How Many Times Should You Run Per Day – Once a Day Versus Twice a Day Workouts
By Rick Morris
How many times should you run per day? Have you ever studied the workouts patterns of top level competitive distance runners? Many of them do doubles – they workout two times per day. Does that mean you should do the same thing? Should you start doing doubles? Will working out twice per day make you a better runner? I get asked that question frequently in my coaching business. Many of my clients think that two a day workouts must help them improve their running performance. It only makes sense – more running should equal higher performance, right? Not always. There are instances in which twice daily workouts will improve performance a bit, but it’s not for everyone. In fact, it’s not for most of us.
The first thing to look at when deciding whether to perform two workouts per day is whether it will improve your performance more than one a day sessions. Let’s take a look at the various training components and how they relate to the number of daily training sessions.
Your VO2 max (maximal oxygen uptake) is one of the measures of your fitness and how well you will perform as a runner. Will two day workouts help develop your VO2 max? The research says no. A study done a number of years ago at the University of Akron took a look at the effect of one a day workouts versus two a day workouts on VO2 max. The researchers concluded that increasing daily workouts from 1 per day to 2 per day was not associated with improvements of VO2 max. They also found that the runners that worked out twice per day had decreased levels of blood glucose which may have had an adverse effect on subsequent workouts.
Your vVO2 max or running velocity when you reach your VO2 max is an even more reliable indicator of running performance. Will running twice per day help improve your vVO2 max? The answer to this one is a very positive maybe. The best way to improve your vVO2 max is by running at high intensity paces – faster than 5K pace. Running two shorter workouts instead of one longer training run will allow you to train at a faster pace. In this case, the two faster workouts could give you an advantage in improving your speed and vVO2 max.
Lactate Turn Point
How about your lactate turn point, lactate threshold or stamina? Will twice daily workouts help improve those running systems? As with VO2 max, the answer this one is probably not. Increases in stamina and lactate threshold are dependent upon holding a quality pace for long periods of time. So, one longer tempo or lactate threshold run will usually be a more efficient way than two shorter workouts to improve stamina. One way that two a day workouts may be beneficial is by doing an easy run earlier in the day to decrease carbohydrate stores. That could make your afternoon lactate threshold run more race specific. You could also do an easy run in the afternoon after a morning lactate threshold run to assist with recovery from your harder morning session.
I have some marathon clients that are under the impression that doing two daily 10 mile runs will give them the same benefit as one 20 mile run. That is simply not true. There is no way to make two shorter endurance runs equal in physiological benefits of one long endurance run. The purpose of long endurance runs is to train your body to run non-stop for long periods of time. In this case, two a day workouts are simply not the way to go. You could use a short afternoon easy run to help with recovery from your long morning run. Just make sure you keep the afternoon session short and easy. Don’t add in a second workout on long run day just to add mileage. If an easy afternoon session helps with your recovery, go for it. Otherwise skip the second run.
So what’s the bottom line? All that information is great, but should you be doing two a day workouts? It really depends upon your experience level, your goal and how much time you have to dedicate to training.
If you’re a new runner or a relatively inexperienced runner, stick with one run per day. As a new runner you’re putting your body, mind and muscles through a whole new level of exercise that’s putting new stresses on every part of your body. Your muscles need a lot of recovery time until they gain a base level of strength and endurance. Two a day workouts won’t allow enough time for your muscles to strengthen and recover.
Even if you have been running for years there is no reason to do two a day workouts if you are running for fun or fitness. One workout per day will give our body all of the stimulation it needs to promote a high level of fitness. Moving to two a day workouts would increase your chance of energy and would probably become a mental drain. Stay with one per day workouts.
Now we come to a category of runner that may or may not be able to benefit from twice daily running. Even in this category, most runners are better off sticking with one running workout per day. Twice daily running may provide some additional training stimulus, but you need to determine if the small benefits are worth the extra risk of injury and burnout. Is twice daily running for you? – try answering the following questions.
- Are you having a hard time making further improvements or maintaining your current performance levels with one workout per day?
- Are you a professional runner or a very serious amateur runner?
- Do you have enough free time in your schedule to workout two times per day without causing a significant amount of stress?
- Are you able to run injury free at your current level?
If you answered yes to all of those questions, twice daily running may be a good alternative. If you answered no to any question you may want to stick with one workout per day for now.
Moving to Two Workouts per Day
If you’ve decided to begin running doubles you should begin slowly. Don’t start running twice per day seven days per week. Begin with just a couple of double workouts per week. Start by adding a second easy run on your harder workout days, with the exception of your long run day. Doing a second run on your speed day and lactate threshold or tempo run days is a good starting point. Once you are able to handle that schedule without problems you could also begin adding a second run to your recovery days or moderate training days. Avoid a second run on your long run day until you have been doing doubles for at least six months.
Monitor your progress over the first 6 months of your double workout schedule. Is your performance level increasing? Are you getting the results you wanted? If your results are satisfactory you are a good candidate for double workouts. Are your race performances declining? Are you suffering from more injuries? Are you having problems with recovery? If so, you should consider moving back to one workout per day.