Tips For Training Twice A Day
Those in the know in the strength training community have a secret weapon to gain strength fast and pack on muscle mass. It is a grueling method that has you double up on training. Literally. Training twice a day is a time-proven method to make progress quickly, provided it is done right.
Here are tips on how you can also benefit from this method.
Tried and True
If you’ve been following the history of training, you know that the Eastern Block had some very novel ideas back in the day. They produced a lot of very big and strong athletes in all types of sports.
Of their many training methods that filtered down to us, training multiple times a day is one of the most brutal. It has been known to produce enormously strong lifters, and bodybuilders packed with thick muscles every bit as powerful as they look. A rarity in bodybuilding.
So much so that Eastern European powerlifters, Olympic weightlifters, and bodybuilders sometimes trained together, with some of them competing across two, or even all three disciplines.
Like many effective methods, science was slow to catch up to what was done in the field. This did not stop athletes of all types from training with this method in the meantime. Studies have surfaced showing the superiority of training twice a day to make gains though.
Famed strength scientists Komi and Hakkinen produced a series of three studies in the 90’s showing that both neuromuscular and hormonal systems took a hit from the AM to the PM sessions, validating the practice of using more neural-type loading parameters early in the day, and less taxing ones later in the day.
In 2007, Hartman et al. did a short, three week study on ten nationally competitive male weightlifters. They noticed benefits on isometric strength and EMG (Electromyography) of the quadriceps in knee extension exercise. They also noted a benefit on the testosterone and testosterone to cortisol ratio. While very short in duration, this study lead the researchers to promote twice a day training as way to prevent overtraining.
The most interesting one is by Storey, Wong et al, published in 2012 showing a clear picture on strength gains. They had two groups of trainees consisting of recreationally-trained men and elite weightlifters. One group, consisting of the weightlifters would train twice per day while the other group, comprised of the recreational lifters trained only once.
The results showed that weightlifters were better able to sustain peak force with the front squat workouts used in the study than the recreational lifters.
This is where it gets interesting: the weightlifters had more ability to produce more peak force in the PM session than in the AM session, and had only a slight drop in peak force from the first to last set.
This is quite different than what happened in the AM session, where ability to sustain peak force declined significantly in both groups.
So as you can see, there are advantages to training twice a day, and both science and field experience show that it delivers on its promise.
Choose the Correct Emphasis
The first and most important thing to know about this is that you’re not doing double the workouts you used to. It is just working out twice per day.
In essence, you have to do two training sessions per day. To be effective, they need to be done four to six hours apart. You will do one training in the AM and one training in the PM/early evening.
The best way to split this work is to focus on intensive work in the AM, and on extensive work in the PM. What does this mean?
Intensive means that you will focus on the more intense work early in the day. Intense in the strength training sense of the term, meaning more sets, fewer reps, and more explosive tempos/shorter TUT and obviously heavier weights.
Then, in the PM, you’ll do extensive work, which involves the opposite, less total sets, more reps, and longer tempos/TUT, and by extension, lighter weights.
Of course, what it looks like exactly will depend on your goal.
If you want to focus on strength gains and functional hypertrophy for example, you might do 2-4 reps in the morning and 6-8 reps in the afternoon.
If total muscle mass is your goal, you could do 6-8 reps in the AM and 12-15 reps in the PM. Other combinations are possible, but you get the idea. The goal is to have your primary focus on intensity early in the day and get more volume (relatively speaking) later in the day.
It is important that you train the same muscle groups on both sessions. If you are looking for strength, you use the same exercise twice daily, with different set & rep schemes, especially if you want to improve those movements. If you are looking more for hypertrophy, you can use different exercises in the AM & PM sessions.
So for example an athlete might do:
A1 – Incline Bench Press 7 x 2-4; 30X0; Rest 120 seconds
A2 – Sternum Pull-Ups 7 x 2-4; 30X0; Rest 120 seconds
A1 – Incline Bench Press 4 x 6-8; 4010; Rest 90 seconds
A2 – Sternum Pull-Ups 4 x 6-8; 4010; Rest 90 seconds
A more hypertrophy-focused trainee would prefer:
A1 – Incline Bench Press 4 x 6-8; 4010; Rest 90 seconds
A2 – Wide Grip Pull-Ups 4 x 6-8; 4010; Rest 90 seconds
A1 – Flat Dumbbell Press 4 x 12-15; 3110; Rest 60 seconds
A2 – Seated Row to Waist Wide Pronated Grip 4 x 12-15; 3011; Rest 60 seconds
For hypertrophy, make sure the morning routine uses multi-joint, compound movements, while the afternoon/evening session uses a mix of both compound and single-joint movements.
