training twice a day

Benefits and Risks of Two-a-Day Training for Cyclists

 

By Jim Rutberg,
CTS Pro Coach,
co-author of “The Time-Crunched Cyclist”,
Training Essentials for Ultrarunning

Time-Crunched Cyclists often struggle to carve enough time out of their schedules to complete individual long rides. To accumulate more overall training time, many ask whether they can ride twice in a day instead of once. This may mean they can fit in a short ride before work and another ride at lunch or after work. Or they are commuting to work and home again in the evening. On the other end of the spectrum, some of our aging athletes who are retired have time on their hands and want to ride twice a day. Two-a-days can be an effective way to add aerobic training volume and help athletes focus specific training sessions on interval work, but they have risks and downsides, too. Here’s what you need to know about double days and how to use them effectively.

Why Time-Crunched Cyclists ride twice a day

A number of factors have made two-a-days appealing for some people. Smart trainers, Zwift, Peloton, and other brands have made indoor cycling fun, interactive, and community oriented. Descending into your dark basement once to ride a fluid trainer and watch old Tour de France videos took dedication. Twice in the same day seemed masochistic. But a 30-60 minute early morning session on Zwift and a training ride or group ride after work has a different ring to it.

Bike commuting has been another rationale for two-a-days. More people are riding to and from work. These rides add to your overall training volume and some people can incorporate interval training into some commutes.

Does an E-bike count as training?

What if you’re commuting by e-bike? If it’s a pedal-assist e-bike you can still produce your normal endurance ride power output or ride at FTP and work just as hard – from a physiological standpoint – as on a purely mechanical bike. You’ll go faster for the same effort level, but riding an e-bike can absolutely contribute to aerobic conditioning and even interval work.

Is Riding Twice a Day Beneficial for Training?

As with everything else in athletic training, it depends. There are certainly some potential benefits, but they come with downside risks. The benefits include:

Higher cumulative training volume

When Chris Carmichael and I wrote “The Time-Crunched Cyclist” and when coaches advocate for high-intensity, low volume training, it’s out of necessity. In the absence of volume, intensity is needed to maintain or increase workload. But spending more time on the bike has always worked, too. So, if two-a-days increase a cyclist’s weekly, monthly, and annual workload, that added volume is great for developing base aerobic fitness, improving metabolic efficiency, increasing mitochondrial density, etc.

Freshness for Interval Training

Whether you’re doing intervals or an endurance ride, you perform better when you’re fresh. Average power output  and interval performances decline as you get tired. During short workouts you can focus on high quality efforts. This is one of the reasons cyclist can build so much fitness with relatively short indoor workouts.


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Quicker Glycogen and Fluid Replenishment

There’s also the idea that shorter workouts, even with high intensity, may be easier to recover from. You don’t deplete your glycogen stores as much during short workouts, so replenishing carbohydrate stores can happen more quickly. After a one-hour high intensity session, you can eat a moderate meal and get on with your day, and then have energy to ride again after work. A 2-3 hour session digs a deeper energetic hole you have to fill in with nutrition, hydration, and rest.

Risks and Downsides of Two-a-Days

Overtraining, or at least diminishing returns, is most obvious risk posed by two-a-days. You can easily ramp up total training workload too quickly by using two-a-days to boost weekly training volume. And it’s not just the training stress. Two-a-days increase energy expenditure, and can contribute to relative energy deficiency (RED-S) if you don’t modify your energy intake accordingly. Depending on how frequently you do two-a-days and how much you space them out, you can also significantly hinder recovery between workouts, and hence stall training progress.

The other downside to focusing too heavily on two-a-days is that there are benefits to doing longer individual rides compared to two shorter rides, as described in this article. Even if average power output is constant, the physical strain of the fourth hour of a ride is greater than the physical strain of the first hour. Longer individual rides build a cyclist’s durability so you’re ready for those longer rides. Long rides are also important for testing out nutrition and hydration strategies, and for testing your bike position. Your hands, back, bum, feet, or shoulders may not be sore after an hour or two, but you may realize you have a problem with a contact point (handlebars, brake levers, saddle, pedals) during a longer ride.

Practical Recommendations

Generally speaking, spending more time on the bike is beneficial for performance, whether that’s from more frequent short rides or from making your rides longer. If a time-crunched cyclist has the motivation and ability to ride more, I’m going to do whatever I can to make that additional ride time beneficial. If you are going to ride two-a-days, here are some recommendations:

  • Do the harder workout when you have energy.

