When I recently started working with some new clients I started thinking more about the pros and cons of training twice a day for cyclists. These thoughts were further developed during my participation in the TrainingPeaks Endurance Coaching Summit earlier this month.
So is cycling twice a day too much? In most cases, cycling twice a day is not too much. Many athletes train twice a day and there is no reason for cyclists to be any different. The important factors are the overall volume and intensity combined with fitness at any given time. In many cases, cycling twice a day can be very beneficial.
Training twice a day can be a very practical way of fitting training around a busy lifestyle or adding extra volume and focus without compromising your other life commitments. In many cases, two sessions can be better than one.
How can cycle training twice a day be of benefit?
The important factors in getting fitter are the amount of training you do and how hard you do it. To a large extent, the greater the volume the greater the gains and riding twice each day can be a great way of building the volume and also managing the intensity.
For many, it is easier to fit two shorter sessions into a daily routine than one big one. Getting up a little earlier to get on the turbo trainer or go out for a short ride of up to an hour means that you have a session under your belt before starting work or school. At the end of the day when all you may want to do is sit down, chill and eat, it can be easier to motivate yourself for a shorter session, knowing you already have something in the bank, than it would be for a longer session.
Splitting the day in two can also facilitate more focused sessions, combining a light session in the morning to build aerobic efficiency with a more intense, focused session in the evening to work on anaerobic capacity. Thus avoiding the compromise of trying to build some volume and aerobic work around an anaerobic workout and negatively impacting the adaptation. Mentally, being able to focus on a shorter session can result in a better workout that more accurately meets your needs.
If you are used to two sessions on most days, riding just once on some days can be a great way of taking a mental and physical break but without compromising your training load. It is still good for most people to take a rest day but creating ‘light and shade’ in the training week is very important in providing the loading and adaptation phases that develop fitness effectively and avoid drifting into the middle ground of mediocrity. By this middle ground, I mean where many people find themselves in a constant state of mild fatigue and unable to do the really hard sessions that stress the systems and promote fitness.
Fitting it into your routine
Fitting two sessions into a day can often be easier than fitting one longer session in. Getting up a little earlier to do a short session or combining cycling with your travel to work isn’t usually a big deal.
Having that morning session in the bank means there is less pressure on the second session, which can actually make it much easier to find motivation to do it.
Routine is everything. It can take a few weeks to organise systems to make everything as easy as possible and keep barriers and excuses to a minimum but once you have your routine it is easy to maintain. Have a place to put your kit so you can go straight to it, change and get going with minimum fuss and a routine for getting dry kit in place for when you do your next session are important. Two sessions a day can be a burden on having dry kit to ride in so it can make sense to invest in extra if you end up struggling.
If you are doing one or both sessions on an indoor trainer, having everything set up: bike on trainer, kit ready, drinks, computer, etc, so you can get started with minimal faffing removes barriers that can suck motivation.
If you are using your commute or riding outdoors then having a routine and suitable kit and nutrition ready and in place makes all the difference. Particularly on winter mornings when it can be more difficult to motivate yourself out of the door, making sure you have all the right kit in place makes all the difference.
Basically, the better and more practiced your routine, the more likely you are to make it work. After a few weeks you start to develop a habit and your cycling becomes the obvious thing to do so you don’t think about it.
Adding other types of training
Having a twice a day routine also makes it easier to add different types of training such as strength and conditioning, stretching or core stability exercises. These types of training sessions can be of great benefit but if you are limited to 4 or 5 sessions per week, it can be difficult to justify replacing time on the bike with other activities.
One obvious question may be whether it is better to do the bike session as the first or second session of the day. For most people, the answer is that it is better to do the sessions in the order that is most convenient because this minimises fatigue and leaves more energy for training and/or time for recovery. However, if you are able to choose which session to do when, it is probably better to do the session where your current goal lies as the second session of the day. For example, if you are looking to build aerobic endurance you would do your on the bike endurance session as your second session; or if you are aiming at building your maximum power you would do your weights or high-intensity intervals as your second session.
A big thing to remember is that everyone is different so work out what is good for you and develop it. Don’t think that because something works for one person, something is wrong if it isn’t working for you. Experiment and learn how to optimise your own training or if you work with a coach then ask questions, do your own research and keep improving your programme along with your fitness.
Can training twice a day be too much?
Training twice a day can be too much if you get the balance wrong and don’t allow sufficient recovery. This can happen if you make the sessions too hard or too long or you don’t allow recovery days within your programme. However, this is no different to riding once a day or even 3 times a week; doing too much for too long will result in excessive fatigue, failure to build fitness; eventually leading to illness and in some cases, chronic fatigue that requires a lengthy period of rest before resuming normal training.
Fatigue isn’t always a result of too much training, there are many factors involved and if additional stresses come into play, a training programme that worked well a few weeks previously may be way too much. Fatigue is also cumulative so it is important to allow periods of rest and easier training within the plan that will promote recovery and adaptation to the training loads.
With this in mind, it is critically important to plan rest periods but also to watch for signs of fatigue. Signs of overtraining are well documented but in simple terms, it is a case of keeping track of feelings and measurable metrics such as resting heart rate, perceived exertion during training, heart rate variability and combining these with feelings such as stress, mood, tiredness. Knowing how these things are when things are going well and watching for changes can give an early warning that it may be good to back off.
Remember that getting fitter and faster is more about consistency than anything so backing off and recovering at the right time can make the difference between a couple of days off and maintaining consistent training and a couple of weeks off followed by a struggle to get back into training and several steps back in fitness.
What sessions are good for a commute? Getting good training out of a commute can be tricky but once you have a few good sessions it can make a huge difference to your performance. The most basic thing is to make sure you are training and not just pedalling and getting tired. Check your heart rate or power meter to make sure you are in a training zone and if you aren’t then why not: too tired? not focused? too much traffic? Just riding to an from work in an aerobic zone will get you fitter but if you can get something more on a couple of days a week, even better. Assuming it is safe to do so you can try sprinting between lampposts then coasting – 3 lampposts hard, 3 lampposts coast, mix it up to get what you need. Sprinting up short hills or away from junctions is also good, or working at tempo on long interrupted stretches, climb hills at around your FTP power or heart rate threshold, be imaginative and it can really take you to the next level.