Concurrent Training- what is it? How do we program it? And why should we train different modalities even if we only have one specific goal?
One of many of the wonderful aspects of exercise is that it can be done in many different ways or modalities to achieve many different goals. You can train for athletic performance, strength gains, muscle gains, marathons, triathlons, and just to be healthy and look good in clothes and decent at the beach.
Many training and performance goals compliment each other, like strength gain and muscle gain, while others do not, like strength gain and endurance running. As someone who has had lifelong interests in many of these disciplines, I’ve read, learned, and experimented with as much information and advice as possible about how to train for each of these endeavors. Unfortunately, studies and literature on how to train for more than one goal concurrently is quite minimal. Most coaches and trainers have their niche, and it’s usually just in a single domain. You see coaches who specialize in hypertrophy, or powerlifting, or marathon running, or triathlete training. But rarely do you see anyone who has knowledge and training programs that focus on a mixture of different goals. Other than the new “powerbuilding” craze, that combines training for maximum strength and aesthetics simultaneously, it’s quite rare to see a trainee partaking in multi-discipline training for two adaptations that counter each other, like strength or muscle size, and endurance.
How to be Strong, Jacked, and Run Forever
In my early military career I prided myself on being faster than anyone stronger than me, and stronger than anyone faster than me. I wore it as a badge of honor. I was indeed stronger than most people in my unit, regardless of bodyweight. I was also faster than almost anyone. I simultaneously trained for maximal brute strength, with a focus on squat, bench and deadlift (powerlifting), and middle to long distance endurance running. I stumbled upon one of the OG hybrid athletes, Alex Viada (who also happens to literally be a genius when it comes to training in this field) and began implementing a lot of his methodology, but in my own way to meet the demands of military Special Operations fitness. Some of the numbers and performance markers I was able to attain are considerably above average and arguably somewhat impressive for most athletes, even ones with just a single specific performance goal. I was able to achieve them simultaneously by following a deliberate, well constructed training regimen that focused on improving strength and endurance. For example, in one day (all within about 4 hours) I deadlifted 550 LBS, squatted 450 LBS, ran 7 miles in 42 minutes, and then rucked 8 miles with a 45 LBS ruck (backpack) in 1 hour and 5 minutes (just over 8min/mile pace). Another time, I rucked 18 miles in 2hr 38 minutes (8:47 pace), this time with a 50 LBS ruck, 3 days after squatting 425 LBS for 2 reps at about 180 LBS bodyweight (I’m 6’1”, so I was quite skinny at the time. I’m 195 now, and also not as strong. My goals have shifted over the years). The point is, I have quite a bit of first-hand experience successfully training for strength and endurance simultaneously, and I’d like to share my advice on how to dive into a training program. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to focus on how to train for “powerbuilding”, and moderate to long distance running endurance. Powerbuilding is a combination of powerlifting and bodybuilding. Training for maximal strength is different from training for maximal hypertrophy, but combining some low rep, high intensity (intensity in weight lifting is the % of your 1 rep max), with higher rep, bodybuilding style movements will provide the trainee a nice combination of both. Keep in mind, while the variation involved with this training style keeps it fun and reduces the boredom that often accompanies single-modality programming, it's also quite difficult (both mentally and physically). Powerbuilding is, in a sense, just a catch-phrase. Most powerlifters do bodybuilding work, and conversely, many bodybuilders do powerlifting work (think Ronnie Coleman’s “nothing but a peanut” video, where he squats 800 for 3 reps, a couple weeks out from the Mr. Olympia. An absolute mutant of a human.) The content below will teach you the secrets that you can begin implementing today that will result in you being stronger, more jacked, and running like a gazelle. If you want a full program, be sure to check out my “Jacked Gazelle” program (coming soon).
