Do You Have To Be Fat To Be Strong?

by Mike Westerdal

Many of you know that I compete as an amatuer powerlifter. One thing I’ve noticed over the past few years is that there are a lot of guys that believe the bigger you get and the more bodyweight you carry the stronger you will get. This was pretty much undisputed in the past. All you had to do was look up all the world records in the squat, bench and deadlift and you’d find that the super heavyweights weighing 300 lbs and more dominated all the record boards regardless of age.

I’m not sure exactly when it started happening, but the tides are turning. When you look up the powerlifting rankings you’ll see that today the top numbers at many of the biggest powerlifting events each year are not always held by the heaviest guys.

In fact on forums across the Internet people are arguing that the strongest guys in the world today are representing the 198, 220, 242 and 275 lbs classes.

And I’m not talking about short fat guys that weigh less than their taller counterparts. These are lean powerlifters that look like they compete in bodybuilding.

The world famous strength coach and owner of Westside Barbell Louie Simmons is an advocate of having his powerlifters push a weighted wheelbarrow and do sled drags. You can read about it in many of his articles.

What does this have to do with Lean Hybrid Muscle, Mike? Well, there’s a new breed of powerlifters that are taking over and they do cardio! Can you believe that, powerlifters doing cardio? Well they’re doing hybrid cardio or resistance cardio.

Not only are they improving their fitness level, but they are increasing their overall or “absolute strength” which seems to be carrying over to their max strength powerlifting results.

It’s true, times are a changing in the powerlifting world. Pretty soon the word powerlifter may just bring to mind a lean hybrid muscle machine instead of the stereotypical big fat bald guy with a goatee. Hybrid cardio or type III muscle training has a lot to do with it in my opinion.

Sometimes I train with an elite powerlifter named Mike Schwanke over at Tampa Barbell. Here’s another example of a lighter guy giving the heavyweights a run for their money. He squats over 1K and has deadlifted 800 lbs. Check out this video of his training footage prior to a meet earlier this year.

Even though he’s a powerlifter he implements cardio and hybrid conditioning so that he can reduce his bodyfat while building strength.

Yes – You Can Be Strong, Lean & In Shape At The Same Time

This is important so listen up. Hybrid cardio is not a “style” of training but rather, it is a component of training-and it doesn’t require and special training or fancy equipment.

If you are interested in developing balance among fitness, strength and size, then you should be taking a good look at this blog and the developments. For example, a guy can lift and lift and lift until he’s as big as an ox with bulging muscles of steel but be short of breath from a climb up a flight of stairs.

Or, if you are into competitive sports, adding the Hybrid Muscle Training component to your training mix can really give you a competitive edge. Guys also use hybrid conditioning to improve weak spots, to be more adaptable, improve their overall fitness levels and to boost and speed up their bodies’ capacity to recover.

The sled pull, tire flip, farmer’s walk, wheelbarrow push and plate lifting are some of the more common hybrid exercises around. In doing any of these exercises you start out with a goal of doing it for maybe ten minutes or so, with a long-term goal of working up to about 30 minutes.

It’s important to remember this part: Once you reach 30 minutes, don’t keep striving to be able to do longer stretches of time. Rather, enhance your capacity by increasing the weight, not the amount of time you’re doing the exercises. This is where you’ll really see improvements in your performance.

One of the great things about Hybrid cardio as it relates to muscle building is that it involves compound exercises that require you to use multiple muscle groups and multiple skills (balance, coordination, etc.) at the same time. By doing compound exercises you’re not only improving your all around fitness level but you’re also significantly lowering your risk of injuring yourself.

Lots of bodybuilders get totally caught up in building size, focusing on doing the same exercises over and over again. By keeping the focus just on the muscles that you see in the mirror (the “beach muscles”) and not training the core, they are setting themselves up for injury.

Powerlifters are equally guilty on totally concentrating on their maximum strength without paying much attention to their hearts or work capacity as we discussed earlier. If you can squat 700 pounds you should be able to squat 225 for 15 reps without getting totally winded.

Many powerlifters myself included could use the fat burning benefits of incorporating some hybrid cardio training which as a bonus will develop the type III muscle fiber. Maybe there’d be a little more gas in the tank by the time the deadlift rolls around on meet day.

I’ve heard the excuses, doing this will make you weaker. Well I’m calling Bullshit on that one! How many of you have seen the DVD “242 Raw” featuring Jeremy Hoornstra? For those of you who don’t know him he’s one of the top raw bench pressers in the world having hit a 675 bench in competition right before my eyes!

It was amazing. Well in Jeremy’s DVD him and his buddies push his SUV up a hill for their early morning workout. So don’t tell me this kind of conditioning will make you lose max strength, because if anything it will make you overall stronger.

That’s another great thing about hybrid cardio/muscle building exercises, you can do them with whatever you have handy. If you don’t happen to have a sled hanging around the house, no worries just push a vehicle around.

And if you aren’t able to do that, then maybe you can flip a tire or attach some rope to a piece of plywood, put a bunch of bricks on it and start dragging it around. With lean hybrid muscle building workouts, you’re not tied to a specific routine or exercise.

It’s not a requirement that you do specific exercises or follow a particular routine-it’s more important that you do “strongman” type exercises in addition to your current routine that are really going to challenge you.

Even if you live in the heart of the city you can incorporate hybrid muscle exercises into your training routine. The farmer’s walk can be done anywhere. Just grab a couple of heavy dumbbells and start walking. As you improve, use heavier dumbbells.

If the weather is lousy then you can do it at the gym. At the gym you can also carry around plates instead of dumbbells, if you’d like. Kettle bells are great for doing these exercises too. You can use them to do snatches, the farmer’s walk or any number of other compound exercises.

You can even do these hybrid training exercises if you don’t have anything more than your own bodyweight. Jump squats are just one example of a bodyweight exercise that you can do. The point is this kind of training allows for a great deal of creativity, flexibility and adaptability. Watch the Strong Man competitions on the television if you want some great ideas for coming up with your own routines.

To wrap up, by including Hybrid muscle training exercises into the training routine, dangerous imbalances-and the injuries that often accompany them-can be avoided. Adding some of these exercises into the mix can also help keep boredom at bay and can also keep you from getting burned out on training.

You’ll also be giving yourself a serious competitive edge and as an added bonus, because the body is in all-around better physical condition, you’ll also find that you recover more rapidly and will probably have more energy too.