A Day With Alex Viada: And How To Feel Like the Weakest, Slowest, and Smallest Human Being Ever

Share This:

We had the pleasure of hosting Alex Viada, owner and President of Complete Human Performance and author of The Hybrid Athlete – this past weekend at Cressey Sports Performance.

You’ve seen his name pop up here and there on this site – most notably in an article I wrote recently titled You Down With GPP? – and you may be familiar with some of his work on other sites as well.

Alex is a beast (not to mention one of the nicest, most humble, and generous coaches I’ve met in recent years). To give some perspective on how much of a beast he is, Alex is an elite level powerlifter with PRs of 705 (squat), 465 (bench press) and 700 (DL) raw w/ wraps in the 220 class, but also competes in triathlons and ULTRA marathons (100+ miles). He’s also posted a best mile time of 4:32.

So much for the notion that endurance activities steal gainz.

Oh, and he also dabbles in bodybuilding. And arm wrestles grizzly bears. In fact, he’s the guy The Avengers call when they need help.

Adding to his legend, Alex has also, literally, I’m being 100% serious here, squatted so much weight he made his face bleed. I’m not referring to getting a bloody nose or popping a blood vessel in one of his eyes. I mean, who hasn’t done that?

He literally bled through the pores on his face.1

I’d like to see Chuck Norris or Jack Bauer do that!

He’s an impressive human being and someone who challenges people to push their bodies to levels and places they never thought possible. He works with many different clientele – powerlifters, ultramarathoners, triathletes, Strongman competitors, CrossFit, in addition to many different divisions of the military.

He specializes in what he refers to as “Hybrid Training,” or:

“The concurrent training of different athletic disciplines that do not explicitly support one another, and whose disparate components are not essential to success at any one sport.”

In short: someone may want to train for two goals – competing in a marathon as well as improving their deadlift numbers – that don’t necessarily support one another.

Listening to Alex speak was engrossing, and it was hard for me to put my pen down for more than ten seconds during his entire lecture. Below are a few highlights I wanted to share from the day.

An Introduction to Applied Hybrid Training Methodology

*** Or, if I were in charge of giving a title, “How To Run a 50K and Deadlift a Bulldozer, Like a Boss”

1. People fail to realize that the “system” Alex has developed is the result of years of trial and error (he’d argue mostly error). The key behind everything is to learn to be lazy. Or a better way to put things would be to say “learn to minimize stress/overuse while maximizing progress.” It’s important to understand that, when dealing with such extremes and goals that are at opposite ends of the endurance-strength spectrum, everything is a precious commodity and it’s crucial to learn how to condense training stressors.

To summarize:

“What is critically important to do the LEAST AMOUNT OF VOLUME to improve performance.”

2. For the hybrid athlete, he or she needs to recognize where the overlap is in their training and OMIT the superfluous modalities that waste time and energy.

For example:

Does one really need to include a bevy of “speed & power” work on the track if he or she is including speed & power training in the weight room? In some cases, maybe. But more often than not, the additional running volume becomes redundant.

Also, as Alex noted: what’s generally the purpose of long runs? To learn to train and perform through fatigue.

If someone is lifting through fatigue in the weight room, then, again, many of the endless miles on the road become redundant.

3. Much of the challenge when working with strength athletes is teaching them to SLOW DOWN. Zone 2 work (loosely defined as 65-70% of max heart rate, generally 120-140 BPM) is where the magic happens.

Alex mentioned that the key for many strength-based athletes is to teach them to be slow before they become fast.

When told to train in Zone 2, many will be weirded out about just how slow that really is. For some it won’t take much to get there. A brisk walk may do it. But as a frame of reference that’s akin to telling an elite marathoner (who averages 4:42 miles for 26 miles, which, I couldn’t sustain with a freakin moped) to sustain an eight minute mile pace.

It feels, well, slow!

But it’s “the slow” that’s so CRUCIAL for the hybrid athlete. Many will want to “power” through their Zone 2 work and speed things up, which will only impede things down the road.