    As long as you ate a broad spectrum of foods the day before, you should be rested and have full muscle glycogen stores in the morning, making it a good time for hard intervals. If you perform better late in the day, make your morning workout a moderate endurance ride.

  • Add two-a-days slowly.

    Start out with one two-a-day per week and see how you handle it before adding a second. Remember that adding workload is a good thing, so long as it’s added slowly.

  • Don’t forego all longer rides.

    You can get to 12 hours of training per week with multiple 60-90 minute rides, or with fewer sessions that include some 2+ hour rides. If you have the time availability in your schedule, adding volume by lengthening individual rides is beneficial, too.

  • Eat and sleep more.

    Some athletes underestimate the energy expenditure and training stress because shorter rides separated by several hours don’t feel as taxing as one longer workout. For two-a-days to improve your performance, or perhaps more importantly, to keep two-a-days from destroying your performance, you have to consume enough calories to support the workload and get enough high quality sleep to facilitate recovery.

For me, the biggest thing keeping me from riding two-a-days more often is all the laundry.


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Comments 10

  1. Entiendo los comentarios para personas de menos de 40 años pero para personas adultas como yo que pasamos de los 60 años lo he considerado contraproducente. Lo he practicado y siento mucho desgaste y dolor físico en mis piernas que al tercer día parece que explotarán y l recuperación es muy larga para volver a un estado normal, cosa que no es buena porque pierdes la condición física que traía. Yo personalmente prefiero entrenar todos los días y hacer sesiones suaves y sesiones más fuertes en día intermedios y descansar 2 veces a la semana y me ha dado muy buenos resultados. Tampoco considero que el dolor se debe combatir con analgésicos porque creo que nos hacemos daño en forma consciente por el solo hecho de no querer parar de rodar.

    1. Post
      Author

      Luis,
      Here’s the translated version of your comment, so you know what I’m responding to and other readers can know as well: “I understand the comments for people under 40 years old but for adults like me who are over 60 years old I have considered it counterproductive. I have practiced it and I feel a lot of wear and tear and physical pain in my legs that on the third day seem like they will explode and the recovery is very long to return to a normal state, which is not good because you lose the physical condition that you had. I personally prefer to train every day and do light sessions and stronger sessions on intermediate days and rest twice a week and it has given me very good results. I also do not consider that pain should be combated with painkillers because I believe that we consciously hurt ourselves just by not wanting to stop riding.”

      I would respond that athletes 60 and up do tend to benefit from longer recovery periods between rides and workouts, especially strenuous workouts. On the other hand, we work with plenty of people in their 50s and 60s who commute and from on bicycles and therefore ride double days at least once a week or a few times per week. The utility of double days varies by athlete and we’re glad you’ve found a training pattern that works well for you. – Jim Rutberg, CTS Pro Coach

  2. Very helpful article. I started training 2 a day a month back. Initially it felt good and did 2 a day thrice a week, but after a week i ended up with exhaustion. The problem was i did not listen to body, after couple of 2 a day workout i felt the fatigue but yet continued next day, that was a mistake. So took 3 days off. when i returned to workout, could feel some thing was different. Self was able to push further easily and felt great after workout.
    What i could understand was after intense workouts one needs to give time to body to adapt.

  3. Very insightful. As a lifelong competitive swimmer I have been doing 2 a days for many years. I did take several years off to raise kids but returned to doubles 10 years ago. I will say they are harder than previously.
    At 49 I took up 140.6 training and racing. The double swims from previous years certainly aided in that transition. I found it easier to train longer hours and more days of the week.
    I will,also add that I learned to listen to my body and incorporate a recovery week every four weeks or so.

  4. Pingback: Benefits and Risks of Two-a-Day Training for Cyclists – FitandFunNow.com

  5. I do understand that many reading this are interested in the effects on performance. You touched briefly on possible benefits to fat metabolism. If my goal is primarily to lose fat, are two a days better than one ride per day? What other steps and/or readings can you suggest?

    1. If your goal is to lose fat, then you are best to make changes in your diet. Exercise is an ineffective means of losing body fat because your body composition is a direct reflection of what and how much you eat, not how much you exercise. When then talk improved fat metabolism that is more towards substrate utilization during a workout which has a very small impact on body composition.

      1. Renee,
        I feel like what you are saying is more to the issue of gaining fat or maintaining when at the composition you are trying to be. If a person already has fat and looking for a faster way to get rid of it, would it not make sense that more exercise = more fat loss?

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