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Next Gen: Daily Doubles

Running twice a day, aka doubles, allows a runner to dial in training specifics and developing aerobic capacity while minimizing injury. You could say it's a double win.

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Avani Stevens-Rose, a senior and cross country captain at Franklin High School in Portland, Oregon, says that double training sessions play an important role in her performing her best. She runs twice a day, anywhere from one to four days a week.

“I like this training method because it allows me to get a lot of minutes and miles without long, exhausting runs,” she says. “This is important because one of the keys to being a successful cross country runner is lots of miles and minutes running.”

Doubles have helped her avoid common overuse injuries and exhaustion while also increasing her weekly running volume.

If you played high school sports, you might be familiar with the practice of, well, practicing twice in one day. Especially as the start of the school year approaches, “daily doubles” are a special rite of passage for many young athletes who participate in fall sports and get a head start working out with teams in late summer. For high school and collegiate cross country runners, the concept of doubling is often introduced during summer training camps, where an emphasis on training and team building (with support of coaches or others handling logistics) allows for twice-a-days.

Some high school and collegiate distance coaches build doubles into training and competition schedules throughout the year.

Jacob Michaels, Stevens-Rose’s coach, says almost all of Franklin’s distance-running girls who have been running consistently—six to seven days a week for four to five weeks—begin running a 20-minute double run two to three times a week. “More experienced runners will start doing 100-minute total double days,” he says. The goal? Emphasizing specificity of training and developing aerobic capacity while minimizing injury.

He says this approach helps athletes’ bodies withstand the cumulative impact forces of running.

“Most importantly, in Franklin’s experience, it reduces injuries while building mileage safely, only if the runners know most of these runs are easy miles,” he says. “We stress this, along with soft surface, varied terrain running. We have had very few running injuries to our consistent, lots-of-doubles runners for 10-plus years now.”

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Laura Bowerman, University of New Mexico’s cross country/track and field associate head coach, says some, but not all, of the Lobos run doubles, depending on running age, years competing, and mileage. “Some run doubles that may even occur on an anti-gravity treadmill, which can be a great transition to increasing mileage,” Bowerman says.

Their doubles aren’t limited to running. “UNM certainly has women who double in the form of cross-training in the afternoon, which may consist of spinning or cycling, swimming, elliptical, rather than a double run,” she says. “The second training session has benefits for aerobic fitness as well as sometimes getting a flush from a hard morning training session and moving the body.”

Quite generally, increasing volume increases aerobic development. Most recreational runners stand to benefit aerobically from running or training a bit more, whether that means more quantity or more frequently. Could doubles be a fruitful method of more efficient training for women runners? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of doubling, plus how, exactly, to work them into your schedule.

Fans of doubles say, alongside boosting aerobic development, splitting up mileage means less musculoskeletal stress on runners’ bodies, especially because of the built-in recovery between sessions. For some, two easy 5ks may be less fatiguing than one easy 10k. Fans also say it’s easier to recover from two easy 5ks than one 10k, especially when it comes to refueling glycogen stores and hydrating.

For time-crunched runners, doubles may be a boon, as shorter sessions fit into smaller chunks of availability throughout the day. You may be able to fit in a shorter run by literally running errands (say, to the grocery store or from book drop-off at the library or from the post office if it’s a walkable distance home) or to meeting up with friends and family (say, for a happy hour or park session with the help of a partner, friend, or childcare provider). Some runners fit in a short run while their kids are at soccer or baseball practice. Plus, there can sometimes be the opportunity to run in between kid drop-offs and pickups and run-commuting if you work outside the home.

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Double Trouble

However, more isn’t always better. There are a few scenarios where doubling might not return benefits.

If you’re not sleeping, eating, or hydrating sufficiently, start with those three foundational practices to fortify your fitness foundation. Those three steps will help optimize recovery and, therefore, deliver adaptations to the training you’re already doing.

If you are feeling unmotivated, burnt out or like you’re teetering on the edge of overtraining, focus on what you’ve already got on your plate. Overreaching—and aforementioned under-fueling—leads to underperformance.

If the idea of running or working out more frequently freaks you out, skip it. (Who needs more stress?)

How To Double

Some athletes and coaches believe it’s best to run doubles on days that you also have a workout—for example, running easy in the evening on the day you run a more intense workout in the morning—to keep harder days harder (in terms of both effort and volume). Others argue it’s best to do doubles on easy days—for example, running easy mileage at either end of your day to glean maximum aerobic benefit.

Play around with what works best for you. Does it feel better to shake out your legs in the afternoon after a tough early morning effort? Or get your legs moving in the morning before a key evening workout? Do you relish days where the focus is logging mileage, or pumping iron in the evening after a midday runch?

If you’re injury-prone, or craving variety in your training, try cross-training doubles instead of running them. Low- or no-impact aerobic activity (think: cycling, swimming, elliptical as Bowerman mentioned) may help boost your cardiovascular status and corresponding performances.

If you’re not already including strength work, prioritize that, whether as a single session or second of the day. Especially for women runners, resistance training “builds durable muscles that can better absorb the impact of running so your body can handle more miles with less risk of injury,” strengthens bones, and more, as pro runner and coach Neely Spence Gracey and Cindy Kuzma write in their book Breakthrough Women’s Running.

Tips For Doubling

  1. Try doubling before you get into a key race-specific training cycle; time it during an aerobic buildup or base-training phase to avoid tweaking too many physiological variables at once, and allow your body to adapt with sufficient rest.
  2. Start small and be patient. For example, add in one extra 20- to 30-minute easy-effort run or jog (or cross-training session) on a day you’re already planning to run. Adding in one or two extra sessions per week could be all it takes to break through.
  3. Give yourself a chunk of time in between any daily double sessions. Ideally, allow several hours between sessions, and be sure to focus on hydration and fueling after the first and before the second training bouts.
  4. Stevens-Rose recommends recruiting a buddy to run with at night, if that’s when you have time to fit a second session in.

Elizabeth Carey is a writer and running coach based in Seattle, Washington. Her first book, Girls Running, is available now.