Hybrid Training: For Greater Muscle Hypertrophy

Hybrid Training: For Greater Muscle Hypertrophy

Gym-goers tend to go to the fitness room to perform physical exercise, both cardiovascular and strength training. We tend to generalise weightlifting as “strength training”, although this isn’t entirely correct. We suggest trying out hybrid training.

Is Strength Training for everyone?

While it’s true that the use of external loading both develops our ability to generate strength and the contractile capacity of the muscle, not everyone has this as their end goal.

What is a Strength Athlete?

A good example of a strength athlete is a powerlifter, an athlete seeking to lift the maximum possible weight in a certain number of movements. The usual training protocol for these athletes consists of a specific work programme oriented towards developing strength in the “target movements” with a high intensity, a low-moderate volume at the end of a training cycle, and combined with compensatory ancillary work.

Strength Athlete

This is already well established. Schoenfeld et al., (2015), in an intervention protocol, demonstrated how strength gains in the squat and bench press were significantly higher in the HL (High-Load) vs LL (Low-Load) group.

1RM Brench Press

Figure I. Graphic representation of 1RM in bench press before and after intervention with low and high loads (Schoenfeld et al., 2015)

Gaining Strength or Gaining Muscle Mass

But what about other athletes, such as bodybuilders or recreational users of weights rooms looking to improve their aesthetics by increasing muscle mass… do they do strength training too? Well, yes and no.

Building Strength

The answer is more complex than it seems. Although you’ll often hear trainers saying “it’s not enough to look strong you have to be strong”, it’s important to note that the end goal of gaining muscle mass is not the same as that of gaining strength, and therefore shouldn’t be trained in the same way.

When we talk about training with loads, there are two key concepts we need to understand (although they’re not the only ones): mechanical tension and metabolic stress.

Mechanical Tension

This is a factor related to intensity when training with loads. The maximum expression of controllable mechanical tension is our 1RM. This is why it’s the factor most commonly used for strength development, and why most strength athletes train with high loads, in order to increase this factor, which seems to be the key to generating the greatest neural adaptations.

Mechanical tension

However, mechanical tension appears to be the most important factor in inducing muscle hypertrophy when training (Schoenfeld, 2016).

The heavy training stimulus seems to mediate intracellular signalling that helps us develop greater hypertrophy.

Metabolic Stress

This is a training factor induced by higher volume sessions, where we accumulate metabolites (lactate, inorganic phosphate, hydrogenions…) and which in turn seem to play a role in certain mechanisms responsible for muscle hypertrophy according to Schoenfeld, (2013).

Bodybuilder training

This is what your typical bodybuilding programme involves, with a large volume of training, a lot of sets and repetitions with moderate loads, and a lot of coaches advocate for these methods…

However, I’m going to emphasise once again that we can’t maintain a high volume and intensity of training at the same time, we need to choose or establish an appropriate training programme.

Is Strength Training the same thing as Hypertrophy Training?

Well, no.

The handicap of training at very high intensity is that other factors, such as volume, density… must be negatively counterbalanced: we can’t maintain a high intensity and volume at the same time.

Hypertrophy

It’s physically impossible to perform a high number of reps at 95% 1RM..

What’s the most important factor for Hypertrophy?

In principle, and although this goes against what was believed in the past, it seems that mechanical stress is the most relevant factor for generating muscle hypertrophy.

Muscle Hypertrophy

However, metabolic stress also plays an important role in hypertrophy, increasing fibre recruitment, favouring a suitable hormonal environment, generating ROS and cellular inflammation through altered myokine production…

Solution: Combine Mechanical Tension and Metabolic Stress

Without going into too many technicalities, it seems that the most appropriate strategy is to combine both factors through Hybrid Training. This is a training approach with a mixed orientation towards both gaining muscle mass and strength.

Metabolic stress

It might be one of the best suited systems to generating substantial improvement in both objectives.

Brad Schoenfeld Study on whether high or low loads generate greater hypertrophy

How do I do Hybrid Training?

There are a large number of predefined systems created by experts in the field. Most of them are good, but if you’d prefer to create your own hybrid system, here are some TIPS to help you.

  • Focus on establishing a foundation of heavy multi-joint exercise execution at low-moderate volume.
  • Complement these exercises with work at different angles, at a lower intensity and a higher volume.
  • Plan days or periods of greater mechanical stress and others of greater metabolic stress.
  • In stages of greater mechanical stress, prioritise external loading, get sufficient rest, and avoid causing a large amount of peripheral fatigue.
  • In stages of greater metabolic stress, increase the volume, you can use a high work density in the session so that they’re shorter when you’re generating a large accumulation of metabolites.
  • Progress continuously, keeping track of the training load and volume, and steadily increase it. Doing so, you’ll avoid systemic adaptation to the training stimulus. Follow a progression path and don’t slow down.

With these little tips, you’ll be able to create a training programme that’ll put you in the best possible shape 😉 !

Sources

  1. Schoenfeld Brad (2013). Potential Mechanisms for a Role of Metabolic Stress in Hypertrophic Adaptations to Resistance Training. Sports Med.179–94. 10.1007/s40279-013-0017-1.
  2. Schoenfeld, B.; Peterson, M.; Ogborn, D.; Contreras, B. & T Sonmez, G. (2015). Effects of Low- Versus High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association. 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000958.
  3. Schoenfeld, Brad (2016). Science and development of muscle hypertrophy. EEUU: Human Kinetics.

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About Alfredo Valdés
Alfredo Valdés
He is a specialist in metabolic physiopathology training and in the biomolecular effects of food and physical exercise.
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