How to Combine Training Methods (Kettlebells, Calisthenics, Bodybuilding, Powerlifting…)

By on March 13, 2020

In a recent video, I described the benefits of training across modalities – of combining kettlebells, gymnastic rings, powerlifting, calisthenics, animal movements, steady state cardio, HIIT, and more into a single comprehensive training program. Each method brings different benefits that can complement the others, making this a superior way to build overall performance.

That video got a better response than I was expecting, and it seems a lot of you out there like the approach. But a question that came up a lot in the comments was how. Surely, combining kettlebells with powerlifting with HIIT will result in overtraining, burnout, and injury? Or at the very least, leave you with no time to do anything else?

cross modal training

Well actually, I don’t see the problem.

The aim here is not to perform an entire bodybuilding leg day, followed by a calisthenics leg day, followed by a day of heavy squats… Instead, we’d create a leg day or full body split by cherry picking the best exercises from each discipline. It’s about finding gaps in your training and then borrowing from other modalities to create a varied and comprehensive routine.

A perfect example is realizing that movement training – while cool – doesn’t offer a whole lot of resistance for max strength, or much in the way of training for the lats or biceps (at least if you focus mostly on ground work). Using a kettlebell is a perfect complement to this, that can address those issues while further enforcing the improved mobility and rotational strength that comes from that type of training.

Spider-Man Crawls

So that might mean doing some heavy squats, followed by pistol squats, followed by Cossack squats, followed by box jumps, followed by weighted lunge walks, followed by kettlebell swings, followed by calf jumps, with a quasi isometric squat to finish.

This way, we’ll be training max strength with the heavy squats, single leg strength with the pistol squats, mobility and movement in the frontal plane with the Cossack squats, plyometric strength with the box jumps, ballistic strength and hip hinge with the kettlebell swings, strength endurance with the lunge walks, and isolated calf strength with the calf jumps. The quasi isometric squat builds greater control, awareness, and mobility, and serves as the perfect cool-down opportunity, as well as a way to perform a moving meditation.

Kettlebells best training tools

Of course, we’ll be doing less of each movement. In fact, I will rarely ever do three sets of anything. But this is hardly a problem when I’m moving straight onto another movement that targets many of the same muscles. The pistol squat is much harder when you’ve just performed heavy squats, and the same goes for the Cossack squat.

It’s essentially reverse pyramid training, but where weight isn’t the only deciding factor.

The key is to place the most intense, compound, and difficult movements first, and to gradually move toward easier movements that are more isolated, that involve slower twitch muscle fiber, or that may even veer toward cardio. This reduces injury risk, and it ensures you’re able to perform the most challenging movements while you’re fresh – improving gains and progress. It’s essentially reverse pyramid training, but where weight isn’t the only deciding factor.

And we can take this even further with a mechanical dropset that incorporates different movements into a single set, moving straight from one movement to the other as soon as you reach technical failure. For example, you might perform as many bench presses as you can on a specific weight, then immediately start doing push ups. This provides you with the benefits of both the bench press and the push up, while giving you a fun way to push past failure, thereby increasing strength endurance and pump.

Varied training

I also like to vary cadence and intent in a single set, switching from slow quasi-isometrics to plyometrics and everything in between. I call these “dynamic drop sets.” Check out my recent push up routine that shows how you can do this in a single workout.

This is also a great way to incorporate strategies to make common movements more difficult. For example, if you want to train your finger strength, then finger-tip push ups are ideal. Of course, if you only do finger-tip push ups, then you won’t be able to challenge your pecs and shoulders all that much with the push up.

The solution is to start the set on your fingers, then simply switch to regular push ups once that becomes too uncomfortable.

As for cardio, I like to use resistance cardio movements that keep the pressure on the same area. So if I just did a shoulder workout of some sort, I might end by doing some tabata battle ropes.

Battle ropes cross training

It’s up to you whether you want to use full-body training, bro splits, or push-pull-legs. But lately, I’ve been experimenting with what I call “Prime Focus” workouts. These are full body routines, but with a little extra emphasis on one particular body part, attribute, or skill. So, I might make sure that every muscle group gets a look in, but do a couple of brutal drop sets focusing on the pecs specifically.

Some attributes can be trained more often than others of course, and this is where the “incidental training” can come in: training things throughout the day. For instance, I might take 5 minutes while my computer loads to perform some handstand holds against the door. Seeing as my main goal is proprioception and balance, that little bit of greasing the groove is enough, and it won’t hurt my shoulder strength later in the day. This regular movement also helps keep my energy levels up, as I discussed recently.

Take a moment to think about all the attributes you would like to train

Take a moment to think about all the attributes you would like to train: whether that means finger strength, rotational strength, max strength, endurance, balance, memory, or all those things together. Then look into the type of training you’d need to do to improve in each of those areas, and them swap them in or bolt them on as appropriate.

When it comes to selecting the movements, choose those that offer maximum “bang for the buck.” Those are movements that provide multiple benefits, rather than just one. Hitting the heavy bag is just as good a form of cardio as the rowing machine, but it will also let you work on your technique and even increase your mobility if you’re throwing kicks too.

Martial arts training

Hopefully that all makes sense. If it sounds a bit complicated, then of course you can check out my ebook and training program: SuperFunctional Training which provides a detailed routine that works just like the one I’ve described here – with a lot more explanation as to how all that works. I also explain how you can cycle between different training styles without losing your gains, and build up the resilience you need by strengthening connective tissue first.

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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