Twice-daily versus once-daily training sessions

Credit : Hookgrip
Credit : Hookgrip

In many sports, elite sportsmen and sportwomen increase the frequence of training in order to achieve maximal performance gains in their discipline. Weightlifters are no different. It is common among elite weightlifters to train twice a day (one AM session and one PM session).  This behavior is mainly based on tradition and on the culture of weightlifting. Many strategies are employed, such as separating the two classical lifts in order to train them in a fresh state. The goal is to enhance recovery at the same time as getting more work in. Getting more practice with the lifts is important for the weightlifter because of the technicality of the lifts.

For instance, a baseball pitcher has to pitch a big number of balls (often thousand-weekly, in the case of elite pitchers) if he wants to get his pitching skill better. In other words, to get faster, more precise and more powerful, he has to do a large number of repetitions. Sounds familiar? Training twice a day, in the case of weightlifting, is based on the same rationale : a great number of repetitions is needed to develop expertise in the skill that is weightlifting. However, little to no research has been done on this topic. I would like to review the only paper that I found that investigated this topic as well as offer my critics.

Hartman et al (2007) compared the effects of twice-daily and once-daily training sessions in US national-level male weightlifters. Ten competitive weightlifters (average age was 20 years old) with a body mass of 92.6 +/- 23.6kg that had 4 to 7 years of experience in weightlifting were assigned randomly to train either once or twice a day. Lifters trained monday, tuesday, thursday and friday. The twice a day group had am and pm sessions. The experiment lasted three weeks and measures of ”Isometric knee-extension strength (ISO), muscle cross-sectional area, vertical jump peak power, resting hormone concentration, neuromuscular activation (EMG) and weightlifting performance) were taken before and after.

prog
Hartman (2007). Program used in their study. Not shown for promotion but for explanation of how they trained.

Hartman found that there were no significant statistical difference for any of the tested variables but noted a 2% increase in ISO, an increase of 10% on the EMG reading (20.3% vs 9.1%), an increase of 4% for testosterone and a negative reading for the testosterone:cortisol ration for the twice-daily group versus once-daily group. Although these numbers seem big, they were non significant which means that the authors can’t rule out that the results could have been of random occurrence. They conclude : ”There were no additional benefits from increased daily training frequency in national-level male weightlifters, but the increase in ISO and EMG activity for the twice-daily group might provide some rationale for dividing training load in an attempt to reduce the risk of over training”.

I think we have to take the results of this study carefully. Here is why :

  1. The participants mean snatch was 111 +/- 23.1kg and 114 +/- 28.5kg for the once a day and twice a day respectively. As for the clean and jerk, the mean was 139 +/- 39.2kg and 136 +/- 32.5kg. Althought the participants are considered elite US weightlifters, by international standards, they should be considered intermediate lifters. This distinction is important because the added load of a second training session is most likely better suited for much more experienced lifters who had the time to adapt to an increased load over time. There is a big difference between what it takes to snatch 110-130 kg and what it takes to snatch a world record.
  2. The participants trained four times a week, which is only one combination of many possible ideas training plans. Would the results have been the same if they trained 5 or 6 days a week like most elite international weightlifting teams?
  3. The total training load was normalized to ensure both group lifted as much and the results was biased. Total training load was about 7000kg on Monday, 5000kg on tuesday, 5500 on Thursday and about 6000kg on Friday. In other words, the training plan was heavy (Monday), light (Tuesday), moderate (Thursday) and moderate + (Friday). Would the results have been the same if they changed the total training load (2 heavy lifting sessions a week for instance)?
  4. Hartman explains the program the lifters did (see Figure 1). All things considered, the program is interesting in the sense that day one has no snatch or clean and jerk and yet has two variations of squats (front and back). They actually squatted more often than they did the technical lifts, which is nothing short of weird if you are testing for a difference in weightlifting performance. Would the results have been different if they followed a different program in which they snatched and clean and jerked more frequently?
  5. The experiment is short term (3 weeks). Perhaps the results would have been significant over a longer tested period. After all, most of the best weightlifting teams spend more or less 10 months/year in training camps training twice a day. An longer study would have been interesting.
  6. Other than the fact that the athletes are of national level, we do not know much about their training experience. Being used/adapted to training twice a day is important if you want to see a difference.
  7. The hormonal readings have to be taken very carefully. The author states : ”Blood samples were obtained after an 8 hour fast and 1 day of complete rest, because it was the intent of the test to discriminate between acute and chronic changes in total testosterone and cortisol”. This type of intervention only gives information about hormonal status at a given moment. Because hormones fluctuate, that’s what they do, I am of the opinions that the samples should have been collected more than once in order to see the evolution of the hormonal fluctuation. This would have be much more interesting.

Conclusion

Because of the 7 concerns I addressed, I think the reader should know that in this particular training set up, there does not seem to be significant differences between training once or twice a day. Your choice of training once or twice a day should be based on other variables : Amount of recovery needed, recovery methods, level of expertise, number of sessions, habituation of such a training plan, and overall stress level (Perhaps training twice a day is not optimal if you have to work and make a living). In my opinion – because after all, I have to state it at one point- the beginner or intermediate lifter should not worry about training twice a day. Three to five training sessions is sufficient. As you progress, you can add sessions if you wish. Just remember that sometimes, less is more. This is particularly true in Olympic Weightlifting.

You might have wanted a definitive answer on this topic, but there is none that I can offer based on research. However, I am interested in your opinion and experience with training twice a day. Please do share.

Disclaimer : If you use this article (or any other article on this website) for promotion of weightlifting, please credit me. If possible, also mention it to me. I will be more than glad to know about it. I encourage you to do so. Thanks for reading. Jean-Patrick Millette

Reference :

Hartman MJ, Clark B, Bembens DA, Kilgore JL, Bemben MG. Comparisons between twice-daily and once-daily training sessions in male weight lifters. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2007 Jun;2(2):159-69.

4 comments

  • Great analysis. I agree, a three week study can hardly prove anything, all else considered, I would’ve liked to seen this go at least 12 weeks (a typically training cycle) and see what the results would be.

    • As I said in the article, I think the methodology of this paper had some flaws and that the results should be taken very carefully. I think there is a point where training twice a day has to be done if you want to be among the best… but until you reach that level, a lot of emphasis should be put on recovery. So training once a day seems more logical, to me.

  • It would be interesting to get some long term data, but that study is really meaningless. 3 weeks is really not enough time even if all the other variables were accounted for.

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