To understand how to train for both of these domains, it’s important to have a basic knowledge of the body’s energy systems.The three energy systems involved in all forms of training are the ATP or phosphagen energy system (this is the system that is most commonly utilized for weight training and short duration sprints), the glycolytic or anaerobic energy system (think running 400-800 meters as fast as possible) and the oxidative system (longer duration aerobic training that can be sustained for hours depending on the athlete’s fitness level, e.g. a marathon). The energy systems are quite complex, and to get into the nitty gritty science would be an entire blog post itself. The takeaway from knowing the energy systems is that certain types of training cause adaptations in certain energy systems. Generally speaking, the trainee will benefit most from focusing on only one energy system per day (or per training session). We all know how important recovery is between all of our training sessions. This is when the body adapts and grows. The wonderful thing about knowing which energy system you’re training in a given session is that while you’re focusing on one, the other ones continue to recover. For example, if you did a very ATP/Phosphagen demanding, low volume and high intensity strength training session (e.g. 3x2 squats @ 90% 1RM), tomorrow you can go for a long, slow distance run or ruck and as long as you fuel properly and consume adequate calories, your recovery from today’s training will be minimally affected. This is why a good concurrent training program should group the different energy systems together, as far apart from one another as possible. For example, at the beginning of the week, the focus is on the ATP system, and a bit of the glycolytic by utilizing repeat, interval style “threshold” sessions after your low volume, high intensity strength training session. Mid week, the focus shifts to glycolytic and aerobic, still with a bit of ATP, like lifting with higher repetitions and running moderate distance, moderate to high intensity “tempo” runs. Finally, the weekend is focused mainly on aerobic adaptations with long, slow distance (LSD) activity.
Minimal effective dose
The best way to improve in a single domain is to follow a quality, well-written program based on that exact goal. If you’re a professional powerlifter, you’ll follow a powerlifting specific program. If you’re a marathon runner, you’ll follow a long distance running program. Following either of these programs can be quite demanding on the body and the mind. Recovery and listening to your body is of the utmost importance. We all know that your body does not adapt and grow while you’re training, it does so while you’re recovering. That said, following a full-on powerbuilding program AND a full-on distance running program simultaneously will absolutely wreck any athlete. I don’t care if you have the best recovery techniques in the world, you sleep 10 hours per night, your nutrition is dialed, and you’re on large doses of performance enhancing drugs. You will not recover from day to day, and at BEST you’ll maintain some of your strength and running ability. Chances are, however, you’ll actually get worse at both, get injured, or just quit altogether. I know this, because for a brief period of time before I came across Alex Viada and his content, I tried it. I have above-average ability to recover, and a tremendous amount of grit. At the time, I thought more was better. I was wrong, and thankfully I didn't dig myself too deep into a hole because I was constantly seeking solutions in order to improve without crushing myself daily. Thankfully for you, the reader, by following a well-structured training program, you can continuously improve at both AND feel good (for the most part) throughout the program. Remember, your training program should not make you feel run down, lethargic and unmotivated throughout. You should feel good, at least most of the time. You achieve this by doing the minimum effective dose of weight training, and the minimum effective dose of conditioning each week to make progress. Many athletes think that the harder you work, the more progress you’ll make. They watch the Bruce Jenner documentary on Netflix (a must-watch if you haven’t already), and think that if bruce could win the Olympic decathlon by training 8 hours a day, 7 days a week, then I can too. No disrespect for Bruce and what he accomplished, but if he had been smarter about his training, he would have won by a lot more than he did. So, applying the minimal effective dose to training for each discipline cannot be overstated. Keep this in mind when you embark on your hybrid journey.
