In this article I’ll be highlighting the basic principles behind Hybrid training while simultaneously providing a book review of Alex Viadas “The Hybrid Athlete”.
Hybrid Training – What Is It?
Hybrid Training or Cross Training (not to be confused with Crossfit) is basically the implementation of two (or more but generally two) athletic disciplines that may not necessarily compliment one another e.g. Powerlifting and long distance running.
Most sports do require a combination of various attributes like endurance, strength and power with only a select few focusing solely on one aspect (think elite powerlifters vs marathon or ultra runners). Hybrid training suits to allow the training of all aspects of athleticism without negatively impacting one another.
All in all the very fundamentals of training in this fashion comes down to developing a solid aerobic base (something this author is currently lacking) and a strong foundation. You’ve probably heard the myth that “cardio kills gains” and while this may be true in excessive extremes it couldn’t be further from the truth in the general sense. Having a decent level of cardiovascular fitness will aid in recovery from strength training and having a strong foundation will strengthen imbalances and aid in injury prevention.
Your Body Hates You
Well, not technically true but the human body is extremely complex and absolutely loves maintaining a state of homeostasis. Extra muscle mass, extra organelles, lower body fat and a large vascular network are unnecessarily costly in terms of energy expenditure where as being overweight and sedentary with higher levels of body fat is relatively cheap and great as the body has access to a huge supply of energy stores for any future hardships. It’s also worth noting that in his book, Viada mentions that new muscle mass may contribute as a hindrance without proper vascular fortification.
Doesn’t Resistance Training Promote Cardiovascular Benefits?
In short; yes, but nowhere near as much as “proper” sustained cardiovascular training, the cardiovascular benefits from weight training cannot even compare. Furthermore, and this is something that always baffles me, people are assuming that due to the recent hype and promotion of HIIT or high intensity interval training as the next best thing in cardio that this type of training will correlate with increased endurance. For those that don’t know HIIT is some form of activity performed in bouts of high effort work followed by low intensity recover work. My favourite examples of this are both incline treadmill sprinting followed by walking for recovery and similarly rowing machine sprints followed by lower intensity recovery, usually HIIT is done for between 10-20 minutes. So with that being said if I’m attempting a 5K, 10K, half marathon or any other endurance type event then the best way to train for those is to train for endurance, HIIT does not train endurance to the extent that steady state cardio does. Simply put; only endurance training will train endurance. Profound I know.
The Best Of Both Worlds
By now I hope from my albeit brief explanation you can appreciate the necessity for both aerobic resilience and a solid strength base and how they can compliment each other. Furthermore the individual stimuli of each will most definitely promote advantageous adaptations. Strength training improves overall glucose utilization and insulin sensitivity, promotes muscle mass, improves force production and absorption and in my experience enhances mood. Endurance or more generally cardiovascular training on the other hand strengthens the entire heart (resistance training strengthens the left ventricle) which promotes better blood flow, muscle efficiency and improves fat and glucose utilization alongside improving stroke volume and developing an established capillary network which in turn promotes oxygen transfer and metabolite removal.
But Endurance Training Makes You Small Doesn’t It?
This refers back to something I mentioned near the start about the “cardio kills gains” myth. By now I think you can see that’s absolutely false unless referring to extreme cases. It is true however, that endurance training will cause adaptations that result in reduced muscle size in order to increase blood flow availability but this can be countered with resistance training. If you’re still skeptical I’d suggest checking out Dan from Home Physique who’s currently training for a half marathon, lifting some serious weight and spending most of his time supping beers and eating fake magnums in Aldi.
General Vs Specific Work Capacity
So now you’ve chosen your two sports or two aspects of athleticism, now all you need to do is structure your training around general (GPP) and specific work capacity (SPP). Firstly I think it’s important to mention that contrary to the internet GPP does not have to revolve around sprinting, tire flipping or sled dragging (although these are viable options I guess) and relates mainly to establishing or maintaining a general fundamental level of fitness, meaning low intensity steady state (LISS) cardio will suffice and is a more cost effective less taxing method. SPP on the other hand is very sport specific and therefore requires movement efficiency, motor unit optimization, mitochondrial density and constant repetition (think greasing the groove). Using both a Powerlifter and Olympic weightlifter as examples we can say that the Squat, Bench press and Deadlift are sport specific movements to the Powerlifter with the Clean and Jerk and the Snatch being specific lifts for the Olympic lifter, therefore these lifts will require the most attention.
A quote from Bruce Lee summarizes the idea of SPP to an extent:
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times”.
The idea of practicing one kick 10,000 times heavily relates to the repetitive nature that sports specific movements require. Now this is where accessory movements come into play and highlights the variable carry over each accessory movement provides.
For example take the Powerlifter training the Bench Press;
His main movement will obviously be the competition Bench Press as this will have the most carryover, a lift involving mainly the deltoids, triceps and pectorals (with additional stabilizers and secondary/tertiary muscles coming into play). Next down the list of exercises we have the incline bench press and overhead press, these two movements will generally provide a high level of carryover to the Bench Press but to a slightly lesser extent than the actual lift itself. Finally we come to movements like flys or tricep pushdowns, isolation movements that will generate far less carryover but including them may work to improve SPP. The bottom line here is if you’re training to improve your Bench Press, bench more. The same can be said about the Squat, Deadlift and Olympic lifts. Training the main movement will generate the most carryover, with slight variations (Front Squat, Romanian Deadlifts, Pulls) providing a suitable but lesser carryover then finally isolation movements may be beneficial in targeting weak areas but generally won’t produce a great amount of carryover.
To summarize and conclude you must take into consideration; specialization vs carryover, recovery requirement and skill requirement with the ideal training plan laid out with high skill/high carryover movements first descending to lower recovery and low skill movements towards the end.
Additionally I must commend Alex Viada (Complete Human Performance) for his work and I would highly recommend reading his book “The Hybrid Athlete”.