If your gains have stalled, it might be time to combine the best of two distinct movements into one.
By Jimmy Peña MS, CSCS
An old proverb says, “If you chase two rabbits, you’ll lose them both.” In the world of bodybuilding that’s usually true, especially when you consider all of the ridiculous balance and functional training that goes on in gyms everywhere. You know what we mean: the trainer whose client is standing on one leg atop a Bosu, holding a dumbbell in one hand and a cable in the other. Well, not only are they chasing too many rabbits, but that kind of training is simply for the birds.
This month we want to discuss hybrid training, or rather, hybrid exercises. What we mean by hybrid is basically an exercise that’s a cross between two different movements or a variation of a standard exercise with mass as the ultimate goal. As you’ll see, an exercise can become a hybrid for various reasons, but never at the expense of the ultimate purpose. That’s the difference between a hybrid and an exercise that puts you at a disadvantage or spreads the emphasis so thin that nothing really gets worked (e.g., one-legged trainee balancing on a ball).
WORKING AROUND INJURY
One of the best times to incorporate hybrid exercises into your routine happens to be when you absolutely have to. As bodybuilders, you don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and you don’t take injuries well. You’d rather train through pain than skip a workout. However, you don’t want to aggravate injuries or else they’ll continue to nag you, holding you back from achieving your best. Altering your hand position during one exercise while shifting your arm angle of another in order to train in a pain-free plane is one way to invent a hybrid movement.
Take for instance the incline dumbbell press for upper chest. Let’s say for some reason incline pressing kills your shoulders, but you’re able to do flyes with no problem. That’s when the hybrid incline flye-press comes in perfectly handy. If certain phases of the press bother you and you’re able to “cheat” it by performing a flye motion at those points, you can still target your upper chest and save your shoulders. You don’t have to completely deny yourself a critical mass builder because of an injury. Yes, you want to avoid pain, but there are ways to beat the pain at its own game. Hybrid exercises help you do just that.
BEST FOOT FORWARD
Hybrids also help put your target muscles under more stress than maybe they’re used to. For example, if you do a hybrid between the upright row and the lateral raise, in which you take the dumbbells up in a 45-degree angle (halfway between a standard upright row and a lateral raise), your delts are likely to receive more work at the peak contraction, all because you’ve allowed the upright row (compound in nature) to cheat your lateral raise (an isolation exercise). In a standard lateral raise you might never have been able to raise a heavy dumbbell to the top point (arms extended) of the exercise without the initial motion of the upright row there to help.
THERE ARE NO “WRONG” MOVEMENTS
You might be wondering how this approach is different from using cheating techniques. Well, it’s different in that there’s no loss of proper form that could cause injury. The typical “form” is not the main concern. What’s most important is using angles and leverage to maximize tension on the target muscle in different ways than you’ve ever tried. Although you don’t want to become sloppy, you have to remember the body is capable of moving in an endless number of directions. Many bodybuilders get too bent on sticking to the standard or “correct” paths of motion and they miss out on how the body will respond when thrown a curve ball.
Your body will respond to this kind of training just as it will to traditional exercises. For example, if rather than hold a dumbbell with an overhand (pronated) grip for overhead presses, you perform the press with a neutral, palms-in grip, your triceps and delts will have to work together in a different way, with the front delts contributing to a greater degree. Now, is that movement outside the norm? Yes. Is the form incorrect? No. It’s just a hybrid, a different way to perform an exercise, because you’re either working around an injury or trying to establish a different pattern of muscular recruitment.
All things considered, the book hasn’t been written on hybrid exercises simply because they’re homemade and specific to one’s needs and goals. So basically the onus is on you to decide what bodyparts could use such ways to stimulate growth. If being creative isn’t your cup of tea, you may be missing out on some untapped growth. Don’t worry. Nobody’s going to suspect you’re doing something unproductive, but you might get a double-take because of all the added size you’ve put on.
Here are a few upper-body movements to get your mind wrapped around the idea of hybrid exercises. Feel free to invent your own, safely and always with the goal of size in mind.
CHEST: Chest Press/Flye
Works: Pecs with both compound and isolation characteristics.
Sets/Reps: Go for 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps, but you can also hit this combination at the end of your routine for some 20-25 reps sets to flush the muscle.
BACK: Two-Handed Wide-Grip Bent-Over Dumbbell Row
Works: Back, but unlike the typical dumbbell row that best targets the lower lats, the hybrid version helps hit the upper lats, rhomboids and middle back more directly. This version will be slightly more difficult, so be ready to lower the weight a bit until you get the form down correctly.
Sets/Reps: 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps.
SHOULDERS: Dumbbell Upright Lateral Raise
Works: Shoulders. Begin with the dumbbells in front of your body, pulling them up at 45-degree angles until your arms are almost fully extended out at your sides. Return along the same path. Naturally the weight you select will fall somewhere between your upright row weight and what you’d normally use for the lateral raise.
Sets/Reps: 4-5 sets of 12-15 reps.