If you’re looking for strength gains though, ditch the flyes and triceps kickback and use exercises than recruit more motor units.
More than Just Doing Double the Work
Of course, you can’t go about doing twice as much work as you are doing usually. This would be counter-productive, really fast. You will however, do more work than you are used to.
You should start gradually increasing the volume and the workout time. Start with 20-30 minutes for both sessions, and work your way up to 60 minutes. It might take 10-12 weeks to build up to that volume using twice a day training. The norm is 30-40 minutes per session, two times per day, for most people with average recovery and life stress. Athletes, and people who recover well, and have low life stress, can build up to a 1h session twice daily quicker.
There is also another option, do a longer AM workout and a shorter PM workout. This is a common option, but not the best one. It will however bring faster results to do 40 minutes in the AM and 20 minutes in the PM than just 60 minutes, once a day.
The Proper Schedule
Coach Poliquin was a big advocate of the 3 days out of 5 training-split, and used it for the majority of his clients, especially athletes. It allowed a greater frequency of stimulus, which was one of the reasons for the success of this method.
Doing workouts on a 5-day rotation allowed each workout to be done 6 times in a 30-day period. But the typical 7-day cycle only allowed the same workout stimulus 4 times per 30-day period.
It goes without saying that the stress imposed by a 5-day cycle, working out twice per day, can quickly become taxing. This is why coach Poliquin recommended doing this split for 2 cycles, then train only once per day for one cycle of 5 days, and go back to training two times a day.
Hence, on your 30-day month, you would do a total of 4 twice a day training cycles and 2 once a day training cycles. You can, however, follow this rotation for up to 8-12 weeks, depending on your results and your recovery.
This is how it looks:
1st Cycle: AM & PM
2nd Cycle: AM & PM
3rd Cycle: AM ONLY
4th Cycle: AM & PM
5th Cycle: AM & PM
6th Cycle: AM ONLY
This not only brings variety to the training, but also helps with recovery as well. It will keep the more fast-twitch dominant athlete on their toes and make their nervous system adapt more rapidly to the imposed demands, or will help the bodybuilder to build more muscle in a shorter period.
The Method to the Twice a Day Madness
You can use a lot of training techniques with the twice a day method. However, it is best to keep it simple, especially in the beginning. You need to adapt to the training volume and the energy required for two training sessions per day.
A great method is the typical alternate sets, where you would pair agonist and antagonist muscles together in the A1-A2 fashionin the morning, and then you do the same muscle group in an A1-A2 super-set in the afternoon
An example for chest & back would look like this:
A1 – Bench Press BB 45º Incline Mid Grip; 5 x 4-6; 4010; Rest 120 seconds
A2 – Bench Press BB Flat Mid Grip; 5 x 6-8; 3210; Rest 120 seconds
B1 – Pull-Ups Sternum Mid Grip; 4 x 4-6; 4010; Rest 90 seconds
B2 – Chin-Ups Mid Supinated Grip; 4 x 6-8; 3012; Rest 90 seconds
A1 – Bench Press DB 45º Incline; 5 x 8-10; 4010; Rest 10 seconds
A2 – Flyes Flat; 5 x 12-15; 3110; Rest 120 seconds
A3 – Lat Pulldown Wide Pronated Grip; 3010; 5 x 8-10; Rest 10 seconds
A4 – Pulldown Straight Arm Standing Mid Pronated Grip; 5 x 15-20; 3011; Rest 120 seconds
Using two training sessions a day can literally catapult your strength and hypertrophy gains into another realm, if you use it wisely. Be mindful of the proper way to introduce it and make sure your recovery is adequate.
Another point worth mentioning is that you should keep in mind the critical drop off point. This is critical if you are looking to make strength gains, but it applies to all training as well. Twice a day training is no excuse for garbage reps!
The Strength Sensei Legacy Team