You see the advice (including here) to run mileage, do hard workouts, strength train, do mobility work, and somehow sleep enough to recover. “How do I fit it all in?” you might wonder. Some people will suggest running fewer days per week to fit in strength training. But for many of you reading, you likely don’t want to run less. You like to run and you want to improve your running. A possible solution: two-a-day workout days.
Elites and high mileage athletes use two runs per day to increase their mileage (and sometimes a third workout for strength – elites do not skip strength training). Two runs is a perfectly valid approach to two-a-day workouts for those running over 60-70 miles per week. However, for the average recreational athlete – novice runners to Boston Qualifiers – I would recommend completing one run and one strength session on double days, rather than two runs.
Why strength training as a second workout?
- Fitting everything in: Strength training is part of a well-structured, effective training plan. Beyond the benefits to your running, strength training benefits your overall health, including improved bone density and lower body fat percentage.
- Strength is speed: Strength training improves your running economy and power output. Essentially, you become more efficient at any given pace and can generate more power – making you both faster and more resistant to fatigue.
- Injury prevention: Muscular imbalances and weaknesses are one of the primary causes of injury in runners (along with training errors). Even just one strength training session per week will reduce your risk of injury.
- Variety: Specificity is incredibly important to optimizing performance in a particular distance/training cycle – but to become a better runner in the long-term, you need variety. Beyond the physiological benefits mentioned above, variety stimulates the mind and prevents burn-out.
Benefits of Two-a-Day Workouts
- Recovery time. Dividing up run and strength training provides more recovery time between the workouts. Whether you stack your run and strength into one long session or divide them up to morning and evening, you have more time between hard workouts to recover. If you split the session into two workouts, you are able to recover enough from the run to work hard again in your strength session.
- Schedule. For many runners, it works to do their running workout in the morning (before work) and strength in the evening (after work). They can’t necessarily commit to a 90-minute long session, but 60 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes the evening is feasible. f you have kids to watch, a second workout like a strength session can easily be done from home. (See this post on building a home gym for runners.)
It is important to highlight that this approach does not work for every runner. For some runners, double workout days stress their body too much. Some runners prefer to run three to four days per week and strength train on separate days – and if that works, that is what they should do! But for some runners, especially those running five to six days per week, this approach allows them to balance their runs, strength workouts, and recovery.
Keep Hard Days Hard, Easy Days Easy
Strength workouts cause adaption by first causing microtrauma to your muscles – just like a speed workout or tempo run. By doubling hard workouts and strength training, your easy days remain actually easy – rather than all of your training falling into that less effective moderate zone. The hard days apply enough stress to elicit adaptation, while the easy days allow your body to fully recover and therefore adapt.
The other benefit? You aren’t doing an intense workout of squats and deadlifts the day before a hard run.
As with any increase in the frequency and volume of your training, two-a-day workouts do pose some risk if not done properly. There is such a thing as going too hard on your hard days. You must consider your recovery rate, including the stress applied in your running workouts, your nutrition, your sleep, your age, and other life stressors. If you feel overly tired in training or your performance begins to suffer, scale back first on the two-a-day workouts.
Nutrition and Hydration
The more you exercise, the more conscious you should be of your fluid intake. Drink plenty of water throughout the day and, if you sweat heavily during either workout, supplement electrolytes as well.
Experts offer mixed advice on the importance of the metabolic recovery window. However, if there is a time it does matter, it’s when you are doing two hard workouts within a short window of time. (As a note: as a coach, I encourage athletes to take advantage of the 30-60 minute recovery window for eating after long runs and hard workouts, because the possible recovery benefits outweigh the virtually non-existent detriments and to spread energy available throughout the day). Eat a combination of protein and carbs within 30-60 minutes of completing both workouts. This will encourage glycogen storage, muscle repair, and prevent too much of an energy deficit.
The simplest equation of training is that stress + rest = adaptation. The more you stress your body, the more you need to recover. Sleep provides the most effective recovery; you cannot foam roll or supplement your way out of inadequate sleep. On the night of a two-a-day workout, allow yourself a bit of extra sleep to optimize recovery.
How to Implement Two-a-Day Workouts:
- Start small. Begin with a manageable running workout (such as short interval fartleks) and a 10-15 minute strength workout.
- The base building season is the ideal time to introduce strength sessions are second workouts. Since the training load is less intense, the risk of overtraining is lower.
- Do NOT start two-a-day workouts less than eight weeks out from a goal race. At this point, your training load is intense and you do not want to overstress your body.
- Do not do more than two or three two-a-day workouts per week. You want to ensure you are recovering well – otherwise, any benefits of two-a-day workouts negated by overtraining.
Monday: Speed or hill workout + strength
Tuesday: Easy run
Wednesday: Tempo run + strength
Thursday: Cross-train or easy run
Friday: Easy run
Saturday: Long run
Two-a-day workouts are not for every runner. But for the intermediate runner to competitive age-grouper, they provide the opportunity to incorporate strength training while still maintaining an appropriate training load of running workouts.
Do you include two-a-day workouts in your training?