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Only the Strong Shall Survive: Two-a-Days

Long, hard sessions are difficult to recover from, even if you?re advanced, and will end up taking their toll on your progress.

As you gradually add more exercises to your routine and increase the number of sets you do, you’ll reach a point where your workouts run too long. Being in the gym for 2 1/2 to three hours is not productive. Those final exercises don’t get much juice and, in fact, adversely affect the next workout. Long, hard sessions are difficult to recover from, even if you’re advanced, and will end up taking their toll on your progress.

And yet, you’re anxious to include certain movements in your program, to improve weak areas or expand your total volume. The solution is to spread out your workload. Rather than jamming all the exercises you want to do into three days a week, you add another workout day. My preference is to insert a Tuesday session into the program, in addition to Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but many people like to take Tuesdays off because Monday is their heavy day. Whatever fits.

The extra workout will enable you to do some of the exercises that you want to include in your routine but can’t find a place for in the three-day schedule. It’s the perfect opportunity to concentrate on weaker areas. The extra session automatically increases your total volume.

Since it follows a heavy day, you need to keep the Tuesday workout light. You can do that by using exercises that call for lighter weights because of the nature of the movement, such as power snatches and snatch high pulls, where the weights are relatively lighter than those used for power cleans, clean high pulls and deadlifts. Likewise, it’s a good day to do overhead presses, since the amount on the bar will be considerably less than what you use for benches or inclines. Weighted dips fit in here too.

The Tuesday workouts should be short, 45 minutes to an hour at the most. The combination of lighter weights and less time in the gym will ensure that your workload for this day is relatively light.

Some trainees who are more interested in bodybuilding than pure strength training like to reserve the extra day exclusively for beach work. That’s beneficial for a couple of reasons. If you perform the auxiliary exercises after you work the major groups on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, there’s not much left in the tank for curls, pullovers, pushdowns and lateral or front raises. If, however, you exercise those smaller groups in one session without the larger groups preceding them, you have plenty of energy available and the results will come readily.

For those interested in doing some or all of the Olympic lifts, the extra day is ideal for practicing form. Although you’re following a heavy day, it’s all right because you don’t have to handle heavy weights in order to perfect your technique. Having to restrict the amount of weight on the bar is actually helpful when your primary purpose is to hone your form. And so is being a bit tired, since it forces you to concentrate on the smaller keys more so than when you’re fresh. I don’t mean, however, that you should hammer away on snatches, cleans or jerks when you’re dragging. That’s never a smart idea. I’m talking about being slightly weary from the previous day.

When people start adding the extra day of training, they typically find that the first few weeks aren’t productive in terms of making gains. In fact, their numbers usually slip backward instead of moving forward. That’s natural’and I’ll be presenting some ideas on how to counteract the regression below’but it cannot be avoided. It simply takes time for the body to adapt to the new stress.

I compare it to when people enter the military. Basic training in all the services is a drastic change in lifestyle. In short, it’s a shock to the mind and body. Drill instructors know that if they push you to the point of utter fatigue, you’ll obey orders without question. That’s their intent. After several grueling weeks of getting only four hours of sleep when you’re accustomed to eight or more, you move through the long days like a zombie.

Then, miraculously, you find that you can handle the physical and mental stress. With their wealth of experience the drill instructors recognize that change and pile on even more work. The five-mile march is extended to 10, and again, you go through the process of being so tired, you fall asleep if you’re still for more than a minute, to the point where you emerge even stronger. Of course, not all make it through, but that’s also part of the process’to eliminate the weaker recruits.

The same thing happens in strength training. Well, sort of. The big difference is, in the military you have no choice but to do the extra work. In the weight room you do, and most people aren’t really prepared to push themselves to such extremes.

I’ve found that if athletes pay attention to their rest and nutrition and stick with the extra day of training for several weeks, they start making gains. And it happens that they’re soon able to carry that new load rather easily and need yet another boost.

Enter two-a-days. Now, training twice a day may seem extreme to some people, but it’s a very feasible way to increase the total workload. It’s not a new concept by any means. Bob Bednarski was the first lifter I knew who used two-a-days. He started doing them in the mid-’60s at the York Barbell Club. Barski was originally coached by Joe Mills, but when he came to York, he found himself in the same boat as the rest of us: He trained himself. One of the things that made him such a great weightlifter was his intuitiveness. He could tell what he needed to do in the gym in order to improve without being told by others.

Barski determined that he needed more leg strength if he wanted to snatch and clean bigger weights, so he began squatting during his lunch hour twice a week. Then later in the day he’d do the rest of his planned program.

Barski hated to train alone, so he’d come up to the office and badger Tommy Suggs or me to come watch and talk to him while he trained. Since we had to sit in the hot gym anyway, we decided to join him in the two-a-days.

I also needed more leg strength but was doubtful if I could carry two extra sessions a week. As I mentioned above, the early going wasn’t so productive. My squat did improve, but my other lifts dropped off. Barski and Suggs would not let me bail, though, so I stuck with the two-a-days, and after those first couple of less-than-satisfying weeks, all my lifts began to improve.

In our normal workouts we would always do one or two of the Olympic lifts, along with some other movement such as high pulls, then finish off with front or back squats. When we did squats at noon, we were giving them priority, and they started to move. The real trick of the two-a-days was to recover enough so that the second workout of the day was also beneficial. It worked because we paid attention to what we were doing.

