleep will just be burning the candle at both ends.

Rest Days

You may have read about gold-medal Olympians training twice a day, seven days a week, or elite-level powerlifters going through eight or nine workouts per week combining weight training with restorative cardio-type sessions. That can work for world-class athletes who’ve spent years building the ability to thrive under extreme stress.

For everyone else, four to six training sessions spread out over the week should be plenty of stimuli to work towards the majority of goals. Interspersing hard training with focused rest/recovery days will allow your body to respond by building strength and muscle.

Incorporating rest days also allows you to enter each session with more energy and focus, which means more intense training, a greater stimulus response, and a greater need to rest.

Sample Two-A-Day Workout

The most basic template for two-a-day training is fairly straightforward: Perform workout one, rest several hours, then perform workout two. Like all programs, the details will decide whether you’re on the right track or not.

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Here’s an example of how to set up a two-a-day plan. Take the framework and adapt it to your own goal.

Two-A-Day Workout for Muscle Size

This sample program follows an upper/lower split and delivers six workouts per week. It includes two days of two-a-day workouts and three rest days. That’s likely more training and more rest than some lifters are doing right now.

Sunday

Morning Workout

Afternoon Workout

Monday

  • Deadlift: 4 x 6-8
  • Leg Press: 4 x 10-12
  • Leg Curl: 3 x 10-12
  • Leg Extension: 3 x 12-15
  • Seated Calf Raise: 3 x 15-20

Tuesday

Rest Day

Wednesday

Thursday

Morning Workout

  • Front Squat: 5 x 5-8
  • Romanian Deadlift: 5 x 10-12

Evening Workout

  • Reverse Lunge: 4 x 10-12
  • Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift: 4 x 8-10
  • Standing Calf Raise: 3 x 15-20

Friday

Rest Day

Saturday

Rest Day

Double Trouble or Double Your Pleasure

Training twice in one day may sound like a daunting commitment. Or, if you’re a die-hard gym lover, it may sound like paradise. Both are a little right. With proper planning, enough self-discipline to stick to the plan, and paying as much attention to recovery outside the gym as lifting in the gym, two-a-days might be your ticket to new PRs and new gains.

References

  1. Andrade-Souza, VA, Ghiarone, T, Sansonio, A, et al. Exercise twice-a-day potentiates markers of mitochondrial biogenesis in men. The FASEB Journal. 2020; 34: 1602– 1619. https://doi.org/10.1096/fj.201901207RR
  2. Hartman, M. J., Clark, B., Bembens, D. A., Kilgore, J. L., & Bemben, M. G. (2007). Comparisons between twice-daily and once-daily training sessions in male weight lifters. International journal of sports physiology and performance, 2(2), 159–169. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijspp.2.2.159
  3. Corrêa, D. A., Brigatto, F. A., Braz, T. V., DE Carmargo, J. B., Aoki, M. S., Marchetti, P. H., & Lopes, C. R. (2022). Twice-daily sessions result in greater muscle strength and similar muscle hypertrophy compared to once-daily sessions in resistance-trained men. The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness, 62(3), 324–336. https://doi.org/10.23736/S0022-4707.21.12118-8
  4. Häkkinen, K., & Kallinen, M. (1994). Distribution of strength training volume into one or two daily sessions and neuromuscular adaptations in female athletes. Electromyography and clinical neurophysiology, 34(2), 117–124.
  5. Dankel, S. J., Mattocks, K. T., Jessee, M. B., Buckner, S. L., Mouser, J. G., Counts, B. R., Laurentino, G. C., & Loenneke, J. P. (2017). Frequency: The Overlooked Resistance Training Variable for Inducing Muscle Hypertrophy?. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 47(5), 799–805. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-016-0640-8
  6. Kerksick, C. M., Arent, S., Schoenfeld, B. J., Stout, J. R., Campbell, B., Wilborn, C. D., Taylor, L., Kalman, D., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Kreider, R. B., Willoughby, D., Arciero, P. J., VanDusseldorp, T. A., Ormsbee, M. J., Wildman, R., Greenwood, M., Ziegenfuss, T. N., Aragon, A. A., & Antonio, J. (2017). International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14, 33. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0189-4
  7. Schoenfeld BJ, Contreras B, Krieger J, Grgic J, Delcastillo K, Belliard R, Alto A. Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength in Trained Men. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2019 Jan;51(1):94-103. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001764. PMID: 30153194; PMCID: PMC6303131.
  8. MacKenzie-Shalders, K., Kelly, J. T., So, D., Coffey, V. G., & Byrne, N. M. (2020). The effect of exercise interventions on resting metabolic rate: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of sports sciences, 38(14), 1635–1649. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2020.1754716
  9. Murray, B., & Rosenbloom, C. (2018). Fundamentals of glycogen metabolism for coaches and athletes. Nutrition reviews, 76(4), 243–259. https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nuy001
  10. Armstrong, Lawrence & Bergeron, Michael & Lee, Elaine & Mershon, James & Armstrong, Elizabeth. (2022). Overtraining Syndrome as a Complex Systems Phenomenon. Frontiers in Network Physiology. 1. 794392. 10.3389/fnetp.2021.794392.
  11. Schoenfeld, B. J., Aragon, A. A., Wilborn, C. D., Krieger, J. W., & Sonmez, G. T. (2014). Body composition changes associated with fasted versus non-fasted aerobic exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1), 54. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-014-0054-7
  12. Howell S, Kones R. “Calories in, calories out” and macronutrient intake: the hope, hype, and science of calories. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2017 Nov 1;313(5):E608-E612. doi: 10.1152/ajpendo.00156.2017. Epub 2017 Aug 1. PMID: 28765272.
  13. Champagne, C. M., Broyles, S. T., Moran, L. D., Cash, K. C., Levy, E. J., Lin, P. H., Batch, B. C., Lien, L. F., Funk, K. L., Dalcin, A., Loria, C., & Myers, V. H. (2011). Dietary intakes associated with successful weight loss and maintenance during the Weight Loss Maintenance trial. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 111(12), 1826–1835. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2011.09.014
  14. Garthe, I., Raastad, T., Refsnes, P. E., Koivisto, A., & Sundgot-Borgen, J. (2011). Effect of two different weight-loss rates on body composition and strength and power-related performance in elite athletes. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 21(2), 97–104. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.21.2.97
  15. Bird, Stephen P. PhD, CSCS1,2 Sleep, Recovery, and Athletic Performance, Strength and Conditioning Journal: October 2013 – Volume 35 – Issue 5 – p 43-47 doi: 10.1519/SSC.0b013e3182a62e2f
  16. Auyeung, T. W., Kwok, T., Leung, J., Lee, J. S., Ohlsson, C., Vandenput, L., Wing, Y. K., & Woo, J. (2015). Sleep Duration and Disturbances Were Associated With Testosterone Level, Muscle Mass, and Muscle Strength–A Cross-Sectional Study in 1274 Older Men. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, 16(7), 630.e1–630.e6306. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jamda.2015.04.006

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