Should You Work Out Twice A Day?
Like many athletes, cyclists often assume that more is always better, and for some that means doing it twice: a blast for breakfast and another one after work. We are bad at this. We always want to do more, to ride faster more often to get faster or climb higher mountains to get better at climbs. Well, here’s another “more is better” goal that just might ring true: Some studies have shown that working out twice a day may be better for your metabolism and performance than one daily workout.
For example, a 2019 study published in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology found that exercising twice a day may be beneficial for your mitochondria (the powerhouses of your cells that play a role in energy production), as well as for fat oxidation. And a 2022 study published in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that twice-daily strength sessions resulted in greater muscle gains than once-daily workouts.
Of course, more isn’t always better. The key is finding the balance between pushing your fitness to the next level and finding enough time for recovery. To help you with that, cycling experts weigh the pros and cons of working out twice a day and offer tips on how to do multi-workout days safely and effectively.
What Constitutes Working Out Twice a Day
Let’s be clear about what experts mean when they say “working out.” They’re not talking about cycling in the morning and walking your dog in the afternoon (though you should certainly get in more steps or movement of any kind when you can!). A workout session feels harder than a 4 on a scale of 1 to 10, Garret Seacat, C.S.C.S., professional cycling coach with Absolute Endurance tells Bicycling. This is known as rate of perceived exertion (RPE), where 1 equals the effort of sitting on a couch and 10 is the intensity of an all-out sprint.
Heart rate is also a great indicator of a workout, particularly when cycling, according to the experts. Katie Pierson, a certified spinning instructor and personal trainer with Girl Bike Love says most of your workouts should fall within the moderate-intensity range, where your heart rate is between 64 and 76 percent of its maximum. Anything lower than that is probably too low-intensity to qualify as a workout.
The duration of exercise also plays a role in your workouts. Aim for at least 30 minutes at a moderate intensity, but high-intensity sessions can be shorter (say, 15 to 20 minutes).
The Pros of Working Out Twice A Day
Doubling up your cycling workouts can be a great way to accumulate training volume without the fatigue that comes from one long session, Seacat says.
For example, splitting your one-hour ride into two 30-minute chunks will allow you to focus on technical goals, like a faster cadence or single-leg pedalling drills, in one session, while making endurance or speed gains with intervals during the other, Seacat says. Tackling 30 minutes at a time can feel more manageable mentally and physically, too, compared to an hour or longer.
Of course, both of your workouts don’t have to be rides. You can always cross-train with resistance training, yoga, running, or swimming. Mixing up your workouts also adds more variety to your training, keeping you interested and engaged, Seacat notes. This perk may prevent your exercise routine from feeling stale, which helps you stay consistent.
If you make one of your workouts a strength session, you can use the opportunity to shore up weak muscles that may be holding you back during your rides. For example, lagging core and back muscles can make it challenging or uncomfortable to maintain a forward hinge and flat back when ramping up your mileage. Targeting these muscles during a strength workout can help you build a more resilient and efficient cycling posture. And it may feel easier to fit strength training into your schedule when you can double it up on a day when you’re also riding.
A small 2019 study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that men who did two daily workouts (one endurance cycling session and one HIIT cycling session, two hours apart) three times a week for three weeks improved mitochondrial efficiency, whereas men who did once-daily workouts six days a week for three weeks did not. (They once-daily group did the endurance session at night and HIIT the following morning, leaving 14 hours between workouts.)
This research suggests that working out twice a day may improve your body’s ability to create adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy currency of every cell. Greater mitochondrial efficiency translates to better performance because the more efficient your mitochondria, the more efficiently you can produce energy which means you can keep pedalling stronger for longer.
Working out twice a day may also promote improved glycogen storage and utilization, Seacat says. (Glycogen is the stored form of carbohydrates that your muscles use to create energy.) “Training again before full recovery can stimulate different adaptations, pushing the body to use fat as fuel more efficiently,” Seacat explains.
Also, quick, higher-intensity workouts mixed throughout the day—even ones that last about 10 minutes—can improve metabolic health, according to research.
