How to Train Twice A Dayby Alexander Cortes on September 4, 2015
How to Train Twice A Day
By Alexander J.A. Cortes
Twice Daily training has its origins in the training of elite Olympic lifters going back to the 1950s, where multiple sessions over a course of a day became fairly common in many Olympic lifting methodologies.
Relative to Bodybuilding, it notably became popularized during the 1970s, specifically by the iconic Arnold. He was very well known for training twice a day, especially during contest prep. His training sessions could cumulatively last over four hours.
While two a days, abbreviated as 2x daily training, often captures peoples attention, its also generally unclear how to go about implementing it.
2x Days=High Frequency training
Two a days commonly refers to training two separate sessions within the same day, typically an “AM” morning session, and then a “PM” afternoon or evening session.
Now, regardless of whether someone trains the same muscle group, or different muscle groups, 2x day training is a form of high frequency training. Assuming someone is training 5-6 days a week, the main muscle groups (chest, back, legs, arms, shoulders) are all going to be trained twice.
This is crucial to recognize, as 2x day training will result in a very high volume of training, and this will place great demands on recovery. (More on that later though)
Now, there are two models that are used 2x day training:
- The first is training the same musclegroup twice in day.
- The second is training two different muscle groups each day
Which is better? It depends on what you can recover from. This takes us to the principles that govern effective twice daily training
The Rules of Two-a-days
Rule Number 1-Nutrition and Sleep MUST be at or very near 100%. If your sleep is compromised, whether in quantity or quality, then 2x daily training will very quickly overwhelm your capacity to recover.
At the same time, nutrition CANNOT be inconsistent. Even if your genetics are awesome, training twice daily will demand increased calories, protein, and regularity with eating. If this is something you struggle with already training once daily, 2x daily training is just going to make it worse.
Rule Number 2–Post Training JOINT recovery. Anytime you are embarking on high frequency training, you have to account for joint stress. The body does not add muscle to compromised joints. This is often why so many old bodybuilders switch over to machines and DBs during their latter training years, and avoid barbell movements and things that irritate their shoulders, hips, knees, elbows etc.
If joint health begins to suffer from 2x days, then it’s a sign to either modify or discontinue and go back to a more traditional schedule.
Rule Number 3–Post training Muscular recovery, can the muscle recover adequately to be able to perform at the next training session? If one training session is leaving you thrashed, it wouldn’t make sense that adding in another is going to make you grow faster. You cant pile on muscle damage from more training with inadequate recovery. Whether you train the same muscle twice in a day, or different muscle groups, the whole body is going to be getting training twice a week. If this frequency becomes overwhelming for your recovery capacity, it will lead to stagnation, injury, or burnout.
Rule Number 4–Intelligent exercise selection-If all your training is with the barbell, and you are training 2x a day, its very likely you are going to start to hurt fast. The exercises with high levels of joint stress won’t work in a 2x day high frequency program. This means you need to alternate between heavier work that taxes strength, and more “metabolic” style pump work that is purely for maximizing the pump and blood flow
Rule Number 5-Every workout cannot be a “heavy” workout-if you are someone that is obsessive with slinging weight and beating yourself down every session, 2x training is likely to get you injured. At least half the workouts need to be pump workouts using joint friendly exercises
So assuming all of that is in place, how do we train twice daily?
1. Training the same bodypart twice in a day, split into two sessions
- With this approach, the two workouts are going to be shorter, with moderate intensity, and the volume for each wont be that high. Training 30 sets in the morning and 30 sets in the evening for biceps/triceps would be complete overkill for most people
- A practical approach would be simply to divide a typical workout in half. So if a workout is 6-8 movements, then on a 2-a-day, each workout will be three to four movements movements. Working sets could be lower or high each workout, anywhere from 2-5, with 5 working sets being the maximum, and two being the likely minimum.
- So training the same muscle 2x daily, 3-4 exercises per session, 12-40 working sets total
- This in essence is still 1-musclegroup-per-day training. You are just working that muscle much more than you would in 1 session generally.
- Because of this, you will need to be very selective with what exercises you pick session to session. Session 1 cannot be so intense as to compromise session 2
2. Training two different bodyparts in the same day, split into two sessions
- There isnt any magic synergistic formula for this in regards to what muscle groups to put together.
- What you NEED to manage is fatigue from each session. Training back and legs on the same day could be incredibly exhausting. Training back then shoulders, not so much.
- Whichever bodyparts you pick, intensity is still going to be lower than training 1x daily. Going insane for 2 hours twice a day likely isnt going to last very long. The neurological fatigue is going to add up quickly
- The most effective model is to have a “pump” workout and a “heavy” workout, or have both workouts be pump workouts.
- In this model, the entire body is going to get trained 2x in a week if you are training 5-6 days a week. So you have to be recovered session to session to be able to train with enough effort to make this work.