The strength athlete needs to get married to the idea that training at 100% effort all the time IS NOT going to help them succeed.

Managing fatigue and optimizing recovery is key.

4. The other advantage of Zone 2 work is the added benefit of increased capillary density and venous return.

Think of it this way: the more muscle or cross-sectional area someone has (or adds), the more potential there is for waste product. If an athlete doesn’t take the time to build the appropriate “support network” to transport/filter said waste product (via capillary density, improved venous return, etc), there won’t be any improvement(s) in performance.

5. ANOTHER advantage of Zone 2 work are the improved adaptations one gets on their GENERAL work capacity.

General Work Capacity = ability to produce more work over time.

A nice example Alex gave was with a powerlifter he’s currently working with who wants to get his deadlift up to 400 kg’s (<– a lot more in pounds) while improving his general conditioning for health reasons.

[Being able to see your kids graduate high-school is a nice benefit of improved cardiovascular conditioning].

In the beginning the lifter noted he was only able to get three work sets (with wraps) in before he’d be absolutely wiped out.

After only a few months of dedicated GENERAL Zone 2 work (non-specific: bike, elliptical, brisk walk, etc), the same lifter was now able to get SIX work sets in.

He essentially was able to DOUBLE his volume (and thus, work capacity). Not too shabby.

6. Attachment points matter. No matter how much muscle you add, it’s hard to overcome attachments points of the muscle. This is why you’ll (probably) never see a world-class Kenyan squatter.

Basically it’s important to “vet” predetermined ranges of a lot of things – attachments points, one’s natural propensity to increase cross-sectional area, etc) to see where an athlete will be most successful.

7. Want to sell the importance of strength training to an endurance athlete? Have him or her place a barbell on their back for the first time and see what happens.

No disrespect, because you could say the same thing for anyone who places a barbell on their back for the first time, but you’ll often see something that resembles a giraffe walking for the first time.

It can’t be stressed enough how much strength training improves balance and proprioception. Reiterate to an endurance athlete how it can improve body awareness and stability – and they’ll be putty in your hands.

8. Specific Work Capacity = athlete’s ability to perform specific movements at a given frequency/repetition (without unacceptable performance decrease).

If you want to get better at cycling you need to cycle. If you want to get better at bench pressing you need to bench press.

Remember: General work capacity is the foundation for Specific work capacity.

Need to be selective on what you choose, too.

Many would deem Prowler work as applicable “specific work capacity” for a powerlifter. But is it?

Look at foot placement (on the toes). How much knee bend is there? Very little. So, how does this help a powerlifter with their squat?

Prowler work for a sprinter, now we’re talking.

9. No one should listen to ANYONE – coach, writer, Jedi Master – who says everyone should run a certain way. This disrespects the notion that everyone has different attachments points, leverages, and anthropometry.

We wouldn’t tell everyone to squat the same way, so why does this notion that everyone needs to run the same way apply to running?

By that token, everyone should wear skinny jeans!2

Remember a few years ago when the book Born to Run came out? I read it, and loved it. It was entertaining and a well-written book.

However, this book basically bred the movement of minimalist or barefoot running in no small part to it highlighting the running prowess of the Tarahumara Tribe.

The Tarahumara run with minimalist footwear and they run on their forefoot. And they never get hurt. Soooooo, that means everyone should do the same, right?

 

Some people perform better and their running technique cleans up significantly when they heel strike first. Telling them to put on a pair of Vibrams and run on their toes is going to be the worst thing for them.

