Are 2 shorter rides better for fitness than 1 longer ride?

Simon Richardson explores whether training twice in one day is more beneficial than one longer session, especially when you don't have much free time to spare

Clock18:30, Friday 5th January 2024

Road cycling is one of the few endurance sports where the concept of training twice on the same day is something of an anomaly and very seldom part of our training regimes. A quick look at long-distance runners, swimmers and triathletes reveals that the idea of double days is not only more common but actively advised. The question Simon Richardson looks to answer is whether we are missing a trick as cyclists by only training once a day.

More training time for the time-crunched rider

One of the main benefits that riding twice per day can have for riders with a busy schedule is allowing them to fit in more total training time. Training twice per day allows the duration of each ride to shrink meaning a ride can be fitted into smaller slots.

The prospect of fitting a 2-3 hour ride in on a work day for most of us is an impossible task that means we will often sacrifice our ride altogether. Instead of missing the ride, finding 30 or 45 minutes in the morning and evening is a far more manageable task. Although both together do not total the 2-3 hours you might ideally want to fit in, 90 minutes of riding time is better than skipping out on a day's riding entirely.

Are there any benefits to training twice a day?

There have also been studies that show how double days can have an enhanced training effect when compared to riding for the same total duration as a longer single ride. By opting for two separate rides you are also able to operate at a higher level in both sessions meaning that the training adaptations will be more pronounced.

Training twice a day can open up cross-training opportunities with easy endurance rides being combined with a strength training session or with a high-intensity interval session. This means that not only can you fit more riding into a busy schedule but you can also train for a wider range of physiological demands.

What is the best way to set about training twice a day?

Training twice a day can be demanding on your body and mind. While there are reported benefits to training in this way, if it's not done in a considered fashion it can be a fast track to overtraining, fatigue and injury.

Double days should always consist of one lower-intensity ride paired with a higher-intensity training session. This can either be a strength training session or a dedicated interval session. When looking at fitting double days into your training schedule it is unrealistic to think that every single training day can feature two rides.

Using double days can be a great way of increasing your time in zone two building up basal endurance and this will keep the cumulative fatigue relatively low. The most important thing to remember when looking at multiple rides per day is to listen to your body. If you find yourself feeling tired, demotivated or sore from a previous session then skipping out on the second ride is most likely the best course of action.

What are the drawbacks of double days?

The most obvious drawback when it comes to training more than once per day is the recovery window for your body to adapt to the training stimulus. Prioritising recovery and good nutrition becomes an even larger consideration when training more.

Something else to be aware of is that this style of training does put far greater demand on your mind. The idea of having to train again the same day after having already completed a ride can be a struggle for even the most motivated of riders. A slow inclusion of double days into your schedule can allow for your mind to adapt to the increased frequency of swinging a leg over the bike.

How can you fit two rides in best?

Even though training twice a day does mean you need to find smaller windows of time to train in, it does also still need to fit around the commitments of life. One of the best ways to fit two rides into your day is to commute by bike.

This way you are guaranteed two rides per day which can do wonders for the mental aspect of double days as you remove the option by necessity. Having a calm zone one/two ride into work paired with a training session on the way home allows you to incorporate the idea of double training into a typical workday without consuming too much additional time.

Another great option available to a lot of us is the use of an indoor trainer. This allows you to have your bike set up and ready to roll without the need for any post-ride cleaning rituals. Indoor training can also be useful for those with small children or with commitments that make leaving the house not possible during the day.

On a final note, although there are numerous benefits to training twice a day, there is still no shortcut for putting in the long hours when it comes to endurance. So although split training can be beneficial, if you're training for a long endurance ride those four to five-hour rides will still be needed. These rides will allow for the full adaptations to take place regarding fatigue and fuelling.

For more advice on training make sure to check out our training section in our how-to area of the website. If you have any experience with double days then be sure to let us know in the comments section below.

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