A 2019 study published in the peer-reviewed journal plus one found that a combination of aerobic exercise and resistance training resulted in lower blood pressure, increased lean muscle mass, and increased strength and cardiorespiratory fitness. Furthermore, these findings suggest that combining running with strengthening activities is better than doing either alone, and may even reduce the risk of heart disease.
“Strength training strengthens the muscles involved in running, which improves running performance and reduces the risk of running-related injuries,” says Antoine Hamelin, CPT, personal trainer and CEO of First Step Fitness.
Hybrid workouts are a great way to change up your exercise routine. If you’re a runner, your workouts are likely to become monotonous after racking up mileage day in and day out. The same goes for strength training: doing the same exercises over and over can get boring. Hybrid training will help keep you mentally fresh and make workouts more fun, while helping to prevent burnout and plateaus in your fitness.
What is hybrid training?
Regardless of your age or fitness level, hybrid training is ideal for those looking to quickly get into the fat-burning zone while building lean muscle and strength. Here, it’s important to note that fat is just your body’s way of storing the unused energy it receives from the food you eat. So hybrid training is a way to tap into that reserve and put it to work for you to keep your body fat percentage in a healthy range for you. This training method combines cardiovascular exercise, such as running or high-intensity interval training (HIIT), with resistance training, such as weightlifting and calisthenics (also known as bodyweight exercises). The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week, plus strength training two or more days per week.
“Running is a muscular endurance activity. A lot of people think it’s just cardio,” says certified trainer Holly Perkins, CSCS. “While it puts your cardiovascular system to the test, your muscles are what transport your body through space in a repetitive motion over a period of time. So it’s actually a muscular event.” And the same goes for HIIT and plyometrics, or jump training as well.
Benefits of hybrid training
If you focus only on strength training, you neglect your cardiovascular health and miss out on the many benefits of resistance training, such as lower resting heart rate, lower blood pressure, improved mood, and fat loss. In contrast, the same concept applies to cardio. If you prioritize aerobic exercise and avoid strength training, you won’t get the many health benefits of building muscle.
Cardio works synergistically with strength training. Combining these types improves body composition (the ratio of muscle mass to body fat), speeds up metabolism, improves blood sugar control, and protects heart health. Also, regular cardio exercises can help build muscle. When your cardiovascular system works more efficiently, it helps increase blood flow to your muscles and improves circulation.
Building muscle does much more than make you stronger. Strength training has many health benefits, including better bone density, better body composition, lower risk of injury, and a more efficient metabolism. Strength training has also been shown to improve digestion and reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Shifting your weekly focus from strength training to cardio can be an effective strategy for making gains in both areas. “Change your focus and your priorities every week. The most important goal is to get two to three high-quality strength training sessions per week,” says Perkins, who recommends alternating strength training and cardio days.
Hybrid Training Nutrition
Not all calories are created equal. For example, the energy you get from a bowl of fresh fruit is not the same as the energy contained in a doughnut. For optimal energy and performance, your best bet is to eat a balanced diet rich in carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, and fiber from whole plant foods that provide enough calories to fuel your increased training volume.
Whether your goal is to run a marathon or set a deadlift PR in the gym, your body relies on carbohydrates to fuel physical activity. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), moderate exercise for one hour a day requires 5 to 7 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight per day.
“For hybrid athletes, glycogen (blood sugar stored in the liver) is optimal for maintaining energy levels during endurance exercise, as well as protecting protein stores so they can be used effectively for training. of strength and muscle development, which in turn supports overall endurance performance. ” says Katie Cavuto, RD, registered dietitian and executive chef at Saladworks.
“A great deal of research shows that consuming protein within the anabolic system [i.e. building] window—30 minutes to two hours after a workout—either alone or combined with a carbohydrate, enhances muscle growth and repair. However, several studies also show that consistent protein intake throughout the day can still support muscle growth,” says Cavuto. For example, a recent study published in the Nutrition Magazine concluded that muscle protein synthesis was 25 percent higher when protein was evenly distributed at breakfast, lunch, and dinner rather than at a single meal.