Smart frequency and dumb frequency
To illustrate the rules in practice, lets look at a poorly designed 2x day back program, and then an intelligently designed one.
The “Beat yourself up fast twice daily back training”
- DB rows Meadow rows-Good first choice for an exercise, we can go hard and heavy on these
- Weighted chins-these tend to be very hard on the elbows and shoulders, so weve got some joint stress to account for
- Rack pulls-very effective movement, but heavy exercise typically that stresses the low back. So this AM session is likely to be pretty tiring
- Wide grip pulldowns-A lighter exercise, but having already done weighted chins, we’ll probably want to use straps for this or stick with higher reps. Our shoulders and elbows need to be accounted for
- Deadlifts-Great movement, but having already done rack pulls, were just adding low back stress and hitting our CNS with a very draining movement
- Bent over barbell rows-Also effective, but we’ve got three exercises now that all stress the lumbar, and having already done some heavy rows and chins, this is likely going to be tough on the elbows and wrists
- Hammer seated rows-Personal favorite of mine, but we’ll need to stick with higher reps to avoid overworking the joints
- T-bar Row-Another low back stressful movement. Having already done 3 different rows, this is something of a redundant exercise
- Neutral grip pulldowns-Another pulldown movement, we are forced to go light at this point.
So whats the problem with the above? These are all great exercises, but the stress on the shoulders, elbows, wrists, and low back is going to add up FAST. Weve got multiple movements that are all pretty hard in their own right, and now were trying to do all them together. This might work great if you’ve got injury proof joints, but in all likelihood something will start to give at some point.
Additionally, what do we use as a indicator movement to assess were getting bigger/stronger? That’s a lot of exercises to keep track of.
And whats the point of each session? Back width? Back thickness? Lat emphasis? Weve picked tried and true exercises, but the workouts aren’t really designed for any specific purpose, other than “this will be pretty hard”.
Lets look at a smarter option now
“Targeted and Intelligent Back Training”
AM Workout-Mid back thickness, lat width
- Chest supported DB row
- Stiff arm Pulldown
- Kayak cable Row
PM Workout-Lat width and thickness, mid back density
- Meadow Row
- Smith Bent over row with stretch emphasis
- Prone T-bar shrug
- Stretcher Pulldown
What makes the above workouts effective? Firstly, were managing the joint stress. Weve got arguably three movements that are harder on the joints (the rows) and the other movements are much more joint friendly.
Second, were managing fatigue. The AM session is three movements, the PM session four, and the AM session has one movement we can “go hard” on. The PM session two.
Next for each session, we’ve got an indicator movement, the DB supported rows and the meadow rows, that we can attack and use to assess our progression for what we want to emphasize, in this case mid back density and lat growth
Lastly and most important, we are setting ourselves up for LONG TERM progress. While individually neither of these workouts look brutal, together they constitute a complete back work. Rather than try to do every exercise we can, we’ve picked movements that target what we want to target, mid back density and lats, and we are attacking those two thing specifically. The above workouts arent going to be very long, but you can get in quality reps and work, and your biceps tendons and shoulders and lowback are not going to be thrashed.
The Big Question-Do you NEED to train twice a day?
Broscience, clinical science, and thousands of years of physical culture show that training once a day creates great results in muscle and strength. Will training twice a day lead to greater gains?
Probably not for most people. While there are many professional athletes that do train multiple sessions a day, only ONE of those sessions is typically dedicated to lifting, and the overall focus isn’t hypertrophy, its athletic performance. For elite Olympic lifters, their training is focused solely upon two lifts. Their methods do not cross apply to bodybuilding.
This is where the reality of human physiology comes in. Much like comparisons of “well Ronnie trained heavy ALL the time”, the most notable example of twice daily training is Arnold, arguably the most accomplished bodybuilder of all time. Just because he trained twice a day at times does not mean that copying him is going to lead to the same results.
Muscles take about 24 and up to 72 hours to recover, depending on how hard they were trained. The body has only a finite capacity to recover. More training does NOT automatically equal more muscle.
This goes back to the adage of “Muscle doesn’t grow in the gym”. While its very appealing to think of the body as an infinite capacity machine for training, this just isn’t the case. Sleep, rest, and food are the most “anabolic” activities you can do. Training is fundamentally catabolic, its breaking down tissue so it can grow.
To answer the question though, when could someone train twice a day?
Under the following conditions
- Able to sleep 8+ hours a night
- Eating 6 consistent meals a day
- Total recovery session to session
- Joint health is excellent
- Stress is low and is managed well
- Already seeing consistent muscular gains
- Lifestyle fully supports 2x day straining
If all that is in place, then 2x days are something you can make a decision to attempt and try. If not, stick with what is tried and true.
“If its not broken, don’t try to fix it” is very relevant in this situation. Get in, train hard for that workout, and go home and recover. Relative to almost every IFBB Pro and the Mountaindog himself John Meadows, it works!
Thanks for tuning in!