Ask CK: The Two-A-Day Workout

This is an off-topic post on fitness.
I'm starting to work out again, and I'm getting in better shape, but I want to make even faster progress with losing weight and getting more fit. Any suggestions from the Casual Kitchen?

First of all, congratulations for getting back onto the exercise train. And yes, I do have a suggestion for you: once you've built a consistent exercise habit, start including an occasional two-a-day into your workout schedule.

What's a two-a-day? It's just what it sounds like: two workouts in one day. An occasional two-a-day (followed by a manditory rest day the day after) is one of the most powerful tools in the entire fitness toolbox.

My favorite two-a-day workout format is to do a full weight-training workout at lunchtime, and then go for a long run in the evening. This specific workout taught me the true meaning of the word tired, but it also helped me cut my marathon time by 17 minutes. More on that in a minute.

But, hey, maybe weight training and running aren't your cup of tired? Fortunately, there's an infinity of other two-a-day formats you can try instead. Some examples:

* 2-3 sets of singles tennis in the morning followed by a run in the evening.
* Swimming in the morning and a long bike ride in the afternoon.
* A morning fast tempo run, with second slower, longer jog in the evening.
* An hour of your favorite sport in the morning, followed by extra time on a stationary bike later in the day.

Readers averse to high-impact exercise can try:

Weight training before work, followed by an evening bike ride.
An elliptical machine session in the morning, weights in the evening.
Weight training in the morning, a long swim workout later in the day.

And so on. Try a few of these variations, insert some of your own ideas, and see what resonates with you and provides good results.

A few words of caution. Even if you're in excellent physicial condition, two-a-day workouts can be tough on your body. And if you're fully sedentary, a leap directly to two-a-days could result in injury. Don't rush things. Give yourself some time to get to a reasonable fitness level first.

Second, you must rest on the day following any two-a-day workout. Remember: rest is as important as exercise in making your body fitter and stronger. After a tough two-a-day, your muscles and joints will need a full day of rest in order to recuperate and regenerate.

My conversion to the church of two-a-day workouts happened during my training for the 2005 Marine Corps Marathon. During my heaviest training weeks, I worked in at least one (and sometimes two) two-a-days per week: a 45 minute weight-training workout during my lunch break (both upper and lower body), followed by an eight or nine mile training run after work. (For the weightroom geeks out there: to maximize the limited gym time I had, I used free weights, used one set to failure, and used slow reps of five seconds up and five seconds down. The results I got from this lifting style were excellent.)

Just thinking about those workouts makes me tired. And I never had to persuade myself to take a rest day the following day--exercising was inconceivable. But the results were undeniable: After being stuck at a novice-level 4:00 marathon time, I used this technique to cut my marathon time down to 3:43. For a runner of my (middling) skill level, this was a gigantic improvement.

More Two-A-Day Tips:
Use a buddy. Schedule your second training session with a workout buddy to eliminate the temptation to blow it off.

Diet. You're gonna be unimaginably hungry in the days following a two-a-day. Don't satisfy that hunger with junk. Stick to clean foods (lean proteins, fruits, veggies and complex carbohydrates) and you'll capture even more health benefits from your workouts.

Joint care: Now that I'm in my (ack!) 40s, I have to be increasingly mindful of my joints during and after tougher training sessions. For example, I always ice down my knees as a preventative measure after any high-impact workout. Ice is your friend: applying it to heavily used joints reduces inflammation and aids in healing and recovery. The bottom line, however, is as we age, our joints can be infuriatingly unpredictable, and joint problems can spring up out of nowhere. Be careful, listen to your body, and back off from the heavier workouts if you need to.

Did I mention rest? Once again, the day after a tough two-a-day is all about rest, and it's during that rest that you get stronger, fitter and healthier. On your rest days, if you want to do a little light stretching, or go for a short walk, that's fine, but give your body a solid day of rest so it can regenerate and rebuild.

Readers, share your thoughts!

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1 comment:

chacha1 said...

All excellent advice. I would simply add a caution:

Seeking to "go faster" in getting fit or losing weight usually results in failure.

However long it took you to get overweight and/or deconditioned, expect to take that amount of time x .5 to reach your goal.

This should not be looked at as a quick fix, but as a lifestyle change for the long haul - meaning, for the rest of your life.

If you need some quick gains in order to build some momentum, work with a qualified trainer and/or nutritionist, don't DIY.