Conjugate Undulating Periodization Approach
You may have heard of West Side Barbell and their implementation of the conjugate approach to training. To be a beast in the gym, and on the road (or trail), a conjugate type approach is the most tested and true way to go about your training, both for strength and endurance. Generally speaking, you’ll want to front-load your high intensity, lower volume training in the beginning of the week (or beginning of your split, not everyone starts their training split on monday. I prefer saturday). Your heavy, low rep lifting and your shorter, speed focused running will be the main focus early in the week. Your higher repetition, body-building style training will accompany slower, longer runs at the end of the week and during the weekend. The weekly cycling of volume and intensity is termed “undulating periodization”. Although you can build a program that will ensure steady progress in strength, muscle size, and endurance simultaneously, the best way to attack these goals long-term over a macro-cycle (say, a year’s worth of training) is to lean towards one domain at a time, while accepting a bit less improvements in the other. For example, during one 3-4 month meso-cycle (fancy term for moderate-term training cycle), you’ll focus more on bringing up your big powerlifts, and you’ll, at minimum, maintain or slowly improve your endurance ability. When the meso-cycle comes to an end, your next 3-4 months will focus more on improving your endurance, while the strength and hypertrophy improvements will slow down a bit, but not be completely neglected. If you have certain competitions that you’re training for where you need to perform very well in a specific domain (like a half marathon, or a powerlifting meet), you’ll obviously want to focus your training on that particular performance, and accept that you won’t be making huge improvements at both simultaneously. With this style of training, however, you’ll be able to maintain and perhaps even improve the performance of the energy system that’s not being focused on primarily. A mistake that many athletes and trainees tend to make is that they take an all-or-nothing approach to a specific training goal. They want to have better endurance, so they only focus on training for that goal, suffering muscle and strength losses as a result. Conversely, the athlete who wants to become as jacked or as strong as possible and completely neglects cardiovascular training, will suffer massive losses in that area, not to mention the negative health consequences of being cardiovascularly unfit. Managing fatigue and recovery while following this training methodology is essential, as people who gravitate toward training in this manner tend to have type A personalities and are high performers in all areas of life. While this personality type can be extremely advantageous (most high-acheivers are type A individuals), it can also be detrimental because fitness is so unique in the fact that working harder and putting in more time doesn't always (almost never) equate to more progress and success. While most goals in life can be attained by grinding and putting in MORE work, in fitness and performance, putting in the RIGHT amount of work is the secret to success and longevity. This is why knowing your body and being brutally honest with yourself is so important, especially when training concurrently.
Recovery and Nutrition for Hybrid-style Training
While recovery and nutrition are integral parts of most training programs, especially if you have specific goals, they cannot be stressed enough when training hybrid-style. You must follow a performance-based diet in order to keep up with the high demands that a hybrid program places on your body. If you attempt to train this way while in a calorie deficit, you’ll find that it becomes unsustainable quite quickly. Eating for performance, in general, means consuming maintenance calories at the very minimum. Better gains and progress will be achieved in a slight surplus. Obviously, if your main goal is endurance, you have to be conscious about not gaining too much body weight. Luckily, you can get considerably stronger with minimal to no weight gain. If you’re a weight-class athlete, you must also manipulate calories accordingly especially when nearing competition. The good news is, even if you’re in a surplus (as long as it’s not too extreme), most of the extra calories will go towards the building of new muscle tissue. Another positive aspect about this way of training is that it requires a lot of calories to sustain. So the trainee generally will never feel restricted with their diet. Oftentimes, one of the most difficult aspects of hybrid style training is consistently consuming ENOUGH calories, especially carbohydrates. Carbohydrates support energy production for all glycolytic and anaerobic training, with mixed evidence on their importance for aerobic performance. I highly recommend that athletes who chose to train for multiple domains do not attempt to do so while following a low carb style diet. When I trained this way, the caloric intake I had to sustain was quite difficult to adhere to daily. I have a very large appetite and I still struggled at times to consume adequate food. I am 6 ft 1 inch