exercise: boost results
Working out twice a day – smart weight-loss strategy or reckless routine? Sarah Ivory reveals how to do two-a-days the safe way, and pummel pounds in the process!
‘By separating an hour-long workout into two 30-minute sessions, you’re able to rest in between and push harder throughout each session’
Could you hit the gym twice a day? The truth is, you probably could. People do two-a-days all the time. Busy commuters cycle to and from work. Body builders split their daily weightlifting routine into two smaller workouts. Novice triathletes start the day with a swim and end it with a cycle. Active mummies walk the dog in the morning and then head to bootcamp with friends. Your body is capable of doing more than one sweat session if you really want it to. But the question is – is it worth it?
Is it for you?
For some exercisers, two-a-days are a no-brainer; numerous studies show that, when planned correctly, doing two workouts in one day is a very effective training method for those wanting to build muscle, race ultra-distances or compete in multi-discipline events. But the jury is out on whether working out once or twice a day is most beneficial for weight loss. In fact, when it comes to losing weight, a plethora of scientific literature confirms our bodies respond better to intensity of exercise than duration. The take-home message? Weight-loss fans should split one long workout into two parts and then perform at least one part at near maximum effort (think: 75-85 per cent of heart rate max) to reap results.
There are plenty of waist-whittling benefits to be had by splitting a sweat session in two – researchers from the University of New Mexico note that EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption, or the metabolic-boosting ‘after-burn’ effect) increases for at least two hours after exercise. Put simply, your body will burn extra calories as it replenishes oxygen stores, removes lactate from the muscles and restores body temperature after each workout. And every calorie counts when it comes to fat loss. Of course, if you’re guilty of drifting around the gym in a semi-conscious daze and performing sub-maximal efforts on available kit, following a two-a-day schedule will offer the added benefit of encouraging you to be more results-driven about your daily plan. ‘Two-a-days should make your training more targeted and intense,’ explains celebrity trainer Hayley Newton. ‘By separating an hour-long workout into two 30-minute sessions, you are able to rest in between each one. So, in theory, you should be able to push harder throughout each session.’ Jéan LK, founder of London training studio Timed Fitness, agrees, ‘Splitting your workout not only makes it easier to fit more comprehensive sessions into your schedule, but also requires careful planning – something plenty of people fail to do.’
Staying on target
But what if working out twice in one day did mean exercising more? Turns out doubling up on the amount of daily exercise you do is a great way to hit weight-loss activity targets. The current guidelines for activity among the general community state that adults should clock 30 minutes of exercise – whether gym-going, running or gardening – five days per week. Sounds doable, right? Well, for long-term weight loss, you need to up the ante. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), fat-loss fans should aim to do 250-300 minutes of moderately intense exercise (in other words, challenging exercise) each week. That’s a whopping four to five hours of tough exercise each week – and a stroll with the dog doesn’t count!
Of course, you could aim to perform four to five gruelling sessions, but research shows that motivation drops after the 30-minute mark. So long workouts aren’t the best strategy for long-term results. ‘Exercise needs to suit the individual, otherwise you won’t stick to it,’ agrees Hayley. ‘Finding time to train isn’t easy but you must /make/ time for exercise. Get up an hour early and do a 30-minute cardio session. Then do another 30 minutes of strength work in the evening.’ Put like that, it certainly sounds more achievable, right?
It’s clear that exercising twice a day does boast weight-loss benefits, but it’s not without its problems. Crucially, it’s important to keep in mind what you’re physically capable of. ‘It takes a certain level of fitness to start this style of training,’ warns Hayley. ‘You need to get the go-ahead from your doctor beforehand, and then start slowly. For some people, a brisk 30-minute walk is tough enough.’ Don’t be misled by the super-fit looking folk who seem to live in the gym, either. Chances are they’re not fit because they train often; they train often because they’re fit enough to do so. Every exerciser has to start somewhere, and the best place to begin is with the basics before progressing on to two-a-days.
It’s also important to consider why you want to exercise twice a day – is it a logical way to reach your weight-loss goal or are you simply addicted to working out? According to research from the University of Southern California, exercise addiction affects three per cent of us, and it increases the risk of injury or illness. Clocking up extra workout hours doesn’t signal a problem, but if it’s accompanied by withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety or irritability, you should consider cutting back rather than doing more. ‘Rest between double-workout days is crucial,’ adds Hayley, ‘Exercise twice a day every day and you’ll fatigue pretty quickly, not to mention increase your risk of burn-out.’ The right amount of recovery – not only between exercise days, but also between exercise sessions – is key. ‘You need to leave a minimum of four to six hours between sessions to recover fully,’ warns Jéan, ‘and the dedicated approach to your health needs to apply to all aspects of your weight-loss journey, which includes staying on top of your nutritional needs and getting adequate amounts of sleep.’ So the harder you work out, the longer you’ll need to recover. Capiche?
Choosing your workouts
Think exercising twice daily is the best approach for you? That’s great news. Unfortunately, any old workout won’t do – working the same muscle group twice, for instance, will only wear you down. Here’s how to make your AM and PM sessions work well together.
1. Do different workouts in the morning and evening. Unless you’re training for a specific sport, doing the same discipline or working the same body part twice in one day will only result in fatigue.
2. Find a balance between high and low intensity. Don’t do two vigorous cardio or two heavy weights sessions in a row. Mix high, moderate and low intensities to keep muscles guessing and stay enthused.
3. Separate your schedule into cardio and strength training. Perform a cardio session in the morning when you have bundles of energy and your strength session in the evening when you’re feeling focused.
4. Choose activities that you enjoy – hiking, cycling, team or club sports. The more you can minimise the psychological stress of exercising, the better it is for your body. When it comes to weight loss, anything that gets your heart pumping works.
5. Following a strength programme? Split it into two sessions. Target the large muscle groups in the morning with compound moves like burpees. In the evening, focus on small muscle groups with isolation exercises like bicep curls.
6. Rest, rest, rest. This approach is not about doing as much activity as possible, but about performing at the best of your ability. Rest is key to staying healthy and maintaining exercise quality. Have one to two days off scheduled activity each week.