Hybrid Training – A Strength Training Innovation
By Mel Siff
There are innumerable methods of introducing variety into even the simplest exercises and most of them have been discussed for years in popular training magazines by weightlifters, bodybuilders and strength coaches. One form not commonly used, however, is what I call hybrid exercise, so named because it combines two or more separate movements with a single weight or item of apparatus in one exercise.
I first created this exercise classification many years ago while I was trying to determine if any strength training exercise strongly loads more muscles and joints than the Weightlifting Clean & Jerk, which appears to be the King of Strength Exercises. In doing so, it was clear that the great effectiveness of this competitive exercise lies in the fact that it combines several separate, though linked, exercise movements in one, namely the clean, the shrug, the front squat, the ballistic dip, and the jerk above the head. At the same time I recalled all of the special weightlifting combinations that I used weekly in my Olympic lifting programme, such as the clean pull and shrug, clean from the hang and front squat, good-morning and half squat, good-morning and half squat and calf raise, squat and jerk behind the head, and many others.
Since the terms “complex” training and “combined” exercises already existed for related forms of training, the obvious next name for describing this type of training which suggested itself was “hybrid”. I then started experimenting with possible ways of devising similar hybrids for bodybuilding and personal training, some of which periodically have been used by innovative physique trainers. It soon became obvious to me that there literally are many thousands of bodybuilding and general training exercises that any instructor or coach can devise. This article has been written to stimulate you to become your own exercise creative genius and see how you can incorporate your unique collection of hybrids into the training of yourself and your clients.
Hybrid exercise systems are far more familiar in weightlifting than in bodybuilding or general fitness training. Hybrid exercises involve several joints of the body moving through a greater range of motion than is normal with single exercises. Thus, instead of carrying out several separate exercises one after the other in a circuit or aerobics class, they can all be done in the one repetition.
What are Hybrid Exercises?
As we have already learned, the clean-and-jerk, a combination of a lift from the ground, a front squat and a thrust overhead in a single repetition, is probably the best known hybrid exercise. Few movements in any other sport, except for the snatch or the clean-and-press, rival the clean-and-jerk in recruiting such an extensive range of muscle groups in such a short period of time, so it is apparent that other forms of hybrid will also exercise many muscle groups in a very short time.
The hybrid system refers not only to a single hybrid repetition consisting of several different movements, but also to the hybrid set, which comprises a different movement for each separate repetition of the set. Each repetition of this type of exercise comprises a different movement and, if carefully designed, can be extended from the realm of weightlifting to offer the following advantages to the bodybuilder or general weight trainer:
• exercise of a greater variety of muscle groups in a shorter time
• great saving of time in the lives of busy modern individuals
• exercise over a greater range of joint movement
• prevention of overloading to a single muscle group
• combination of strength, speed and suppleness training
• avoidance of mental and physical stagnation
• avoidance of establishing rigid or detrimental patterns of inappropriately simulated movements
• increased blood flow to all the muscles which control a particular series of joint movements
• learning a complicated manoeuvre via a breakdown into vital phases
• stimulation of a new growth or performance phase
There is an endless variety of hybrid sets or movements which can be devised by the inventive coach to assist the trainee, provided proper guidelines are followed to avoid injury and the acquisition of unnecessary or technically detrimental movements. Should the load be too great to permit a strict movement, a carefully executed ‘cheating’ movement may be used to progress through any sticking point.
In this respect, the order of movements in a hybrid set should be arranged to permit their safe and controlled execution without exhaustion and impaired technique. Of course, one’s precise training goal will determine the load, reps and movement pattern in each case.
Hybrids without Weights
It is not even necessary to rely on weights or machines for creating hybrid exercises. For example, one can devise stretching or flexibility hybrids using combinations of static, quasi-isometric (very slow) and dynamic stretches drawn from disciplines such as yoga and TaiChi, something which I have often used when I taught aerobics classes, and which I still do during any restoration phases in my overall training programme.
Sometimes I have my students devise bodybuilding posing hybrids to apply what I have described as loadless training (“Supertraining” Ch 4). Those unfamiliar with the rigours of posing routines soon learn that a concentration posing hybrid using slow tensing exercises aesthetically linked to one another can be an extremely exhausting and demanding type of training even in a routine which lasts no more than one minute. If you have never attempted a posing hybrid, just try one for size and you will see what I mean!
Finally, you can create some extremely challenging partner assisted hybrids by having someone apply manual resistance in any variety of hybrids. Because my own training facility has both a 8ft deep jacuzzi and lap swimming pool method, a method that I also often use for training, therapy and restoration is aqua-hybrids, where anyone can carry out a huge variety of exercises in which the resistance in hot or cold water can be varied by changing the speed at which a limb moves over any part of the joint range.
Examples of Hybrid Repetitions and Sets
Let us now consider some specific examples of hybrids with weights. A chest hybrid set could consist of the following sequence: 1st few repetitions narrow grip bench press; last few repetitions – bent-arm pullovers. Another hybrid predominantly for the pectoral muscles could be designed as follows: 1st repetition narrow grip bench press, bar next replaced on racks, immediately followed by 2nd repetition taken off the racks for a wide grip bench press, alternating thus for the entire set.
