Should You Ever Work Out Twice In One Day?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Many days, it can be hard to find the motivation to workout at all, much less two times. For most, it's difficult to imagine structuring your day so that you get sweaty more than once. Surprisingly, though, it's a strategy that's not exclusively reserved for elite athletes. Whether you only have time for a few short workouts, you really like the program you're doing or you're training for a big event, there are a variety of reasons someone might exercise more than once a day.
We often hear that giving the body time for adequate rest is so important, and it is. But does this mean that multiple daily workouts sets you up for physical and mental burnout, or can there be a healthy place for them in your exercise routine? Experts seem to be divided. While some say there are valid reasons for exercising twice a day, others say you're better off training hard once a day and then moving on to other things. Which is right?

Twice a Day is A-Okay

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm someone who does two workouts a day at least a few days a week. With four kids and a lot of responsibilities, I don't have time for longer workouts most of the time so dividing it up has allowed me to fit a full routine into my schedule. I'm up most days by 5 a.m. to do a 30-minute strength or cardio workout, depending on the day. If I have time later, I'll take a 30-minute walk during soccer practice or do a Vinyasa yoga class. I try to make sure only one of the workouts is intense so that I'm not overdoing it, but my goal is to get around 60 minutes of activity most days of the week.
If the idea of working out more than once a day is bringing back "two-a-day" flashbacks from your high school sports days, think of this a little differently. Two workouts in a day doesn't mean two, one-hour workouts where you finish drenched in sweat. It can be anything that gets your body moving and challenges your muscles. Whether you're a seasoned exerciser or just starting out, two workouts in a day can be a manageable option for your routine.
For example, if you're new to exercise and endurance is low, shorter workouts can allow you to accumulate fitness minutes throughout the day while slowly improving your fitness level. You might not be able to complete a 30-minute workout right now, but perhaps doing two, 15-minute workouts is something you can manage. Then, as you become fitter, you might find you can move for longer periods of time without needing to divide up the workout.
Alternatively, if you find your energy level dips at certain times of the day, adding another workout might keep you from making another run to Starbucks. I'm not a coffee drinker, so I need a boost of energy in the morning to get me going. The same goes for late afternoon and early evening when I start feeling sluggish. Scheduling my workouts at these times of day gives me the extra oomph I need to make it until bedtime.
Increased training volume does increase the risk of overtraining, so it's important to structure two daily workouts carefully—even if you're not a competitive athlete training for your next IRONMAN. Adequate rest, rehydrating and properly fueling in between workouts becomes even more important when you take on multiple exercise sessions in one day's time. Keeping these precautions in mind, there can be a place for multiple daily workouts in a balanced and healthy exercise routine.

2-A-Day? No Way!

Personal trainer and co-owner of LIFT Fitness Lucas Zarlengo, on the other hand, sees no reason to squeeze two workouts into a 24-hour period. Zarlengo believes that two workouts in a day does not give the body enough time to rest and recover, which ends up impeding progress in the long run. "Muscle development or conditioning of the body from a single workout occurs over 48 to 72 hours, during the post-workout breakdown of the muscle fibers and the subsequent repair process," he explains. "The repair (healing) process of the micro-tears in the muscle is what people notice as the soreness post workout, especially the next day. This is known as delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, [and] the process starts immediately, although its main effects occur in the 24 to 48 hours range." This is why the body needs time to repair, which it's not given when someone does another workout in the same day. Ultimately, a lack of adequate repair time can lead to overtraining and lack of results. 
Zarlengo also cautions that fatigue becomes an issue when you're doing more than one strenuous workout a day, which ultimately can lead to injury. "Once someone is fatigued, proper form becomes more difficult. The poor form will result in more strain on the joints, as they are more likely to lean the wrong way or move the wrong way while struggling to do anything more." Even if the damage is minor and not noticeable at the time, Zarlengo says that it can easily accumulate, resulting in a more significant injury when the body isn't given time to heal.
Although the need for 24 to 48 hours of rest refers primarily to weight training, Zarlengo says that the same principle applies to cardiovascular exercises, such as running. "The basic point is the body needs time to repair from every workout," he cautions. "When something is done without at least the day or two in between, it becomes difficult for the body to do the necessary repair, which results in damage or at least not progress being made."

5 Tips for 2-a-Day Success

If you're going to do two workouts in a day, there are a few important things to keep in mind:
  1. Don't do the same kind of workout both times. For instance, you wouldn't want to do a long run in the morning and sprints in the evening. Instead, you could do a run in the morning and a strength training or yoga session later in the day.
  2. Put as much time as possible in between the workouts to give your body time to rest. Pilates at 8 a.m. followed by a spin class at 10 a.m. doesn't give you adequate time to recover. Your performance will likely suffer significantly in the second workout.
  3. Don't do two workouts a day, every day. If you're pressed for time, increase the intensity of the one workout instead of always doing two. We all need breaks now and then.
  4. Do the harder and longer workout first when you have the most energy.
  5. If you're new to exercise or just getting back into a regular routine, start slow. You might have the motivation for it, but if your body isn't ready you risk injury.
There isn't a right answer when deciding whether or not two workouts in a day is right for you. The decision depends on so many factors: your current fitness level, goals, kinds of workouts you're doing and how your body responds to the demands you're putting on it. If you do decide to work out twice a day, make sure it's not happening seven days a week, since your body needs time to rest and repair. If you're more tired or sore than usual, or if you notice a decline in performance, it's probably time to give your body a break. Tuning into what your body is telling you and how it's responding to what you do will ensure your fitness program progresses in a safe and effective way.