Because of something called the interference effect, a lot of exercisers feel compelled to choose between strength training and endurance training. In some cases, this means they ONLY do one type of workout.
According to the interference effect, doing a lot of endurance training, e.g., running, cycling, swimming, etc., will diminish your strength gains, and a lot of strength training will undermine your endurance gains (1).
The interference effect is real, and doing large amounts of one type of training can hurt your ability to perform another. You can’t expect to be a champion bodybuilder AND an Olympic marathon runner!
However, most people can achieve an above-average (and therefore very impressive) level of strength and endurance at the same time.
These people are often referred to as hybrid athletes. Hybrid athletes are strong and fit and are equally at home in the gym lifting weights and out running or biking.
In this article, we reveal why and how to become a hybrid athlete.
- What is Hybrid Training?
- What About the Interference Effect?
The Pros and Cons of Hybrid Training
- Pro: A more varied training week
- Pro: Positive crossover between activities
- Pro: Fewer overuse injuries
- Pro: Double the goals, double the motivation
- Pro: Lots of fun!
- Con: The Interference effect
- Con: More energy and time
- Con: Nutrition and recovery are even more vital
- Con: Program planning and workout balancing
- Hybrid Training Dos and Don’ts
- Sample Hybrid Training Plan
Hybrid Training – FAQs
- 1. Do I have to do the same number of endurance and strength training workouts?
- 2. Is hybrid training good for fat loss?
- 3. Is hybrid training good for building muscle?
- 4. Will hybrid training get me “competition ready?”
- 5. Can I change the exercises or training sessions in the hybrid workout plan?
- 6. What about twice-a-day training?
- Hybrid Training – Closing Thoughts
What is Hybrid Training?
Hybrid training is a term used to describe training for two different activities or sports at the same time, usually referring to strength and endurance. For example, you could combine powerlifting with long-distance running, bodybuilding with swimming, or Olympic weightlifting with cycling.
The aim of hybrid training is to become similarly proficient in both disciplines.
This should not be confused with cross-training, which is when one form of training is used to enhance the performance of another. For example, runners often lift weights to increase speed, power, and injury resistance. However, their main priority is getting better at running.
Similarly, some lifters do cardio to burn fat and improve general fitness. Still, most of their time and energy are focused on building muscle and strength.
With hybrid training, the different activities are valued equally, and workout programs are designed to improve the athlete’s performance in both.
Hybrid athletes are rarely world-class at either of their chosen sports but can still perform at an impressive level.
For example, hybrid athlete Fergus Crawley has achieved the following impressive feats of strength and endurance:
- A 500-pound squat followed by a sub-5-minute-mile run.
- A 1,200-pound powerlifting total followed by sub-12-hour Ironman Triathlon.
- A 600kg powerlifting total followed by a 60km (37.5 miles) ultra-marathon.
While Crawley’s feats of strength and endurance are far above average, most exercisers can do well in strength and endurance sports. There is no reason for recreational exercisers to choose between strength and endurance if they don’t want to.
What About the Interference Effect?
Many exercisers avoid combining strength and endurance training because of the so-called interference effect. Some believe that even small amounts of cardio will block strength and muscle gains or that lifting weights will make endurance athletes big and slow.
While the interference effect exists, it’s not as pronounced as was once thought.
In some of the early interference-effect studies, athletes were exposed to frequent, long, and intense cardio and strength training workouts. In many cases, lifters were given advanced running workouts, and runners were given advanced bodybuilding workouts in addition to their regular training.
Needless to say, gains in both groups were severely impacted.
However, in more recent (and less brutal) studies, moderate amounts of lifting and cardio were combined, and the interference effect was negligible (2).
So, the takeaway is you can’t expect to be world-class endurance and strength athlete. Still, you can become a pretty good all-rounder if you include both types of training in your workouts.
The Pros and Cons of Hybrid Training
We’re not saying you HAVE to combine strength and endurance training. In fact, many people prefer to specialize in one type of workout. That said, there are pros and cons to hybrid training, so consider the following before you make up your mind.
Pro: A more varied training week
The great thing about hybrid training is that you get to do lots of different workouts. For example, you could be working on your deadlift in the gym one day and then running the trails the next. So, if you find doing the same type of workout over and over boring, you’ll probably enjoy a more varied hybrid training approach.