There are a lot of physical therapists out there who are now driving Maseratis3 due to that book. You’re welcome.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

Share This Post:

FRESH CONTENT DELIVERED WEEKLY

Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.
  1. He told the story as he was discussing how blood pressure SKYROCKETS during max effort attempts (some studies show Systolic measurements of 4oo+). And yes, he admitted that this wasn’t necessarily the healthiest thing he’s ever done

  2. Said no one, ever.

  3. Okay,that’s a stretch. Maybe fully-loaded Accords

  • Pingback: Tuesday’s Good Reads – Issue #1 – June 30th, 2015 - Healthy Living, Heavy Lifting()

  • Lodrina

    Tony, as you touched on in #3, the mental approaches of endurance vs power athletes and how those successful mindsets in one sport can turn into pitfalls when crossing over to different sports is what I found fascinating.

    Take the strength athlete who thinks any obstacle can be overcome by force, and the endurance athlete who excels at pushing through pain. Now pull some Freaky Friday magic on them and watch them totally blow up trying to go too fast or too heavy in a new training modality. Yikes!

    And because Alex mentioned Robert Forstermann in an example, yet his quads are missing from this excellent summary, let’s throw those into the mix.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Exactly! That was a message that really resonated with me as well Lodrina.

  • Rachel

    Alex is amazing! Wish I lived closer so I could have come to this! Thanks for the summary.

    Perfect example of #7, my boyfriend is a marathon runner and the first time I got him to come to the gym with me, he was shaking just holding himself in a dead hang. He had the strength to do pullups but was not accustomed to controlling his body in space like that. Now he’s cross-training in the gym regularly…and telling me it’s my turn to start running (eek!).

    Coincidentally, I did try distance running once before and got injured due to poor mechanics. I read Born to Run at the time I was in PT and it totally made me blame all my problems on shoes lol. Turns out I had some weakness in my hips but you know….shoes probably caused that. :p

    • TonyGentilcore

      Alex did go over some running mechanics with the group too – he assessed a few attendee’s running stride and technique on our treadmill at the facility.

      Some key points to take home:

      1. What where you hand is? Many people “dip” their hands below their elbows. This is inefficient. There shouldn’t be too much arm notion when jogging. Stay loose, but tight.

      2. “Sit” into your pelvis. Many lean too far forward and end up going into excessive APT – and then they wonder why their back hurts all the time.

      3. Watch for too much side to side motion.

      4. And, as I noted in the original post, there IS NOT ONE RIGHT WAY TO RUN. Some people perform well running on their toes; others not so much.

  • So glad you posted this recap. Would have loved to have gone out there to see it in person. Starting the online course for Hybrid Athlete Coaches Certification next week and now I could not be more excited! Such exciting stuff. Especially love it as an endurance junkie turned gym rat, ha 🙂

    • TonyGentilcore

      Alex is starting to travel much more now that his name is getting out there. I wouldn’t be surprised if he enters your neck of the woods soon Kourtney.

  • Alex is an awesome guy and great coach. Thanks for sharing Tony!

    • TonyGentilcore

      He is! And, my pleasure!

  • Pingback: Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 6/30/15 | Eric Cressey | High Performance Training, Personal Training()

  • Wesley

    Can you make some general recommendations for amount of time to spend training in zone 2 (and the other zones) for a person who mostly lifts?
    Thanks, Tony!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Wesley – as is the case with ANY questions pertaining to fitness, it depends.

      To give you an example for ME: i generally do two sessions per week lasting 30 minutes in Zone 2.

      For the Hybrid Athlete – how much time you spend in each zone will differ depending on goals, however, something to consider is that Zone 2 is king.

      For strength athletes, we spend so much time trying to be explosive and powerful and “force” through everything, that Zone 2 is crucial because you’ll get all the benefits without “taxing” your future lifts.

  • Pingback: Best Fitness Articles - July 5, 2015 - Personal Trainer Development Center()

  • kathy ekdahl

    Tony- I thought Alex was great, and he made some really simple take home suggestions for a potentially complex topic. One thing I think is truly important for power/strength athletes…and for everyone actually…. is getting more outdoor time. Endurance athletes train in nature- trails, sunshine, fresh air. Many of the strength based athletes I know do most all of their training indoors. Training outdoors is such a gift, and it can be done anywhere. Outdoor training, communing with nature, getting much needed vitamin D also helps prevent overall burnout.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Agree 100% Kathy. Lisa and I head over to Harvard Stadium every Sunday during the spring/summer, and just love being outside.

