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Hybrid Training for Strength and Physique Improvements

Hybrid Training Programming Tips

In this article I want to talk about hybrid training – a style of training where a programme is adapted to make sure there’s both a goal-centred focus and an aesthetic element to the workouts. I’ll highlight points to consider when adapting your programme to make it a hybrid programme.

For around the last 6 months or so, my training has been almost exclusively weight lifting. I’m following the programme set out by my club coach (it’s nice having my workouts programmed for me, rather than by me!) The programming I’m following is designed to make me a better lifter, not a bodybuilder.

In truth, in my mission to improve my lifting I’ve probably neglected some of the bodybuilding an accessory work. At this point in time, my training is focussed around improving me as a weight lifter and to that end it has been pretty successful – I’m certainly a better lifter than I was before Christmas.

Thing is, summer’s on it’s way and I’ve got a couple of holidays booked. I don’t a Dad bod on holiday. Eff that…

hybrid training

With limited gym time, we can’t focus on everything all the time, it’s just impossible. What is possible though it to combine two or three different approaches into a hybrid training model – a way of mixing training approaches, staying mostly true to the original goal, but adding in beneficial extra work.

Here’s how I’m going to do some hybrid training…

My typical weight lifting sessions last 45-60 minutes. If I push quickly through my sets I can get the sessions done in closer to 45 minutes, which will leave me with spare time at the end of my workout. I’ll use this spare time to include 20 minutes of bodybuilding training at the end of two sessions per week.

I’ll focus (not entirely, but mostly) on the upper body pressing movements because my weight lifting programme takes care of everything else – weight lifting certainly means my legs, back and core do plenty of work.

With the exception of the jerk, almost all of the training I do with my upper body is some form of pulling movement, so in the interests of balance I will do more pushing and pressing.

I’ll do some arm-specific training, purely for vanity. I’m not going to go overboard here at all, considering my weekly training volume it’s still a small percentage of my exercise time.

There are concerns that have to be addressed when weight lifters perform bodybuilding accessory work – if not considered and performed properly bodybuilding exercises can reduce range of movement, affect tissue health, slow down movement etc.

These aren’t reasons to not do bodybuilding accessory work, but care has to be taken so you don’t compromise your main training goal, which in my case is currently to be a better weight lifter.

Greg Everett at Catalyst Athletics wrote a pretty solid article on tips for bodybuilding accessory work for weight lifters. I could re-write it, but it’d be largely pointless so I’ll just show you where it is so you can read it yourselves…

Greg Everett’s ‘Bodybuilding for Weight lifters’ tips article.

Injury Prevention

There’s a real case for accessory work in weight lifting as an injury prevention strategy. Any repetitive movement patterns have the potential to cause injury unless adequate care is taken to prevent it.

I don’t want to repeat movement patterns too often, which is a real danger with weight lifting given there are only really three true exercises you perform. Everything else in weight lifting being a derivative of the major three (snatch, clean and jerk).

Of course a weight lifting training programme is full of exercise variety, but it’s variations on a relatively small theme….

hybrid training

By adding more bodybuilding style accessory work and following a hybrid training approach, I will be improving connective tissue health and varying the movement patterns around my joints. This has been shown to prevent injury because it helps limit/reverse any muscle imbalances that can occur from repeating movement patterns too often.

Physique Considerations

Let’s be honest – I’m not a professional lifter, so beyond the health benefits and enjoyment I get from my exercise, some of the reason I exercise is pure vanity. It’s as simple as I want to be in decent shape and not embarrassed to walk down the beach in just my shorts.

Bodybuilding exercises tick that box for me. Whereas weight lifting will no doubt improve performance and make someone more muscular, it’s purpose isn’t to build a great physique, it’s to build a great athlete. For that job, you need the vanity exercises that would included in hybrid training. Over to you, curls and presses…

build bigger arms, hybrid training

Can Hybrid Training Work?

Absolutely. Look at the physiques of the CrossFit athletes – that’s hybrid training in a very pure form. It’s an approach I use with a few of my personal training clients, where we have limited time but have to try to achieve certain fitness and physique goals.

Here’s a progress picture of Ash, who has followed a hybrid training plan to make significant strength, physique and performance improvements…

personal trainer stockport, hybrid training

Of course any changes in physique are down to a reduction in calories as much as any hybrid training programme, but the purpose of this article is to highlight the benefits of hybrid training. In my case, part of my reason for following a hybrid training model is vanity, so I’m showing you what it can achieve in real life.

How to modify your programme for hybrid training…

Think about the exercise volume…

You have to consider the exercise volume of your training programme – is adding more exercise a good thing? If you can add a few bodybuilding exercises at the end, go for it.

If the volume is currently too high for you to add anything, drop a set from each exercise and you should have sufficiently reduced the volume enough to make room for extra work.

Consider the movement patterns…

Only add extra work if it compliments the kind of training you’re doing. For example, if you are following a powerlifting approach, most of your upper body movements will be pressing – adding more upper body pressing to that is more likely to cause injury, so add pulling movements rather than pushing movements.

Of course this is relative to circumstances, so adjust accordingly.

Keep the goal, the goal…

It’s easy to lose track of your main training goals when turning your programme into a hybrid training model. Try to make sure you don’t do that – hybrid training is supposed to compliment your training, not ruin it.

Keep focussed on your original goal and make the hybrid training element a small but important part of your plan.


Remember that by its very nature, hybrid training isn’t specialised. You may be compromising your ability to hit your original training goal by making your programme a hybrid training programme.

If you compete as a lifter or have a definite exercise outcome such as rehab, I’d wait until you’ve achieved your training goals before you adapt your exercise programme.

If the time is right though and you want to adapt your training programme, I hope these hybrid training tips help you take your training and physique to a new high.

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Owner of Personal Trainer, Father and fitness copy writer. Working hard making the world fitter and healthier!

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