Pro: Positive crossover between activities
Rather than being detrimental to your performance, combining strength and endurance training may actually be beneficial.
For example, endurance training:
- Improves cardiovascular fitness.
- Increases capillarization.
- Increases work capacity.
- Develops slow-twitch muscle fibers.
All of which will enhance strength and muscle building.
In contrast, strength training:
- Increases bone density.
- Enhances joint stability.
- Improves anaerobic power.
- Increases speed.
All of which will enhance endurance activities.
So, while doing high volumes of both types of training could hurt your performance, moderate amounts of strength and endurance training can be mutually beneficial.
Pro: Fewer overuse injuries
Runners love to run, and lifters love to lift. However, doing too much of a single activity can lead to overuse injuries. For example, strength trainers are at risk of developing chronic shoulder and elbow problems. At the same time, runners often suffer from knee and hip problems.
Hybrid training means your workouts will be less repetitive, so overuse injuries should be less of a problem. By splitting your training time between two very different disciplines, you avoid the pattern overload that often happens when you focus on only one type of training.
Pro: Double the goals, double the motivation
Training for two sports means you can set and work toward two entirely different goals. For example, you could train for a double-bodyweight deadlift and a sub-20-minute 5k.
If you are the sort of person who’s motivated by chasing outcome goals, hybrid training should be very appealing, motivating, and rewarding.
Pro: Lots of fun!
A lot of people enjoy varied workouts and pursuing multiple goals. It puts the fun back into training! You may even work out in different places and with different crews for each of your chosen disciplines, expanding your social circle. And needless to say, a running meet is VERY different from a powerlifting meet.
Variety, they say, is the spice of life, and adding some more variation to your workouts could breathe new life into your training.
Con: The Interference effect
Running WON’T ruin your strength training gains, and lifting weights WON’T make you a bad runner. But, training for two radically different activities simultaneously means you will have to accept some reductions in performance.
If you want to MAXIMIZE your performance in either strength or endurance training, you should rethink your desire to become a hybrid athlete. Achieving a high level in anything requires specialization. There is a reason that bodybuilders don’t win marathons and marathon runners don’t win Mr. Olympia!
However, if you are okay with being pretty good at two things or aren’t interested in competing at a high level, hybrid training could be just what you’ve been looking for.
Con: More energy and time
While your training workload won’t (or shouldn’t!) double overnight, developing strength and endurance at the same time will potentially require longer and more frequent workouts. Six sessions per week are pretty typical, and you may need even more than this as you progress, perhaps even training twice per day.
If you are currently training for just strength or endurance, expect to be training more often if you go down the hybrid route.
Con: Nutrition and recovery are even more vital
Training for two different disciplines not only means more workouts but more demands on your body. As such, your nutrition and recovery need to be on point. If you aren’t eating right and getting plenty of sleep, it won’t be long before training becomes overtraining and your progress grinds to a halt.
For many people, training is the easy part of getting in shape. It’s the stuff that happens outside of their workouts that’s the most difficult to control. So, if you can’t get a handle on your diet or prefer partying to sleeping, maybe hybrid training is not for you.
Con: Program planning and workout balancing
Hybrid training means you’ll need to balance the demands of two different types of workouts. This requires smart programming and intelligent planning. For example, it would be a bad idea to do heavy leg training on Monday and then an intense hill-repeats running workout on Tuesday.
Hybrid training plans need to be constructed so that one workout won’t affect the next too much.
Also, you need to listen to your body and adjust your training “on the fly” based on how you are feeling. Any workout program should only be seen as a rough guide. You may need to alter the planned workout based on how recovered you feel after your previous session.
Hybrid Training Dos and Don’ts
Do you like the idea of becoming a hybrid athlete? Good for you! Get off on the right foot by following these hybrid training dos and don’ts.
Do start slow and easy – avoid letting your enthusiasm run away with you. Doing too much too soon will bring your hybrid training journey to a crashing end. Plan your workouts, so they are far easier than you think they should be. Combining two different training approaches will take more out of you than you realize.
Do progress gradually – once you’ve established a manageable training routine, gradually increase duration and intensity over several weeks and months. However, resist the temptation to make big jumps. Instead, adhere to the 10-percent rule and only increase daily and weekly training volume by a maximum of 10 percent.