  • Pingback: Good Fitness Reads of the Week: 7/5/2015 | AdamPine.com()

  • Kyle Davey

    What really struck me the most was the concept of working in zone 2 to increase general work capacity…took my back to my Ex Phys days talking about capillary density and veinous return, then made me think of mitochondrial density, lactate threshold, VO2 max, and every other benefit to aerobic exercise and how they impact anaerobic threshold and performance / recovery. I realize I’ve been caught up in the HIIT training idea and have disregarded….***gulp***….”cardio” in my own training as well as my clients’.

    I realize the answer to this question is likely “it depends” (like every other exercise related question), but when talking minimal effective dose, how long does Alex / you recommend one work in zone 2? We talking 20, 30, 40 or up to 60 minutes?

    • TonyGentilcore

      I think many of is strength oriented trainers/coaches have been trapped in the rabbit hole for a few years.

      I’m a culprit of it.

      Glad to see that others are willing to change their ways and be more open to the benefits of Zone 2 work.

      As far as your question, you’re right, it depends. Some people have more time than others.

      However, personally, I’ve been hitting two, 30-minute sessions per week and have done really well with it.

      • Kyle Davey

        Thanks Tony. I’ll start adding it in and let you know in a few months how it affects my training.

        • TonyGentilcore

          Glad to help Davey. I’d also look into some Alex’s work. Maybe check out his Hybrid Athlete ebook. He goes into much more detail on all this stuff. It’s excellent.

          • Kyle Davey

            Will do, thanks Tony, you da man. Do you know of any resources other than Ultimate MMA Conditioning and the Hybrid Athlete that discuss HR based training?

          • TonyGentilcore

            Joel Jamieson would be high on that list. He’s written a TON on heart rate variability.

          • Kyle Davey

            Yea, he seems to be the go-to guy. Doesn’t seem like many others have written on HR too much. On a side note, I did half an hour of jogging at about 138 BPM. Maybe I’m just out of shape, but I was trotting like a grandma at about a 13 minute mile pace! I’ve got some work to do, but I’m excited about the results to come

          • TonyGentilcore

            Don’t worry about it. I was at a 10 min pace when I first started.

            Your Zone 2 HR will improve over time and you’ll be running “faster” even though that’s not the goal.

  • Chris Brunnquell

    Still waiting for him to prove any of his ridiculous running claims

    • TonyGentilcore

      I don’t know what you want me to say. I don’t feel Alex is the type of guy who gains any benefit on lying about his numbers.

      He’s hit elite level powerlifting numbers and has competed in triathlons. I don’t feel he’s trying to sugarcoat anything by making up his mile time.

      In fact, he corrected me when I posted a number that was too low.

      During his workshop he spent a good ten minutes explaining why training for the mile was infinitely harder than training for an ultra-marathon (100+ miles).

      It’s your prerogative to not believe him, but again, I see no reason why it benefits him to lie about it.

      • Chris Brunnquell

        Doesn’t gain any benefit? His whole brand is based on those claims. You wouldn’t be writing this article without those times. Without them he’s just a jacked weightlifter that runs slowass marathons and ultras

        • TonyGentilcore

          I get the cynicism. The internet is rife with posers and inflated numbers.

          Believe what you want. I’ve listened to Alex speak in person, I know he practices what he preaches, he backs all of his content with science (and yes, anecdotal evidence).

          Like I said, it’s your prerogative to think what you think. No worries with me either way.

  • Pingback: Cardio For Meatheads()

  • Pingback: It’s Time To Reconsider Your Aerobic System for Strength and Size Gains – IRONRIVAL.COM()

  • Pingback: Weekly Web Harvest for 2017-09-17 – Bionic Teaching()