Here is an example of a day of food to fuel a hybrid training program; however, there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to nutrition. Calorie needs are highly individualized, based on age, gender, height, weight, and activity level. Use this example for reference only.
Hybrid Training Feeding Day Example
Rolled oats: 1/2 cup
Banana: 1 whole, sliced
Blueberries: 1/2 cup
Pumpkin seeds: 1 tablespoon
Ground flaxseed: 2 tablespoons
Natural peanut butter: 1 tablespoon
Unsweetened non-dairy milk: 1/2 cup
Cinnamon: 1 teaspoon
Post Workout Protein Shake
Non-dairy milk without sugar: 1 cup
Frozen strawberries: 1 cup
Banana: 1 whole
Leafy green vegetables of your choice (spinach, kale, etc.): 1 cup
Chia seeds: 2 tablespoons
Medjool dates, pitted: 1 whole
Protein powder: 1 scoop
Lentils, dry: 1/2 cup
Black beans: 1/2 cup
Broccoli, steamed: 1 cup
Cherry tomatoes: 1/2 cup
Avocado: 1/2 whole
Spinach: 2 cups
Lemon: juice of 1 whole
Sauce, organic: 1/4 cup
Apple: 1 whole
Almonds: 12 whole
Yogurt (oat or coconut based): 1/2 cup
Brown basmati rice, dry: 1/2 cup
Tofu, organic: 100g
Cauliflower, chopped: 1 cup
Sweet potato, raw: 100g
Onion, chopped: 1/4 cup
Bell pepper, diced: 1/2 cup
Red cabbage, chopped: 1/2 cup
Chickpeas: 1/2 cup
Bok choy: 1 cup
Lemon-tahini dressing: 1 tablespoon
How to get started with hybrid training
1. Find exercises you enjoy
The key to the success and sustainability of any fitness program is that you love what you’re doing. You’re more likely to stick with hybrid training if you’re doing workouts you enjoy. If you’re not sure where to start, try various workouts at different locations. For example, do a strength training session outside, run on a track, lift weights at a gym, or do bodyweight exercises at home. See what works best for you and make it your own.
2. Feed your body with proper nutrition
As discussed above, nutrition is essential to achieving your health and fitness goals. You’ll likely burn more calories when starting a hybrid training program, so you want to make sure you’re consuming enough calories. Fueling your body with calories from whole food sources that are high in protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats will make a difference in your energy, performance, and recovery. If you’re not sure where to start, talk to a registered dietitian who can help you create a personalized plan to help you reach your goals.
3. Prioritize rest and recovery
Overtraining is a common mistake that fitness enthusiasts of all levels are guilty of from time to time (myself included). There’s even a name for this condition: overtraining syndrome (OTS). OTS can happen if you do too much physical activity too soon. Avoid OTS by building up your fitness gradually.
After a rigorous workout, take some time off to rest and recover. During the recovery phase, your muscles rebuild and you get stronger. Do active recovery one or two days a week (eg, walk, bike, swim) or stop exercising altogether one day a week. This will help give your body and brain a well-deserved break from training.
4. Be flexible in your exercise routine
Combining strength training with cardio can work in different ways. Some prefer to keep the two separate, while others like to incorporate both types of exercise into a single HIIT or circuit-style workout. For example, you could run 30 to 45 minutes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with strengthening exercises on Tuesday and Thursday. Alternatively, you could do high-intensity hybrid workouts that combine calisthenics, weightlifting, and running three or four days a week.
5. Start slow and increase training volume over time
When beginning any new training program, it’s wise to pace yourself and allow your body to adjust to avoid injury, burnout, and fatigue. This time varies significantly depending on your fitness level, but expect the adaptation phase to last several weeks or months. Start with two or three workouts a week and gradually work up to more until you can do four or five a week without exhaustion.