What is real strength? The answer to that simple question can vary dramatically, depending on whom you ask.
You see, there are many different strength disciplines, and their disciples have very different definitions of what real strength is.
A gymnast, however, would have a vastly different opinion. To a gymnast, if you can’t hold an iron cross or do a muscle up, you wouldn’t be considered strong regardless of your bench press numbers.
An Olympic weightlifter measures his strength by how much weight he can clean, snatch, jerk, etc.
A Strongman competitor believes real strength is defined by one’s ability to lift and perform difficult challenges with heavy and odd implements.
And a bodyweight master would insist that unless you can do one arm handstand push up or a one arm chin up, you don’t have much to offer in the strength department.
As you can see, there are many different types of strength. And the carryover from one discipline to another is often barely evident. For example, I know plenty of very impressive powerlifters who can barely do a chin up, let alone a handstand.
Alternatively, there are many gymnasts/bodyweight masters who couldn’t put up big numbers in the squat. So this begs the question, “How should YOU train in order to get strong?”
Well, if you’re a powerlifter, you absolutely should concentrate the majority of your efforts on increasing your strength in the 3 powerlifts.
On the other hand, if your discipline is gymnastics, gymnastic movements are what you should focus on.
If you compete in Olympic weightlifting, you need to prioritize rehearsing the Olympic lifts.
If you’re a Strongman competitor, you definitely should revolve your training around actual Strongman events in order to practice technique and develop the unique training qualities only these movements can deliver.
And last but not least, if you are a bodyweight guy/girl, you need to dedicate most of your training time to specific bodyweight exercise progressions.
That’s all good and should make sense to everyone who is already seriously involved in one of the above mentioned disciplines. What about the rest of us, though? How should most trainees train who don’t compete in a specific sport or discipline?
These individuals just love to strength train because they enjoy it, and not for any other reason. This population makes up the majority of people out there, myself included.
Sure, I have competed in powerlifting before, but I don’t consider myself a powerlifter. And I’ve also done my share of bodyweight/gymnastic exercises and power cleans, but I’m far from a competitive gymnast or Olympic weightlifter.
What I have done, however, is developed a balanced strength profile by adopting a hybrid approach. And after many years of experimenting with all training disciplines, I strongly believe that this is the BEST way to go for the majority of trainees out there.
Before I share with you exactly what a hybrid routine is, let me show you the strengths and weaknesses of each specific training style. This will help you understand how I came to develop my own approach.
1) Great movements for increasing muscle mass
2) Very fun exercises and workouts, especially if you work out with training partners
3) Easy to chart progress
3) Great for developing absolute strength
1) Injury rates are incredibly high
2) Movements cause lack of joint mobility
1) Awesome for power development
2) Transfers to sports very well
3) Helps to develop traps and upper back (which is a great look)
3) Movements are athletic in nature
1) Extremely technical lifts. Takes a lot of practice with a qualified coach to do Olympic movements properly.
2) Not as fun as other disciplines
3) Can be frustrating because it is so difficult to learn
1) Great movements for increasing functional strength
2) Very fun to do especially when challenging friends/training partners
3) Unique ability to increase both strength and conditioning simultaneously
4) Can work your entire body with just one or two movements
1) Injury rates are high
2) Difficult to find implements in a typical gym
3) Qualified coaches are few and far between
1) Minimal equipment required
2) Great for developing relative strength
3) Teaches you how to move your bodyweight through space
4) Safer than the classic barbell exercises
1) Very difficult for anyone over 12% body fat
2) Doesn’t develop (to a maximal degree) the ability to forcefully move external loads (i.e. opponents)
Is there a way to take advantage of the strengths of each strength training style while minimizing the weaknesses? The answer is an emphatic yes — and it’s what I have based my entire strength training style on.
Just like the great Bruce Lee did with different martial arts disciplines, we will take the best of each style and leave the rest behind. Now let me break down each discipline and what we will take from them:
Powerlifting- We will take the squats and the deadlifts while leaving the bench press behind. Only do bench if you’re getting tested on it, or for a short time during a mass building phase.
Olympic Weightlifting- Power cleans and power snatches are great exercises. I utilize them (and variations of them) at times instead of always doing Deadlifts. This is important because I have found that deadlifting too frequently can lead to overtraining.
Strongman Training- I enjoy most of the classic Strongman exercises and will use many of them (or variations of them) from time to time. But realistically speaking, I most prescribe the farmers walk, log clean and press and various dragging drills.
Gymnastics/Bodyweight Exercises- Just about every exercise from this style can be used. I emphasize one arm push ups, one arm chin ups, hanging leg raises, handstand push ups, and various jumps.
Here is a sample hybrid workout:
1) Power Box Jumps 3 x 5 rest 60 sec
2) Power Snatch From Hang 3 x 5 rest 120 sec
3) Barbell Back Squats 4 x 4, 1 x 10-12 rest 180 sec
4a) Pistol Squats 2 x 8-10 each rest 45 sec
4b) Hanging Leg Raise 2 x 2<max rest 45 sec
5) Farmers Walk 2 x 15 yard turnarounds rest 60 sec
Here are my results from this type of training:
By integrating all of these styles, you can develop real strength that will have carryover to any activity you engage in. No longer will your ability to display your strength be isolated to the moments when you’re standing in a power rack or on an Olympic platform.
Once you train in this manner, you will absolutely see a huge difference in your general performance. Whether you’re at an MMA class, in a pickup game of football or on a rock climbing trip, you will be able to appreciate your strength training efforts!
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