For example, if you currently run 12 miles per week and your longest weekly run is six miles, you can increase your weekly running volume to 13.2 miles and your longest run to 6.6 miles. Apply a similar mindset to your strength workouts.
Do include deloads in your plan – deloads are periods during which training volume and intensity are reduced to allow for a more complete recovery and avoid overuse injuries. For example, you could train progressively harder over four weeks, back off for a week, and then build up to a new peak over the next four weeks.
This four-steps-forward, one-step-back approach to training is a great way to maintain your momentum and progress while avoiding plateaus and burnout.
Do get some coaching if you need it – most new hybrid athletes have a strong background in one discipline but are relative beginners in the other. For example, you might be a runner with very little strength training knowledge.
Get some coaching to learn the skills of your weak event, even if you think you know what you are doing.
For example, running can be surprisingly technical, and poor running form can waste energy, make you slower, and increase your risk of injury. The same is true for swimming and cycling. In contrast, lifting weights with improper technique is all but guaranteed to lead to injury.
There is nothing wrong with self-coaching, provided that coach knows what they’re doing!
Don’t train like a lifter or an endurance athlete – many hybrid training newbies mistakenly try to follow separate lifting AND running programs. This is a mistake! Instead, you need to train like a hybrid athlete.
This means off-the-peg bodybuilding, powerlifting, or endurance programs are not your best choice, as they won’t take into account your double-duty training commitments. Instead, you need a program made for someone training for two disciplines at once and not one that just tries to lump two separate training programs into one schedule.
Don’t jump headfirst into two-a-day workouts – some well-known hybrid athletes recommend training twice a day. That might be okay for them, but it will be too much for most novices.
Instead, pick one main workout per day, and only begin introducing two-a-days once you have established a solid foundation of regular workouts.
Don’t underestimate the importance of workout quality vs. quantity – while all exercise is good exercise, doing too much can hurt your progress. Runners call this junk miles, while lifters may refer to junk sets. Training for two disciplines at the same time means you should emphasize workout quality over quantity. Junk miles and sets do little for your progress, and just make it harder to recover between workouts.
See how little training you need to do to achieve your goals, not how much you can tolerate. For example, three hard sets of squats will probably do you more good than six sets, where the last few were performed badly.
Your time and energy are valuable, so spend them wisely and always try and get the best possible return for your efforts!
Don’t forget to prioritize your weakness – the aim of hybrid training is to develop a similarly high level of performance in strength and endurance. However, it may be necessary to prioritize one discipline over the other if it has fallen behind.
For example, if you are an experienced lifter but a novice runner, you will probably benefit from running more and lifting less. This will allow your endurance to catch up with your strength more quickly. Don’t worry – even a couple of workouts a week will preserve your strength and muscle mass.
Sample Hybrid Training Plan
The best way to see if hybrid training is for you is to try it yourself. Here is a sample hybrid plan designed to introduce you to this type of multidisciplinary training.
|Medium endurance||Full body||Speed endurance||Lower body||Upper body||Long endurance||Rest|
Note: Endurance can mean running, cycling, swimming, skating, or any other endurance activity.
Monday: Medium Endurance
This workout should feel relatively easy and not take too much out of you. Aim to work at about RPE 6-7, or 60-70% of your maximum heart rate. You should finish this workout feeling like you could have done more. However, resist the temptation to push it too hard, as you’ve got a long week of training still to go.
Tuesday: Full Body
Full-body workouts are ideal for hybrid athletes as they make the best use of your training time. This back-to-basics barbell program is built around a handful of compound exercises chosen to build foundational strength.
|5||Barbell overhead press||2-3||6-8|
|6||Hanging knee raise||2-3||12-15|
Wednesday: Speed Endurance
This workout should be shorter and faster than Monday’s medium endurance session. The aim is to improve your speed and your ability to sustain it.
You can do intervals, e.g., run fast for three minutes, walk for one, and repeat six times, hill sprints, a tempo workout (fast sustained pace), or a fartlek (mixed pace) workout.
Your RPE for this workout should reach 7-8 or 70-80% of your maximum heart rate. Speed endurance training should feel quite taxing.
