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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Hybrid Athlete by Alex Viada - Fatman's Review

Finished reading The Hybrid Athlete by Alex Viada and I must say I'm very impressed. The purpose of the book is to provide programming guidelines to athletes wishing to integrate weightlifting and endurance training, possibly even compete at both (e.g. a powerlifter looking to compete in his first marathon, or a triathlon athlete thinking about entering a strongman competition). If you're focusing on one and want to add a bit of the other (e.g. powerlifter trying to improve his conditioning), that's covered too. Personally I have no desire to improve my 5k time or do a triathlon (or a marathon), but would like to add as much low-impact cardio work to my weekly routine as I can without it negatively affecting my lifting.

The book is written in a clear, no-nonsense style. No apocryphal bullshit or broscience - where necessary, the author addresses and dismantles common training and nutrition myths using actual textbook science. At the same time, he doesn't try to cram science down your throat. There's a brief  physiology section at the beginning, describing bodily processes (e.g. digestion, strength and endurance adaptations, etc.) to lay down the foundation for the chapters to come, and that's about as sciency as it gets. The short nutrition chapter is an absolute gem and contains more useful information than some whole books I've read on the topic.

Although the book does contain a few sample training routines at the end, with exercises and sets and reps and times included, it's not a "how to program my strength training" type of book. The author wants you to understand the different demands various athletic endeavors place on your body and fit the pieces together accordingly. Viada himself is an accomplished competitive powerlifter who runs marathons 'for fun', so he definitely practices what he preaches. He trains successful "hybrid" athletes, Crossfitters and military personnel. He also happens to love beer, so major points in my book.

I would recommend that you get a copy of The Hybrid Athlete, but here are some of the high points:
  • Lifting and endurance training encourage the development of different types of physique. New muscle mass places a disproportional added demand on the body's energy systems. Adding endurance training can impact your recovery, hence muscular hypertrophy. Cardio can "kill your gainz" (and conversely, gainz can kill your cardio), but you can mitigate the negative effects through intelligent programming and adequate diet.
  • Stop thinking about "strength training" and "conditioning". Instead, look at various types of training through the twin prism of skill and intensity. I.e. it's unnecessary and unproductive to do sprints on your off days from lifting.
  • Specific exercises for specific work capacity, i.e. to get better at specific movements, do those specific movements. E.g. the overhead press might or might not help your bench press, but the paused bench press always helps your bench press.
  • A "hybrid" lifting program must center on the essentials. One main movement, 1-2 high-carryover accessories and 1-2 exercises to improve structural stability. E.g. squat, front squat, split squat.
  • Don't waste time on irrelevant movements that require skill development and place undue stress on the muscle groups necessary for your main activity. E.g. tire flipping is great for strongman, okay for CF, absolutely useless for powerlifting or running.
  • Steady state, long duration cardio is absolutely essential to the "hybrid athlete" and should comprise the bulk of the endurance portion of his workout. Intense cardio, e.g. sprints, takes too long to recover from and should be treated the same way as a weightlifting workout.
  • Always think of opportunity cost - max effort training, be it sprints or heavy squats, is difficult to program in and requires a lot of recovery time.
  • Nutrition: "The majority of individuals spend entirely so much time focused on macronutrient breakdowns, meal timing, manipulating hormone levels via food, etc, that they miss the fact that their careful caloric calculations are completely incorrect. The single biggest component in eating for performance is indeed caloric intake. (...) The second biggest factor is carbohydrate intake."
  • Calorie calculators based on height, weight, "activity level", etc. are worthless. In order to estimate your caloric needs correctly, track everything you eat for a week and check the scale to determine your baseline caloric needs. Hint: you'll probably find out that you need way less calories than you thought you did. Figure out what you need to do from there, based on your goals (e.g. add 5% per week to gain weight).
  • Baseline protein intake should be around 1-1.2g/kg bodyweight. More that that won't harm you, but is absolutely unnecessary. He quotes the example of burn victims (extremely high protein requirements to repair lost tissue, way above those of any bodybuilder) being fed around 2g/kg, i.e. still way less than the broscientific axiom of 1-1.5g/lb.
  • Fats should be 10-15% of total caloric intake. The rest should be carbohydrates. Yes, for many this would be a staggering amount of carbs, and tough to swallow (in every meaning of the phrase). But as long as you count your calories correctly (and this is by far the most important factor for 99.9% of people looking to lose or gain weight), you can still get shredded.


Unknown said...

Does he give a heart rate rec for steady state cardio?

Fatman said...

Very good question. Will check and let you know.

Unknown said...

Did you get the email I sent you about meditating?

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