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Should you work out twice a day for optimum fitness?

Two short bursts of exercise a day is as beneficent as one long workout. But is it the correct option for you?

Working out twice a day is a good way to fend off a sedentary lifestyle. (Photo: Istockphoto)

There are a few basic laws to designing a workout schedule. If your goal is to gain muscle, you must eat more than you usually do, and add enough stress to your muscles to grow. If your goal is to lose muscle, then you must eat less than you usually do, i.e. be in a calorie deficit, so you can burn your excess weight during workouts. Activity and nutrition go hand-in-hand. Both are difficult to maintain, and if you fail in either, your goals will evade you. “If you’ve hit a wall in terms of nutrition, then you must add more activity,” says Tejaswini Pandit, head of training at F45 Training India and a fitness and nutrition coach.

A 2017 paper in the International Journal Of Obesity measured how time spent being sedentary increases cardiovascular risks and adds circumference to one’s waist. So, does adding more activity mean two short burst workouts in a day, instead of just one? “If you train twice a day and still eat more than you should, you won’t get the results. Assuming you are on a calorie deficit and if you train twice a day, it would be good to do one cardio session and one session of weight training,” says Pandit. She adds that cardio sessions are mainly of two kinds: HIIT (high intensity interval training) or steady-state (working out at a consistent speed and level of intensity for the entire duration of the workout, like a 15-minute jog or cycling).

“Whether you want to gain or lose, doing weight-training twice is an absolute no. Only body-builders do this, and they’re usually on recovery substances. Remember that when you are unable to perform at 100 percent, then you are not burning the calories you are supposed to burn with that session,” says Pandit. She has tried working out twice a day herself, especially in the last eight weeks before a body-building competition. When she does so, Pandit divides her day into a cardio session in the morning, and a weight-training workout in the evening followed by more cardio. “It is eight weeks of absolute hell, but it achieves maximum fat loss,” she says.

In an article on Medium.com, engineer and author Anangsha Alammyam gives a detailed outline of her two-workouts-a-day plan which helped her reduce her waist from 32 to 28 inches. “The best part about this training plan is that you only need to spend 30 minutes each day for six days a week and can do all the exercises within the confines of your room. No matter how busy a routine you have, if you are determined to lose inches around your belly, you can fit this schedule into your life without making significant sacrifices. The only equipment you’ll need is a yoga mat and you’re ready to start,” she writes.

Alammyam started off with exercising once a day, but then split her activity into two sessions. Her workout plan for losing abdominal fat consisted of “a 10-minute session in the morning and a 15-minute session in the evening. Both sessions were preceded by two-minute warm-up stretches and a few seconds of cool-down body movements.”

There is enough science to back the two-a-day plan. The biggest advantage though, is that it drastically reduces your sedentary time. When your body gets used to exertion twice a day, it responds with a higher level of alertness, a longer state of being in an anabolic (muscle-building) state and is able to synthesise proteins better. It also comes down to how much time you have, because a workout is incomplete without a warm-up preceding it, and a cool down after.

“The second part of the activity could be something as simple as taking your dog for a walk, or taking the stairs a few times in the day. Sometimes these are enough for two spikes of calorie burning a day. If the second session is low intensity, then there is no problem. Anybody can make a two-a-day plan with minimal risk of over-training,” says Pandit. Her advice makes sense because of two major reasons. The first is the difficulty most people face to motivate themselves to do even one session of exercise, let alone two. A research paper from 2001 published in the Journal of American College of Nutrition found that the effects of three 10-minute bouts of exercise per day, two 15-minute bouts per day and one 30-minute bout per day for improving weight loss had similar effects.

For those who are obsessed with losing weight or gaining muscle, a two-a-day plan needs to be well researched if they want to avoid injuries and training when fatigued. These are both detrimental to long-term and consistent fitness. As an article in CoachMag, titled Double Your Fat Burn By Working Out Twice A Day puts it, “Don’t be misled by the super-fit looking folk who seem to live in the gym…Chances are they’re not fit because they train often; they train often because they’re fit enough to do so.”

Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writes on football and fitness.

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