When it comes to fitness, people tend to either focus on endurance or strength; they’re runners or powerlifters. But wouldn’t it be pretty cool to be able to deadlift 500 pounds and run a marathon? My guest says that combining real strength with true endurance to become a “hybrid athlete” isn’t only possible, it also makes for a wonderfully adventurous and fulfilling path to pursue.
His name is Fergus Crawley and he’s the co-founder of Omnia Performance, which offers coaching to hybrid athletes. Today on the show, Fergus shares how he found his way into hybrid training, what a struggle with depression had to do with that journey, and why he decided to take on some incredible challenges that combine strength and endurance, including squatting 500 pounds, running a sub-5-minute mile and doing a marathon in a single day, and powerlifting 1200 pounds and doing a sub-12-hour Ironman Triathlon in a single day. We then turn to the technical side of programming hybrid training, and how you incorporate both endurance and strength workouts in a single week. We end our conversation with Fergus’ case for the benefits of hybrid training to body, mind, and spirit, which made me want to go out for a run — something I don’t say every day.
Resources Related to the Podcast
- AoM series on male depression
- AoM Podcast #741: The Exercise Prescription for Depression and Anxiety
- Celtman Extreme Scottish Triathlon
- AoM Article: The Case for Not Listening to Music When You Work Out
- Zone 2 Training
Connect With Fergus Crawley
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Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. Now when it comes to fitness, people tend either focus on endurance or strength, the runners or powerlifters. But wouldn’t it be pretty cool to be able to deadlift 500 pounds and run a marathon? My guest says that combining real strength with true endurance to become a hybrid athlete isn’t only possible, it also makes for a wonderfully adventurous and fulfilling path to pursue. His name is Fergus Crawley, and he is the co-founder of OMNIA performance which offers coaching to hybrid athletes. Today on the show, Fergus shares how he found his way into Hybrid Training, what a struggle with depression had to do with that journey, and why he decided to take on some incredible challenges that combine strength and endurance, including deadlifting 500 pounds, running a sub five minute mile, and doing a marathon in a single day, and powerlifting 1200 pounds, and doing a sub 12 hour Iron Man triathlon in a single day. We then turn to the technical side of programming Hybrid Training and how you can incorporate both endurance and strength workouts in a single week. We end our conversation with Fergus’s case for the benefits of Hybrid Training to body, mind and spirit which made me wanna go out for a run, something I don’t say everyday. After the show is over, check out our show notes at AOM.is/hybrid. Alright, Fergus Crawley, welcome to the show.
Fergus Crawley: Thank you for having me.
Brett McKay: So, you are a strength and conditioning coach that advocates for something called Hybrid Training. This combines strength training and endurance training. And I think to better understand Hybrid Training and your approach, I think it would be useful to talk about your own fitness background. How has your approach to strength and fitness evolved over the years? I think you started off doing a lot of different athletic domains and you became a powerlifter right?
Fergus Crawley: Yeah, in essence, in essence. So I was a rugby player for most of my sort of childhood and teenage years. I was lucky enough to have a family that sort of allowed me to try. Me and my brother have always been allowed to try and participate in whatever sport, whatever activity we wanted to. So, growing up was golf, cricket, rugby, football, skateboarding, snowboarding, and anything else we wanted to try really. The things that really stuck for me was rugby and skateboarding. Skateboarding sort of tailed off towards 17 years old. For Jamie it was cricket. He is now a professional cricketer. And I got knocked out three times in four weeks. Well, knocked out twice in four weeks, three concussions in four weeks which ended an aspirational rugby career at the age of 18. I did have ambitions of sort of taking it beyond sort of what would be a high school level. I had evolved through positions over the years and just did really enjoyed the community side of things. But that’s where I got my real first taste of health and fitness in self driven terms. So following that third concussion, I very quickly had to fill that gap from a community and activity point of view because rugby for me at the time was, Monday… It was Tuesday afternoon, Thursday afternoon, and Saturday games with Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 6.00 AM gym sessions.
