Two-A-Day Workouts: Helping or Hurting Your Fitness?

So you're doubling up your workouts, huh? Here's how to do it safely.

As a collegiate rower, I’ve participated in two-a-day—and even three-a-day (!)—workouts during spring and winter training sessions, when we had no class and were at the mercy of our coaches’ agendas. It came to the point where I was just going through the motions because I was so mentally and physically exhausted. Looking back, I have to wonder: were the double-time workouts even improving my fitness? Isn’t rest important?

I asked local trainers to weigh in on the safety of two-a-days and offer insight on how to double-up workouts without compromising your health.

It might seem obvious, but it’s worth noting that two-a-days allow you to reap the benefits of your normal workout, well, twice. Your metabolism rises when you work out and stays slightly elevated afterwards. If this boost occurs at both morning and night, you’ll burn truckloads of calories. If weight-loss isn’t your goal, make sure you replace the energy lost by increasing your normal calorie consumption.

Working out twice a day allows you to train with higher intensity, too. Instead of completing an hour of moderate exercise, you can really pump it out for 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes at night. Increased intensity challenges your body and helps to build more muscle. Between the calorie deficit and muscle mass increase, you are well on your way to achieving a lean and sculpted physique at a much faster rate.

And just for the record, two-a-days are not just for the seasoned athlete looking for dramatic results. They can be great for people with limited time since shorter workout sessions are easier to fit into a busy schedule. They can also be useful for people just beginning to get in shape, as smaller workouts are less overwhelming mentally and physically.

“Two-a-day workouts are an excellent way to give your exercise program a boost in order to see greater results in a shorter period of time—but you have to do it properly,” says Havertown-based trainer Audrey McKenna Hasse.

So what’s the catch? Here are some general basics: Allow for at least six hours between each session to give your body time to recover. That mean’s you’ll do one workout in the morning and one in the afternoon or night. Make sure you stay hydrated and eat proper pre- and post-workout meals. Warm-ups and cool-downs are still mandatory; the stretches you did this morning don’t count for tonight, too. Treat your body with respect.

McKenna says a good way to structure the workouts is to focus on one specific thing in each session. You could designate your morning to cardio and your afternoon/evening to a yoga class. Or, you could focus on lower body lifts in the morning and upper body lifts at night. They key is to mix it up. McKenna says that it’s important to avoid repeating the same exercises and working the same muscles in both workouts, which could lead to overuse and injury.

Adequate rest is crucial to getting the most out of your two-a-day workouts. Make sure you’re eating healthy foods with a good mix of carbohydrates, fat, and protein. You can’t expect to improve athletic performance and build muscle without the right fuel. Try alternating between doing double and single workouts throughout the week. Make sure that you’re taking at least one full day of rest, if not two or more. Your body needs time to rejuvenate and recover.

That said, there’s no easy formula to decide how much is the right amount for you to work out. The best way to figure out if you’re overtraining is to listen to your own body. The American College of Sports Medicine advises that some signs and symptoms of overdoing it include decreased performance, disordered sleep, chronic fatigue, menstrual disruptions, headaches, muscle and joint pain, changes in mood and a weakened immune system.

Ready to tackle a two-a-day? More power to you! Kick your body into high gear with this intense training method.