Thursday: Lower Body
Today’s workout is designed to build leg strength and power. If you want to climb hills faster and outsprint the opposition, this workout will help.
|1||Deadlift||2-3||4-6 supersetted with|
|3||Bulgarian split squat||2-3||6-8 per leg supersetted with|
|4||Jumping lunges||2-3||8-10 per leg|
|5||Standing calf raise||2-3||10-12 supersetted with|
|6||Straight leg jumps||2-3||15-20|
Friday: Upper Body
This workout complements yesterday’s session and will develop your upper body pushing and pulling strength and power.
|1||Bench press||2-3||4-6 reps supersetted with|
|3||Weighted chin-up||2-3||4-6 reps supersetted with|
|4||Medicine ball slams||2-3||8-10|
|5||Seated dumbbell overhead press||2-3||4-6 reps supersetted with|
Saturday: Long Endurance
Your final workout of the week is the longest. However, that doesn’t mean it should be the hardest. Instead, you should run, cycle, swim, etc., at an easy pace for a relatively long time, e.g., 40-60 minutes or more.
Your RPE should be 5-6 or 50-60% of your maximum heart rate. If you are too out of breath to talk, you are going too fast.
Adjust training speeds/volumes, etc., to match your current fitness. Remember to apply the 10% rule to your workouts to make them progressive, but also avoid doing too much too soon.
Hybrid Training – FAQs
Do you have a question about hybrid training? No worries because we’ve got the answers!
1. Do I have to do the same number of endurance and strength training workouts?
Absolutely not! You may need to emphasize one type of training over the other to address a fitness imbalance or just because you want to prioritize one kind of training. However, you should do a minimum of two workouts per week for each discipline, otherwise, you may find your progress grinds to a halt.
For example, a weekly training plan that emphasizes endurance could look like this:
- Monday: Medium endurance
- Tuesday: Full body strength
- Wednesday: Speed endurance
- Thursday: Easy endurance
- Friday: Full body strength
- Saturday: Long endurance
- Sunday: Rest
2. Is hybrid training good for fat loss?
Hybrid training certainly has the potential to burn fat, especially if you follow a calorie-restricted diet. However, this type of training is designed to improve your physical performance, and purposely eating less could affect your workouts, robbing you of vital energy.
So, eat healthily, and reduce your food intake slightly if you want to get leaner, but avoid strict dieting during hybrid training. Otherwise, you may find yourself unable to recover between workouts.
3. Is hybrid training good for building muscle?
As previously mentioned, the main purpose of hybrid training is to improve physical performance. As you get stronger, your muscles will probably get bigger, but this is a side-effect of productive strength training rather than its purpose.
So, yes, your muscles will grow with hybrid training, but a dedicated bodybuilding program will probably produce better faster results.
4. Will hybrid training get me “competition ready?”
While you may not be winning any national or international events anytime soon, there is no reason to think that you can’t get in good enough shape to compete in a local event, such as a five or 10k, novice powerlifting meet, or something like an obstacle race.
In fact, after a year or so of hybrid training, you should be more than ready to take on any one of these challenges with little, if any, additional preparation.
5. Can I change the exercises or training sessions in the hybrid workout plan?
We designed our hybrid training plan to show you what you CAN do rather than provide a set-in-stone program or template to follow. Look at how it’s structured and how easy and more challenging workouts are sequenced to limit overtraining. Use the same principles to design your own hybrid training plan.
6. What about twice-a-day training?
At some point in the future, you may want to train twice a day. This can be beneficial for increasing training volume. If you DO start training twice a day, try to separate your workouts by 6-8 hours, so you are well-rested for the second session.
Should you train strength or endurance first? That’s still up for debate, and there is no definitive answer. Try doing your strength workout first with endurance after and then vice versa to see which option works best for you.
Hybrid Training – Closing Thoughts
For decades exercisers have been told that strength and endurance training don’t mix. Lifting and running, cycling, swimming, etc., were seen as highly incompatible. You had to pick your style of training and stick to it. Runner run and lifters lift – period!
However, it seems like the interference effect is not as pronounced as was once thought, and you CAN train for strength and endurance simultaneously. In fact, with patience and dedication, you can achieve a reasonably high level of performance in both these disciplines.
So, whether you are a lifter who wants to try running or a cyclist who wants to try strength training, hybrid training means you can pursue two different goals simultaneously.
1– PubMed: Interference of strength development by simultaneously training for strength and endurance https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7193134/
2– PubMed: Concurrent training: a meta-analysis examining interference of aerobic and resistance exercises https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22002517/