So for me, it was a huge part of my life and all of a sudden, gone. So, I had to fill that gap, and I basically trained as if I was going back to rugby but kind of knowing that I never was. ‘Cause I had been told no contact sports ever again, so I don’t really know what I was doing. I think I was just filling time and hoping that the doctor would change their mind, but they didn’t. But then I quickly found the black and white reward system of, “If you commit yourself to consistency in the gym, consistency in your calorie intake, and you really take control of these things, the rewards will come.” And for the first time in my life, I’d had a really simple reward system to work to and I really enjoyed that. So, from 17 to 19, I kinda just got as fit as I could, as in shape as I could, but I did what most people do, and I did too much too soon and burned out. So then specialized in powerlifting because I met a friend of… A good friend of mine still who sort of dragged me into my second competition. I still did a competition where I didn’t enjoy it that much. But he then brought me over to a different federation, and I thought, “You know what, this is cool, I am gonna stick with this for a few years.” And yes, to cut a long story short, four to five years of powerlifting all over the world internationally, so anywhere from Finland, to Las Vegas, to Southern seaside towns in England that are not very glamorous, but make a great powerlifting competition host town.
So, I really enjoyed it, but then 2017, I did my last competition, which was the British Championships, and I just finished it with a bit of a sense of, “Was that really worth all the effort, and the training, and the fighting for two and a half kilos on the bar?” And I think the answer was no. So, I stopped traveling an hour and a half each direction in London to get to a really specialist gym, and I just started training at a sort of local leisure center to just kind of body build, kind of powerlift, but kind of honestly just go through the motions. And I started doing a bit more just general fitness training then, broaden my horizons a little bit, but still had that masculine ego in me that wanted to hold on to the weight on the bar. So, I kept up the heavy reps, but I got a little bit leaner and just focused on kind of doing what I enjoyed around work at the time. And then, we’ll move onto it I’m sure, but the context which is kind of important for what happens next is that I suffered from severe depression from 2014 to 2016. And to sort of return to that masculine ego conversation, I stayed completely silent about that for that entire period because I was so afraid of being deemed weak or vulnerable as a man by those around me.
So I stayed completely silent, and that ultimately led to a suicide attempt in May of 2016. I then came around from that, helped by a 14-week-old French Bulldog. He is now six. And he ultimately helped me come to terms with my own reality to then share those outwardly, to then actually understand how I could move forwards. And I got through two years before I think I really had to tackle it internally. I was kinda just brushing it under the carpet. And then in August 2018, I was sitting in a coffee shop in London and I opened my laptop and I just got hit with this white noise, this sort of sense of depression coming back to me. And I defaulted back to that masculine thing of, “Oh, just get on with it, just get on with it.” But realized that I almost died last time I took that as my attitude. So, I thought, “Let’s do things differently. What were you missing last time? You were missing a sense of fulfillment. So, what are you missing now? A sense of fulfillment.” So, I sort of pieced it together, “Okay, let’s try and find you a sense of fulfillment. What are you good at? You’re good at squatting. What can you do? Something for charity. Okay. What can we think of? Movember, a charity that focuses on starting conversations through a moustache.” So there is a bit of humor there, that’s a bit of me. I’d done it as part of the rugby crowd in years gone by, so I thought, “I am gonna do something for Movember. What’s it gonna be?” And then…
I looked at the statistics plain and simple, and the one that really stood out to me was 500,000 men, half a million men around the world every year died by suicide. And that was a statistic that was not something I’d realized up until that point. Because I’d been very, very sort of unselectively ignorant of the actual reality of suicide because I’d come out the other side. I thought therefore I was okay, so I didn’t need to confront this stuff. But once I started sitting down with the statistics, I then thought, wow, this is something that really needs to change. And looked online and did some maths, and then decided to commit to try and squat half a million kilos in 24 hours, as you do. So in 2018, I started my first Movember campaign to do so. And that is when I really reconnected with my hybrids training methodology as I did when I was younger. Because trying to squat 500,000 kilos in 24 hours, I… Well, the plan was 7,666 reps at 60 kilos or 135 pounds, in freedom units, as we call it over here, was as much an ultra-endurance event as it was a strength event.