This technique of replacing the bar briefly on racks (using the so-called ‘cluster’ method) to facilitate a change of grip may be utilised in a variety of hybrid sets for exercising other muscle groups.
Further examples of hybrid exercises are:
• Reps 1-5: DB Press; 6-10: DB Curl, 11-15: Lateral Raises
• Reps 1-5: DB Bench Press; 6-10: DB Flyes; 11-15: DB Pullovers
• Reps 1-5: narrow grip bench press; 6 -10: wide grip bench press
• Reps 1-5: half-squats; 6-10: overhead press or push press
• Reps 1-5: half or 3/4 squats; 6-15: calf raises
• Reps 1-5: DB press; 6-10: DB lateral raises; 11-15: DB upright row
• Reps 1-5: Front DB Raises; 6-10: Side DB Raises, 11-15: Back DB Raises
• Reps 1-5: DB Deadlifts ; 6-10: DB Side Bends, 11-15: DB Shrugs
There is an endless variety of hybrid sets similar to this which can be constructed, provided appropriate guidelines are followed to avoid injury. A weight must be chosen which will not impose excessive strain on the muscles involved in the weakest movement in each sequence.
These use single movements which combine elements of two or more standard exercises. For example, a squat and push press (or push jerk) done together become an economical way of working both lower and upper body in a single exercise. Again, the range of exercises is limited only by the imagination, but some examples are:
• Barbell (or DB) curl, Overhead press (normal or reverse grip)
• DB lateral raises(palms up), Curl, Standing press (reverse grip)
• DB lateral raises(palms down), Upright row
• Half squat, Overhead press (or push press)
• Half squat, Good mornings
• Half squat, Good mornings, Calf Raises
• DB bench press, Pullovers or bent arm flyes.
Hybrids for Serious Lifters
Hybrids or complex exercises are a fundamental part of Weightlifting and Powerlifting training (many of these variations are listed in Siff “Supertraining” 2000). Here is a small selection of lifting hybrids for the serious lifter and strength athlete:
Clean and Push Press
Squat and Calf Raise
Squat and Jerk behind the neck
Clean from Hang, Front Squat and Calf Raise/Thrust
Good mornings, semi-squat, calf thrust
Snatch push behind neck, drop into squat
DB Flyes, DB bent arm pullovers
Deadlift, Romanian Deadlift, Shrug + Calf Raise
DB Curl, DB Tricep Kickback
DB Front Raise, DB Side Raise, DB Back Raise (All deltoid combo)
Clean from Hang, Front Squat
Bent knee deadlift, straight knee deadlift
DB bench press, small range DB flyes
DB bent-arm pullovers, DB flyes
Reverse curl, standing press
Clean pull from hang, push press (or jerk)
Snatch pull from hang, power snatch
Snatch pull from hang, power snatch, overhead squat
Box squat, Full squat
Half squat, Full squat
The main point that you have to pay attention to is the choice of exercises so that one part of the body is not underloaded or overloaded by the selection of the individual components of the hybrids. These compound or complex exercises frequently occur in many sports (numerous excellent ones exist in the martial arts and dance) and can offer very efficient training of many muscle groups, depending on exactly what you wish to achieve. You can assemble a small group of hybrid exercises on the lifting platform, in a circuit or even in an aerobics class that will achieve in a short time what takes twice as long to achieve in a typical extended continuous circuit.
Hybrids and PNF
Something which may be of special interest to physiotherapists is the fact that I often devise hybrids which apply some of the PNF patterns and procedures, such as the use of spiral and diagonal patterns, motion across the midline of the body, commencement of movement in the strongest range, use of static and dynamic actions, emphasis on visuo-motor coordination, use of stronger muscles to augment the weaker, and progression from primitive to complex actions (for more details of PNF, see “Supertraining” , Ch 7). In applying these methods, dumbbells and cable machines can be especially effective, although hybrids with elastic bands have to be devised carefully because they impose resistance which increases linearly right until the end of range, which does not match the actual ‘strength curves’ of the different joints. This means that elastics are more effective if used over limited ranges and if one’s posture is changed to decrease the resistance where one’s joint leverages become less capable of exerting adequate torque.
All types of training hybrid may be used advantageously by the competitive weightlifter, aerobics instructor, therapist and serious general sports trainee, provided they are integrated judiciously into a program carefully calculated to meet the appropriate strength, speed, skill and other special needs of the athlete or client. The experienced trainer should be encouraged to experiment with the different types of training hybrid: the result could easily be a significant improvement in the performance and progress of all clients.
Many personal trainers and coaches to whom I have taught some of the vast repertoires of hybrid training methods have found that they really have enhanced their ability to offer more varied, exciting, time-efficient and highly productive conditioning programmes for their different types of client. Try hybrids for yourselves and your clients and reap the great benefits!
1. Siff M C Supertraining 2000 Ch 7-8
2. Siff M C Facts and Fallacies of Fitness 2002 Ch 11
3. Siff MC Archives of the Supertraining discussion forum at: