Are Double Workouts Twice as Nice?
Two-a-day training can be beneficial...as long as you don’t overdo it.
As soon as we started bear-crawling backwards across the gym floor, I knew I was in trouble. It was just the warmup phase of a class called MetCon (metabolic conditioning) offered at my boxing gym. MetCon involves high-intensity exercises designed to improve how your body uses and stores energy. This is all well and good except that I had just finished an intense 50-minute boxing class, and my body was screaming “uncle.”
Because life can get in the way of working out, I often try to squeeze two workouts into days where I know my schedule will be permit. This might take the form of a light strength workout at lunch and a longer run in the evening. I did this quite often during the early days of the pandemic to break the monotony of working exclusively from home. Lately, I’ve been doing back-to-back workouts at the gym because, well, I’m already there and will need a shower after, so why not get two-for-one?
Should you work out twice a day?
Is working out twice a day healthy? Experts say mostly yes—with a few caveats. An article in Women’s Health cites benefits of working out twice a day including increasing lean muscle mass and boosting your mood (another reason I worked out so much during lockdown). Scientific research on this topic is mixed. One study found that “twice-daily resistance training augments lower-body muscular strength” but had little effect on upper body strength, while another found “no additional benefits from increased daily training frequency.” These studies also involved highly-trained male weightlifters and not mere mortals like myself.
For the more casual exerciser, the consensus seems to be that two workouts a day can be beneficial. In a LiveScience article, exercise physiologist Todd Buckingham says working out twice a day can be beneficial simply because it enables you to get more exercise, and exercise is good for you:
"Further benefits of exercise include a stronger heart, more resilient muscles, a stronger immune system and decreased blood pressure. And those who work out more often tend to have improved markers in each of these areas."
Buckingham does caution that you can get too much of a good thing. Exercising twice a day can increase the risk of “overtraining syndrome,” which is somethingand I talked about at length in an episode of our podcast. It can also disrupt your sleep and increase your appetite. According to the LiveScience article:
“Exercising too often, too long, or too intensely, can also cause increases in the stress hormone cortisol, or the hunger hormone ghrelin, which can potentially increase appetite and weight gain.”
Vary the type and intensity of exercise to maximize gains
Because there are potential downsides to exercising twice a day, experts advise varying the intensity of your workouts—for example, a run in the morning and light yoga session before bed. In the Women’s Health article, personal trainer Michelle Marques goes so far as to say varying intensity is a must: “Two super-intense workouts a day are not the way to go,” she says. (I don’t think she would approve of my back-to-back boxing/MetCon routine.)
Cardio and strength training make a particularly good pairing — either combined in one session or divided into two. However, the order in which you should do them depends on your fitness goals. The American Council on Exercise has a handy guide to the preferred order, summarized in Women’s Health as follows:
If your goal is better endurance, do cardio before weights.
If your goal is burning fat and losing weight, do cardio after weights.
If you want to get stronger, do cardio after weights.
On upper-body strength training days, you can do either first.
On lower-body strength training days, do cardio after weights.
If your goal is just general fitness, do either first, but maybe start with the one you like less.
By the end of our two-hour boxing/MetCon session last week, my coworker and I were drenched in sweat, exhausted but exhilarated at having stuck it out through the whole class. We vowed to continue making “double workout Wednesdays” part of our routine, but based on everything I’ve read, I’m going to limit my two-a-days to once a week to reduce the risk of injury or overtraining.
Have you had success working out twice a day? Tell us about it in the comments.
I definitely do this, but as you point out, intensity is key. If I do a strength training session and cardio on the same day, for example, I'm definitely doing an easy effort on my bike ride or run. Or even doing yoga instead of cardio.