So I brought on my coach, now a business partner, Jonathan Payne, who basically helped me bring out my aerobic base alongside my strength base. And ever since then, I have tried to be as hybrid as I possibly can. And that’s the real methodology which is… It’s ever evolving. The science on it is not as black and white as it is in other elements. There’s SNC and a lot of concurrent training studies are trying to look at the impact of one thing on a sport that is dominant rather than looking at balancing two sports independently together. So, for example, a lot the studies focused on how can strength training support cycling? And therefore, how do we best put together programming to make the cycling better? Whereas the way we do things is we’re trying to be as competent across disciplines that we enjoy doing as possible. So there’s a lot more backstory to fill in there between what happened from 2018 to now. But that’s sort of the evolution of my fitness and strength conditioning journey to get me to where this is all really, really aggressively sort of become my existence as of 2018 really.
Brett McKay: Well, I think that’s interesting. Your fitness progress early on resembled mine in a lot of ways. I played American football, and then when I got done after high school I just continued to train, but I still trained like I was playing football because I enjoyed it, you know, lifting the big barbells, I would do sprints. And then I somehow found my way into power lifting. That became my thing for several years, and then last year I started… I had some injuries, you know, some tennis elbow, some knee problems. And I started shifting gear to more sort of like just body-building type stuff, not really going for the numbers as much. But what I think is interesting, you found a way to… I think a lot of people who are doing some type of physical training over long years one of the things that happens to them is they lose like what am I supposed to do now? Like what’s the point of this? And I liked how you connected your fitness, your physical practice to a higher purpose with this helping raise awareness of male mental health.
Fergus Crawley: That’s it. And it’s… For me it’s, I mean, fitness for all of us in one way or another is a sense of fulfillment. And I think in the western world these days what we as humans lack the most in our busy lives is finding a sense of fulfillment outside of our jobs and outside of going through the motions of family life, of work life, of everything in between because life is fast, it’s busy. And some of us don’t like what we do for a living. Some of us love what we do for a living. But outside of that you still need to have other sources of fulfillment. So training for anyone where it becomes an end in itself rather than a means to an end is an evolving journey. And I think, interestingly, a lot of the clients that come to us now have been training for a long time. So they’re people that have either been body builders or power lifters or CrossFit athletes for a long time. And they think, you know what? I’m just gonna do more of what I enjoy. And I like the idea of lifting heavy weights, but I also like the idea of running half marathons. So why can’t I do both? So I think there’s a real tide turning in the fitness industry. Not necessarily even the industry, the fitness community, should I say, of people really confronting why they do what they do. Because it underpins a broader holistic health and lifestyle offering which I think is essential for us to cope with the busyness of the world these days.
So, for me, my higher purpose and the fulfillment that’s come from these big campaigns, so done three… Three years of big campaigning. I’ve managed to raise £100,000. Which is I think at the moment about $140,000, which I’m very, very proud of. But the most amazing thing is the conversations that have happened along the way and the people I’ve met and all the things that have happened. So, for me, fitness has become as much a part of my life as anything else has. And I’ve learned more from it, I’ve developed as a human being, as a business man, as a sort of husband to be, as a dog dad, whatever you wanna call me. I’m a better person for it, and I think it sounds silly sometimes to say, oh, look at the resilience you can learn from going to the gym because it does just seem a bit trite.
But I’ve seen first-hand how much there is to be gained of just consistent, selective, willing adversity over time that builds and builds and builds. That means that when we get thrown a curve ball, it doesn’t knock us back quite as much as it does. Which means we’re in better control of our mental health, more reliable for those around us. We’re better athletes, we’re better workers, however you wanna put it. I don’t wanna sort of steal the phrase from pain and gain or whoever it was, I’m a… I’m Freddy Lugo and I love fitness or whatever [chuckle] the opening line is. But it sort of feels like that’s the direction I’m going in. But for me, it really underpins much more than just the weight on the bar. It’s community, it’s self-exploration, it’s resilience, it’s my mental health, it’s a way to meet people. And for me, it’s become a method of starting conversations around mental health that might not have otherwise happened.