tall and (at the time) 180-185 lbs, and I would often need to consume upwards of 6,000 calories a day, especially towards the end of the week when volume ramped up. Intermittent fasting is also not the right choice for most, but not all trainees because fitting all of your daily calorie requirements into a restricted eating window can quickly become an overwhelming task. Another unique aspect of training this way, is that just like the training week undulates with volume and intensity, the calorie requirements follow suit. Generally, towards the beginning of the week when volume is low and intensity is high, the trainee can eat a more reasonable amount of calories. As the week progresses, and the lifting and conditioning volume increases, calories must increase with it. For example, when I trained in this manner (my weekly long run was more often a long ruck with 50 extra lbs on my back, so far more calorically demanding than just running with your bodyweight) I’d eat around 3,700 calories for the first 3 days of the program, and then up it to around 5,000 for day 4, and upwards of 6,000 for days 5 and 6 (day before and day of the long ruck). This is my personal experience. These numbers are highly individual and depend on many factors including gender, body weight, total weekly volume, metabolism, and training experience. Make sure to plan out your week in order to keep up with the high calorie demands that this style of training entails. Nutrition is just a piece of the puzzle when it comes to fueling and recovering from the high demands of this training style. Trainees also must manage their life stress, sleep quality and quantity, and use other methods to enhance recovery such as cold therapy, sauna, massage, and mobility work. Additionally, the ability to autoregulate your training is hugely important. You must listen to your body's signals. If you did a 20 mile run yesterday, did't sleep well last night, had a stressful day at work, and just got in an argument with your girlfriend, and today's workout calls for heavy ass deadlifts, maybe be honest with yourself and opt for the lower intensity of the rep range. I always program percentage based training with a range of 2-4% for this exact reason. So if today calls for deadlifts for 5x2 at 87-91%, I strongly suggest you opt for that lower number when you're just having one of those days. I promise you won't get weaker! Life stress in combination with training stress can quickly add up, and being aware of how it's effecting you is vital to your long term success and physical and mental health.
Sample Week of Training
You may be trying to paint a picture in your mind of what a sample training week looks like. You have all the information you need on hybrid training, and now I will put it all together for you with a sample week. This is just a week, and programming a whole training cycle takes a lot of thought and effort to ensure the trainee is able to adapt and recover from the stresses. For this example, the trainee has no specific goals or competitions in the near future, he or she just wants to maintain strength, muscle, and aerobic capacity with running.
Weight room: Lower body- strength, low volume/high intensity
Conditioning: speed work- repeats
Squat: 1x3 @88-92% of 1 rep TRAINING max (alternate weeks between heavy squat and heavy DL)
4x4 @ 85% of top triple
Track: 6x 800m repeats
Weight Room: Upper Body- strength, low volume, high intensity
Conditioning: shorter zone 2 (low impact) i.e. 35-50 min on rower, airbike, jacobs ladder, ski erg or combo of multiple to decrease boredom.
Bench: 5x3 @ 85-88% 1 rep TRAINING max
Chest Supported Row: 3x8
Incline Press Machine: 3x8
Tricep Pressdowns 3x12
Side Delt Laterals: 3x12
Conditioning: 30-40 minutes at a heart rate of 130-145 on rower, airbike, jacobs ladder, versa climber, incline treadmill walk
Rest, but stay active
Lower Body Hypertrophy
Hamstring curl 3x12
Leg extensions 3x12
Hack squat or leg press 2x12-15
Glute bridge 3x10
Bulgarian split squat 2x8
Calf raise 3x10-12
GHR or back extension 3x8
Conditioning: 20-30 minute tempo run. 10 minute easy warm up, 25 minutes just below threshold (can say a couple words, but not a full sentence), 10 minute cool down
Upper Body Hypertrophy
Incline DB press: 3x10
Single Arm DB row: 3x8 ea
Weighted Dips 3x6
Lat Pulldown: 3x10
Side Delt Raises: 3x15
JM press 3x10
Cable Curls 3x12
Hanging Leg Raise 3x12
Farmer’s Carries: accumulate 200 meters
Conditioning: Non-impact recovery (bike, rower, ski-erg etc. 15-30 min)
LSD run or ruck (alternate weeks). 75-90 minutes. Zone 2 (do not run with a ruck, unless you have a SOF selection or equivalent event approaching)
Rest, stay active, or truly just rest and sit around all day depending on how you feel
Keep in mind, this is just an example of one training week. Each week in the Jacked Gazelle Program looks pretty similar to this, with rep ranges, distances and time domains periodized in order to ensure you're porgresssing. It's 5 days/week of pretty demanding training, with 2 rest days. As you can see, this type of training is for people who are truly dedicated, and that have the time (or that MAKE the time, and don’t make excuses) to train. For the full program, check out my “Jacked Gazelle” program (coming soon).