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An Introduction to Hybrid & Concurrent Training - Part 1.

Nobody argues that specificity matters in training. You get better at what you do more of. Or certainly that is what you see when you extrapolate human performance out to the extremes; you'll find that a very targeted specialised approach will deliver a very specific outcome. Because of this you wouldn't find Paula Radcliffe being able to run a 2.15 marathon AND compete on a bodybuilding stage at the Olympia. The tasks are both extreme and divergent.

Specificity has influenced much of how we train and how we think about training prescription. We love to zoom into these specific set of isolated parameters where training prescription can be considered...

"the most appropriate to achieve X outcome"

.... and then unfortunately, we become married to the idea, it becomes absolute. I'm ok looking at it from a perspective of attempting to understand what tools are best for the job. However that doesn't automatically negate everything else in the tool box outside of "most appropriate". For most people it certainly doesn't mean that training will be detrimental, or inappropriate. But so many coaches frame it in this way... "Don't run, you will lose muscle mass / cardio kills your gains"... and then they will show you images of a jacked up bodybuilder vs. an elite marathon runner to highlight the differences in their physiques. But unless you want to go to those extremes, I wouldn't worry about it. Don't skip over the huge ocean of grey area and context.

From a research/academic perspective also, we like to nail down and compartmentalise training / training adaptations for explanation & simplicity, we want to understand the mechanisms, interactions and different responses between training stimulus. The outcome of this is not always great when removed from the very specific nature of such research, like the findings of 'the interference effect'...

The interference effect is the phenomenon which noted that there was competition for molecular responses between strength & endurance training, by which adaptation to concurrent strength training and endurance training is considered diminished compared to separately training only strength or endurance.

... but for 99% of people, this is not a problem. When you think back to the elite marathon runner who is putting in 80 miles a week, the capacity to just recover from that volume of training is already going to be extremely taxing on the system, let alone attempting to build other physical qualities. Research shouldn't contradict common sense.

Again, I don't have an issue with research as long as we understand physiology is an integrative system anyway, it doesn't always operate within the margins / definitions we apply to it. An example of such rules & rigidity in prescription would be when training for muscle growth "you can only operate between 8-12 reps at a given % of 1RM" OR when trying to improve aerobic fitness, the prescription of "anything outside of zone 2 is worthless training" but there are no absolutes. It's a simplistic and partitioned understanding of how we respond to training. This should make intuitive sense if you zoomed out away from the minutia. For example if we take the hypertrophy prescription, there are plenty of athletes in many different sports who don't predominantly train this way but carry significant muscle mass. Logically speaking, if this rigidity were to be absolute, then there would be no realisation of concurrent & hybrid training goals at all. But we know this is not the case. There are many athletes who train concurrently; there are athletes who can deadlift 200kg+ and who can also run a sub 3hr marathon. CrossFit has also been a great example of what is possible when training in many different domains, and it shows you just how high the ceiling can be raised when not necessarily being hyper-focused. In actuality for most people (if you don't have a very hyper-focused goal) then you're probably just leaving a tonne of potential physical development on the table... and why would you want to do that if your goal is just feel good and get stronger & fitter?

So what actually is concurrent & hybrid training?

Both are typically used interchangeably and are very similar, but there is a slight caveat. Concurrent training essentially means training different things at the same time (concurrently) to improve a particular aspect of performance. For example, a cyclist doing some strength training to improve their performance on the bike. Hybrid training is similar, but typically concerned with actively pursuing getting better at separate physical qualities at the same time. As an example, to improve both cycling performance and a powerlifting total. If you think about concurrent training, then most athletes subscribe to this. Even in the extremes, for example, you will find NFL linesman doing aerobic work. Why when there sport is only <6 second bursts? Because it will enable them to maximise their repeated power efforts and also improve their ability to accumulate more total volume of work in training. The aerobic training is supplemental in nature to improving the end goal.

Hybrid training is something I have been doing over the last 8 months, and something which has got me running a sub 1.30 half marathon whilst improving overall strength numbers, for example achieving a 15kg weighted muscle up. What I love about it is the variety, but also the feeling that i'm just becoming a better all round athlete. Again, if you look at those two metrics they are not outstanding in terms of elite performance, but for someone who isn't specialising in either running or gymnastics, they are pretty solid achievements. This has really got me thinking about what is possible on a hybrid approach. It has also really highlighted to me just the importance of consistent training stress rather than being hyper focused. Additionally it highlights the issues with zooming into research searching for trivial differences & outcomes to a specific training intervention, whilst missing the most important factors like sleep, sufficient kcal to sustain activity and managing stressors outside the gym. More to come on those thoughts...

In part 2 I will discuss what a hybrid or concurrent programme might look like in practice, and the challenges encountered with hybrid approaches e.g. load management.


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