The Cons of Working Out Twice a Day
It can be challenging for many people to find time for one workout in a day, much less two. To make two-a-days happen, you may have to pack two sets of workout clothes and post-workout snacks, maybe make an extra trip to the gym, and/or hop in the shower twice. That calls for a ton of additional time and effort when you probably have enough on your plate already. (Some may find this to be a pro, though, if you can’t squeeze in one full hour of a workout, but do have a place in your schedule for 30 minutes in the morning and another in the afternoon.)
Other drawbacks to pulling a double are more physical. In particular, the shorter rest periods between workouts may shortchange your results by not giving your muscles enough time to recover before working them again. Not only could this make your workouts less effective, but you face a greater risk of injury and overtraining, says Pierson.
Plus, exercising twice a day can wear you down over time, causing you to feel overly fatiguedeven on rest days. So it’s important to look for signs of overtraining and make sure your schedule still allows for days off.
Finally, if you’re training for a long ride, like a century, it’s important to practice long stretches in the saddle. So while you might break up your midweek rides or workouts, sticking with one long ride at least once a week is still key.
4 Top Tips for Working Out Twice a Day
Before you consider doubling up on workouts, be sure to build a solid foundation of cycling and strength training. “A good goal would be to have over a year of training before moving into something of this level,” Seacat says.
If you want to try working out twice a day, Pierson suggests starting with just one double session per week, making sure to follow a heavy workload with a lighter workout or recovery day. Gradually increase the frequency of these days as your body adjusts to the new training schedule.
“For most people, doing two-a-day workouts two or three times a week should be the maximum to allow adequate recovery and prevent overtraining,” Seacat notes.
Consider these other tips for getting the most from your two workouts a day:
1. Keep One Workout Low Intensity
Whether you’re doing one strength and one cycling workout or doubling up on your rides, be sure only one session is higher intensity. For example, pair a cycling interval workout with an endurance-focused ride or low-intensity lifting routine. “This way, you’re not sacrificing your performance,” Pierson says.
2. Allow for Ample Recovery
Spacing out your workouts so they’re at least two to six hours apart gives your body time to refuel and recuperate between bouts. This ensures your workouts are more effective than if you waited less time or tackled the two sessions back-to-back, Seacat notes.
3. Fuel Right
Another important aspect to working out twice a day is fuelling for the exercise. Keep in mind that your energy needs will be higher on double workout days, so it’s essential to get enough food and water. Skimping on nutrition and hydration will cause your energy and power levels to drop during your second workout, Pierson says. Plus, it will dampen recovery, which makes your workouts less effective.
Eat a snack that’s rich in carbohydrates and lower in fat and protein one hour before each workout. “Have at least one gram of carbohydrate per kilogram [of body weight],” says Roxana Ehsani, RDN, CSSD, a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics and adjunct professor at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. A cyclist who weighs 70 kilograms needs approximately 70 grams of carbs before cycling or strength training. “In food terms, that could be a medium banana, which is about 27 grams of carbs, plus a Clif bar, which has about 44 grams, hitting about 71 grams [total],” Ehsani says.
If your ride goes over the 60-minute mark, supplement with a sports drink, gel, or snack that provides 30 to 60 grams of carbs, she says.
Then, begin refueling right away after your workout. “Don’t wait until you’re hungry,” Ehsani says. She suggests starting the recovery process by sipping liquids like a sports drink, a glass of chocolate milk, or a protein shake. During the window between your first and second workout, be sure to get 1 to 1.2 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of bodyweight every hour and add a protein source to help rebuild and repair. “Having about 20 grams of protein postworkout is a good rule of thumb,” Ehsani says.
4. Do the More Important Workout First
When deciding whether to do a cycling or a strength workout first, consider which one is more important to your fitness goals. “If you want to build your cycling endurance and cardiovascular fitness, do cycling first,” Pierson says. If your primary goal is to build strength, then more of your two-a-days should begin with a strength workout. And if both matter equally, rotate which workout comes first, she adds. Getting the more important workout done first ensures you’re tackling it when you’re fresh.
When all else fails, listen to your body. “If your body needs a rest day, it’s important to take it,” Pierson says. Similarly, it’s fine to dial back to one-workout days if you find that two-a-days are leaving you overly sore and fatigued.