Training multiple times per day

Some highly motivated sportsmen and well-read coaches have suggested training multiple times per day. Others say it’s a surefire path to overtraining. Which is it?

Multiple daily training sessions really started becoming popular when Ivan Abadjiev took over the Bulgarian national weightlifting team, although it had already been used by a few prior to that. At the present day succesful countries using the Bulgarian system, the Soviet system and the Chinese system train at least twice per day at least a few days out of the week. They don’t do it for fun, they find it more effective. From a bodybuilder perspective Vince Gironda also suggested multiple sessions for his top bodybuilders.

Some will say that you should cut your current workout in two instead of doing two full workouts. Maybe a good idea for some but it’s not how it has been done historically. In the traditional Soviet system the volume (number of lifts in a given workout or cycle) increase gradually the beginning years. Adding more sessions is an easy way to handle that. In the Bulgarian system the morning session is sometimes lighter, most notably on Fridays to prepare for control training (we’ll get to that), on other days they’re not necessarily. In fact I always found Mondays the hardest because intensity and volume is high in both sessions. Under Abadjiev they would actually have three sessions in some days but that’s another story.

The Bulgarian system

How the two or more training sessions in a day are laid out in the Bulgarian system depends on the coach, the level of the athletes, where athletes are in their training, as well as the day of the week. I will give some examples:

  • Morning session: front squats, power snatch, power clean & jerk, front squats.
  • Afternoon session: snatch, clean & jerk, front squat
  • Evening session: whichever needs more work of snatch and clean & jerk, front squats.

The above could be a typical training day under Abadjiev. It’s not a rule, it’s an example so don’t start posting articles about it with the description “this is what the Bulgarians always did”. At the Vanev Academy we use two sessions everyday aside from Sundays. The way we divide them depends on the factors previously mentioned. Sometimes we do snatch in one session and clean & jerk in the next (which might also include pulls). Other times we do both. Friday is always control training which means maximal weights in both snatch and clean & jerk. Morning sessions usually start with squats but we often do them in the evening as well.

The Soviet system

In the Soviet system things are usually divided in a different way. It’s less uniform than the Bulgarian system because the amount of exercises and methods used are plenty more. Obviously a country the size of the Soviet Union (or Russia for that matter) also contain a lot more coaches so the fact that there would be bigger variety is hardly surprising.

One way that it’s divided is by using snatch exercises in the morning and clean & jerk exercises in the evening. Note that these aren’t necessarily the classical lifts themselves but more often than not variations. Certain days, Tuesday and Saturday for instance, are used for more or less pure strength training with squats, presses and pulls.

You can clearly see the difference in the two systems here. The Soviets were more focused on strength while the Bulgarians felt that the main lifts and squats are what drive progress.

For bodybuilding?

While many bodybuilders will do cardio in the morning and lift weights later in the day there are some that have taken it a step further. Vince Gironda was a bodybuilder and trainer back in the day. He’s known for inventing quite a few exercises, believing in some serious volume (8×8 was his favorite) coupled with some serious density (how about 8×8 with less than 30 seconds rest between sets?) as well as for calling Arnold a fat fuck. Yes, he was quite the character.

Vince wasn’t shy of frequent training either, he had no problem prescribing six training days per week for his 8×8 program (which was typically done in a three-way split fashion) and for top bodybuilder competitors he even suggested going back later in the day doing the same workout!

Despite the high volume the sessions were very short due to extremely short rest periods. Keep in mind that Vince felt you needed to work up to 8×8, the short rest periods and the twice daily sessions. In other words, this is far from a beginner routine.

Practical suggestions for twice a day training

I disagree with cutting the sessions in half unless you’re already doing way too much in one session. I suggest one of the two approaches instead:

  • Add a second shorter session. You can do it Westside style by doing additional work for weak muscle groups or by doing more of the big lifts – it will depend on what system you use. But keep it shorter to begin with!
  • Do a primer session or train different strength qualities in the two sessions. This primarily applies to pure strength training and not hypertrophy.

Let me explain the second. What we do at the Vanev Academy on Friday mornings is lift light weights with maximum speed. This makes the second session better. The second session consists of all-out maximum lifts. For non-weightlifters you could do heavy lifting in the morning and higher reps in the evening. For athletes you could do heavy lifting one session and explosive training the other. There are many ways to deal with it.

I find that what happens around the training is equally important. Here’s what I suggest:

  • Have breakfast and coffee at 8.
  • Go train at 10, possibly with another coffee before.
  • After you finish training go and eat something then go to sleep for 1-2 hours.
  • When you wake up you eat something again.
  • Before training you have some coffee and possibly some chocolate.
  • At 16 you go and train again.
  • Go home and relax. Go to bed early.

As you can see this turns it into close to a fulltime job. Don’t run around town between sessions. Don’t sit up playing with your phone. Eat, rest, and prepare for the next session.

Multiple daily sessions are known to work for decades now. Top athletes don’t do it for fun, they do it for better performance, and yes it can be done without performance enhancing drugs but you need to take it seriously. Don’t start killing yourself every day and remember to pay close attention to recovery.

Good luck.

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