Hybrid Performance: Merging Weightlifting and Powerlifting

Hayden Bowe didn’t intend to be a powerlifter.

But when he tore his patellar tendon last year, Bowe, a national-level weightlifter, had a slow recovery and wasn’t able to snatch or clean and jerk for months. What he was cleared to do was squat, slow and controlled, and Bowe’s friend convinced him to try a powerlifting competition.

“I fell in love with the sport,” Bowe said. “And when I went back to weightlifting, just because I had gotten so much stronger in powerlifting, I immediately hit PRs in snatch and clean and jerk, which were lifts I hadn’t done in six months.”

Bowe and girlfriend, Stefanie Cohen, who are both elite-level powerlifters, continued to train both styles and compete in weightlifting and powerlifting. And people started coming to them with questions.

“They were asking how do you do this?,” said Bowe, who can snatch 145kg (319 lb.), deadlift 290.5kg (640 lb.), clean 182kg (400 lb.) and bench 182.5kg (402lbs) weighing 83 kg. “They wanted to know how are you structuring it so you can be good in both?”

And the Hybrid Performance Method was officially born.

The 24-year-old Bowe, who has trained under world champion power lifter Travis Mash and Hungarian National Weightlifting Champion Steve Sandor, set up a test group for the programming in April.

The 150 spots quickly sold out and the first group’s progress let Bowe and Cohen -who is working toward her doctorate in physical therapy— know they were onto something.

Cohen recently broke an all-time world record in the squat and total as a 123 lb. raw lifter.

Hybrid Performance Method surpassed 500 members after just a few months and recently rolled out Hybrid WOD, which includes conditioning work for CrossFit athletes.

“When you compete in weightlifting you are so focused on snatch and clean and jerk every day. If you aren’t getting better you feel like you are banging your head against the wall,” Bowe said.

“If you are having a bad snatch day, you are going to do snatch anyway. When you add other things to your focus- like powerlifting- you focus on five big lifts instead of just two. It helps a lot with the metal game for people.”

Hybrid Performance, which is the main —and most popular- programming, rotates between four and five training days a week and incorporates weightlifting, powerlifting and bodybuilding into the mix.

There are specific Hybrid Weightlifting and Powerlifting tracks —along with a three-times-a-week Hybrid Lite — though they all involve more variance than traditional programs. Specifically, a lot of corrective exercises and hypertrophy work —which is used in a lot of weightlifting programs outside of North America.

“They have wildly different physiques,” Bowe said of the countries programs that regularly incorporate bodybuilding movements.

“What’s different in our approach over a lot of weightlifting programs is we dial back the weightlifting. I think the biggest mistake a lot of people make is they focus really hard on getting an extra one or two kilos on their snatch and clean and jerk. Every day they are working like crazy chasing these small incremental increases. If they back off a little and work on strength, you add 50 lb. to your back squat, you are going to see improvements. If you are stronger and proficient you are going to see that carry over [to the Olympic lifts].”

Most of the days on Hybrid look like a little bit of weightlifting and some heavy powerlifting movement followed by accessory work to correct imbalances in areas that otherwise aren’t directly targeted. For example, on a heavy bench day, there would be rear deltoid and shoulder work to help balance the front-of-the-shoulder tightness a lot of people deal with benching.

“For us, in all the movements, you are always doing a corrective movement with it to stay balanced,” said Bowe, who incorporates a Hungarian method progressive-overload approach to weightlifting. “You can never be too strong.”

True to its name, Hybrid has a national bobsled team, rugby players, hockey players, competitive weightlifters, powerlifters and CrossFitters who are all following various program tracts. They are working on getting “athletic and aesthetic” one of several taglines Cohen and Bowe frequently use to describe the Hybrid methodology.

“If you’re feeling good one day you can push the reps, if not you hold back a little bit and just try to hit the same weight you hit last week,” Bowe said.

“The reason it’s been successful is you need all these things in a sport like CrossFit. There’s a lot of people interested in improving all five lifts.”