Brett McKay: Okay, so you started off the Movember thing with… You’re gonna squat 500,000 kilos. And then from there you’ve done these other challenges. These crazy challenges that combine both strength and endurance. For example, you squatted 501 pounds and then right after you’re in a sub five-minute mile, and then I think it was run a marathon in the same day. How did you find your way into that? How did you come up with that one?
Fergus Crawley: So, for those that might not be aware, the 500 pound squat and sub five-minute mile is something that’s been spoken about in CrossFit Level 1 teaching, as… Not exact quote, but generally speaking, “the ideal CrossFit athlete would be able to do this.” And I think it was first coined in the early 2000s, and until 2020 no one had ever managed it. And since 2018, I’ve kept my squat strength up really quite high. I’d managed an Ironman, a 6890 meters of bodyweight lunges, a ultra 13-hour workout, a 100-mile run, some 50-mile runs, some 60-mile runs in between. And then when it came to early 2020, I was training for the Celtman, which is basically a extreme triathlon. And by extreme, I mean harsher weather conditions. It’s much, much colder, it’s much, much heavier, it’s much, much windier, it’s much, more rough as an event than a regular Ironman, in some ways. The Ironman is faster which puts more demands on it. So I was training for the Celtman and I had booked in to do a powerlifting competition in April, 2020. And we all know what happened in around March time, 2020.
So once I was told gyms are closed, everybody is working from home, etcetera, etcetera, events aren’t happening, I thought, “Okay, I’m enjoying training like this at the moment, so I’m just gonna keep doing it.” But we didn’t really know how long the pandemic and the lockdown was gonna go on for. I moved back to my parents house in the North West of England at that point, ’cause we had a gym at the house. I wanted to keep training, as we’ve said, it’s a fundamental part of my existence, so I wanted to keep it up. And then Garage Gym Reviews actually posted somebody ran a 5:17 mile and a 500 pound squat, and said, “Who’s gonna be the first person to do this?” And I got tagged in it a few times, and I thought, “Yeah, yeah, it’s on the list, it’s on the list.” And I do actually have a list. And then I saw that somebody else in America, was getting tagged to do it, and then he started to commit to do it. So I thought, “Well if there’s gonna be a race, I might as well throw my hat in the ring.”
So we both sort of set upon trying to do it, by that point. And then Adam Klink, from Virginia, managed it a week before I did, just because the way our training unfolded, Adam’s a very competitive CrossFit athlete. But where I had… No, I don’t want to say advantage, but where my training lended itself better to, was the actual endurance stuff as well, ’cause CrossFit uses the word endurance probably a little bit incorrectly in my humble opinion. I mean no offense by that, but true definition of endurance in terms of long, long distances, hours and hours at a time in zone two and coping with that. So I thought, why not try and run a endurance event off the back of the 500-pound squat, sub-five-minute mile, and then a marathon in the same day, just to add that real, across energy system, spectrum.
So I wish I could say it was an original idea for me thinking up the neat 500 x 5, but it was something that CrossFit Level 1 had coined for years. And let me tell you, the track sessions that it took for me to get a 4:58 mile at I think I was 208 pounds when I did it, I have never, ever had my perception of RPX change as much as I have on those track sessions. It was just soul-destroying at points. And I don’t think, since then, I’ve struggled to balance the fatigue from anything quite as much as I did the really hard effort track sprints and the real top-end squat work, because it is just so demanding. But that was what was fun, figuring it out as I went and understanding that, yes, there’s one way of doing this, there’s probably another way, but it’s not a black-and-white formula to get there. It’s about how we understand perception and training methodology to move things forward.
But to answer your question in simple terms, I fell into it quite luckily because I’d been training for an endurance event whilst building up my strength, and then the pandemic put me in a position where I thought, “Well, what am I gonna do the rest of the year?” And because I could get access to a track, because I had a gym at home, I could continue training and there was a bit of fun in racing somebody over the other side of the world, to get there. So that was that one.