We would train from noon to 12:45, shower, then go to the dairy bar and have a protein milkshake. An hour later we’d eat our lunches, which was usually a sandwich or two and a piece of fruit. At four o’clock we’d do our second session, which would consist of a couple of what was then the three Olympic lifts and perhaps some inclines or high pulls.

We only did two-a-days twice a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays. That was because none of us had yet reached the stage where we could do more than that, but I believe it’s possible. In fact, I know it’s possible. When I was the editor of Strength & Health, I corresponded with a weightlifter from Moscow. I sent him packets of magazines, and, in turn, he forwarded information about Soviet training. Some of their top lifters were handling close to 300,000 pounds per week by doing two workouts four times a week.

I once reached 200,000 pounds and have had a couple of athletes do that much as well. I’m convinced that if people understand what they’re doing, they can push their workloads to amazing heights.

A few things to consider: When we were doing this program, only Barski was performing any physical tasks at his job, and they were light, such as mixing protein powder, making energy bars or helping Hoffman prepare his suntan lotion. Tommy and I only typed or talked on the phone, so we were, in effect, resting our bodies. That’s most important. If you have a job that’s very physical, then this concept doesn’t apply to you.

On the other hand, it does apply to a great many high school, collegiate and professional athletes, whose situations are ideal for training twice a day.

Not many athletes at Johns Hopkins were motivated enough to try two-a-days. John Saxe of Fairhaven, New Jersey, was the exception. John was the best tennis player on the team and an outstanding football player as well. He also competed in Olympic weightlifting contests and did well enough to lift in the National Collegiates. He scheduled his classes so that he was finished by noon, came directly to the weight room and did his first session. Then he’d drink a protein milkshake, eat a meal and rest. At four he did his second session with the football team. After that he played tennis. He got stronger, despite the fact that much of his energy was being tapped by his participation in other sports.

There are a few points to emphasize concerning two-a-days. In the early sessions you do only one exercise, and it should be a primary one, ideally one that hits a weak area. It should be one you need more work on, not one that you enjoy doing. If you’re having trouble with one of your pulling movements, such as power cleans, full cleans or snatches, do that. Warm up, do five or six work sets, and stop. Stretch thoroughly and leave. You should be in and out in 45 minutes, and that includes stretching time.

When you come in for your second workout, pay close attention to your warmups. Make sure all your muscles are working properly before moving to the heavy weights. That may mean doing some extra sets with a light weight, but it’s most important to make certain that your body is ready for the work ahead.

You need a different mind-set for two-a-days. When you only train once a day, after the workout is over, you can forget about lifting for another day or so, but that’s not the case when you embark on this routine. As soon as the first session is over, you have to start thinking ahead to the next one. Being able to do that successfully takes some time to master’another reason why two-a-days are so demanding. They not only drain a great deal of physical energy but also tap into your mental reservoir.

I mentioned that you shouldn’t work small muscles in the first session. Keep in mind that I’m writing primarily for strength athletes, not bodybuilders. Unlike strength athletes, bodybuilders can benefit by doing exercises for the smaller groups in the early session of two-a-days. Perhaps their calves are lagging behind the other bodyparts. Abusing them for 45 minutes twice a week and then working the other bodyparts later on in the day is an excellent way to bring them up to standard.

The bodybuilders who worked for Weider in the early ’70s used this concept. Arnold, Franco, Zane, Draper and others would train in the morning, eat, relax on the beach and then return to Gold’s for a second session later in the day. The impressive gains they made during that period were due in some part to the two-a-day sessions. Also note that bodybuilding was their full-time job, so they had the luxury of doing this rather demanding program.

Being able to steadily increase the amount of work you do in a given week or month and recover from it depends on a number of factors. The two most important are nutrition and rest. Referring to my basic training experience, since the drill instructor kept me from getting the rest I needed, I concentrated on giving my body lots of fuel. Some in my squadron were picky eaters and couldn’t deal with the runny, green eggs at 4 a.m. I wolfed them down along with everything else put in front of me at the chow hall. It worked. I never got sick the way many of my buddies did, and I ended up gaining 10 pounds.

Of course, it’s much better to give your body sound nutrition and also get plenty of rest when you’re subjecting it to a new form of stress. The protein milkshake is your best friend. Drink one as soon as possible after the first session, and then an hour later eat a meal. Since the milkshake gives you plenty of protein, make sure the meal supplies lots of high-energy foods in preparation for the second workout.

If you can grab a nap or relax like the West Coast bodybuilders did during the break, that’s great, but more than likely you have things to do. As long as you don’t engage in any strenuous activities, you’ll be all right. An hour before your second workout take either a B-complex tablet or desiccated liver tablets. They work wonders in helping you gear up for the harder workout in the afternoon’as does a cup of coffee just before you start warming up.

A reminder: Make sure you warm up well and take the time to stretch after the workout. The warmup will help you have a better workout and cut down on injuries, and the stretching will facilitate recovery.

It’s critical that you get extra sleep when you embark on a two-a-day schedule. That’s just common sense and something every football player learns quickly when he goes through two-a-days in training camp. If you don’t get adequate sleep, bad things happen, and you won’t make improvements. So skip Leno and Letterman, and climb in the sack a bit earlier than usual. At least until you feel that you’ve adapted to the extra work.

Two-a-days may not be your cup of tea, but many are pleasantly surprised to find that they thrive on the extra work. More is not always better for everyone, but it certainly is for some.

Editor’s note: Bill Starr was a strength and conditioning coach at Johns Hopkins University from 1989 to 2000. He’s the author of The Strongest Shall Survive and Defying Gravity. IM

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