Brett McKay: Yeah, it sounds like the race to the South Pole, and it’s like we’re gonna… Who’s gonna get there first.
Fergus Crawley: It was a bit warmer, it was a bit warmer. But it was… Yeah, it’s something similar.
Brett McKay: And then after that, I guess you kinda caught the bug ’cause you did some others challenges too, like where you squatted, benched, and you deadlifted 1200 pounds. And then you ran a sub-12-hour Ironman triathlon. So again, this is biking, cycling, running. So was this after you did the initial 500, sub-five-minute mile?
Fergus Crawley: So that was exactly one year to the day, afterwards. So it was the Sunday to the Sunday, one year on. So I’d… Since the 500Five, I thought, you know what, it’s a fun premise choosing a metric for measuring strength, and measuring it against a metric for measuring speed, endurance, whatever you wanna call it. And the 500 and five was a neat with the numbers. So I thought, “Okay, what else can I do?” 1200, 12, which was a 1200 pound powerlifting total into a sub-12-hour iron-distance triathlon. So I set off on thinking about this. And then I had the Celtman, which was postponed from 2020, I did that in 2021. Incredible, incredible race. And then reconditioned to faster, flatter roads, faster road-running from what was specifically hill-running, ’cause the Celtman had 1900 meters of elevation on the run, which is about four, maybe five, thousand feet, I think. I’m not completely sure, again, my freedom units aren’t now up to speed. But it was a tough race, so you have to train for it differently than you would for a fast, repetitive marathon on concrete.
The big challenge for me was getting all the speed work in and keeping my top-end strength and deadlift work taking over because it’s just… They’re at such polar opposite ends of the spectrum, but I was working towards the same neat, numerical formula. 1200Twelve, 500Five and yeah, that was a tough day, I’m not gonna lie. I had to be up at half-one to get to the gym for 3:00, so I wanted to get some food in me, I wanted to get a little bit of caffeine in me, not too much though, ’cause I didn’t want to crash later on. I had to deal with the pre-Ironman race fear number one, which is clearing out your bowels, so I wanted to get that done as soon as possible. I wanted to get some food in me before the lifting and give it time to digest. And I just needed a bit of time to switch on because I wanted to be under a barbell at 3:00 AM. So 3:00 AM, 205 kilo squat, again, I can’t remember off the top of my head, but it was in pounds, but the total ended up being 1200 pounds. So 205 kilo squat, about 3:20, 121 kilo bench, and then about 3:40 was a 220 kilo deadlift, so totaling 546 kilos and 1200 pounds. Then finishing up just before 4:00, we had to get to the Triathlon Transition Zone to be in by 5:00, otherwise you weren’t allowed through the doors, and then the race kicks off at 6:00, in the water, so it was a very, very stressful morning and…
There’s probably not many people out there that have done a heavy bench press and a heavy deadlift before swimming an iron distance 3.8K swim or 2.4-mile swim. But let me tell you, it hurts your scaps, it hurts your pecs and it slows you down. That was the main lesson from there, but other that the actual… The rest of the race day, I was really slow in the swim, ’cause I realized after about five, 10 minutes, that the bench and the deadlift had hurt me. I just really felt my stroke being a little bit haphazard, didn’t feel like I controlled my core as much as I normally would. And where I was hoping for a one hour, 15 minute swim, it took me closer to 1h 30. But I got in the head space of thinking, right, just get the water done, get out, get on the bike and you’ll make up the time there, because the water is insignificant in terms of distance in the long term. And I had plenty of time to make up for the time that I wanted. The bike went really well, I think I was five hours and 23 minutes or something like that.
And then the marathon, I was hoping for something around the four hour mark, just keeping it steady, but it was really quite humid that day, a lot of people were dropping like flies and dropping out because of the humidity. It got to them so much and everybody was a little bit unwell from the water that we’d swam in, everybody was struggling to keep food down, but I managed to hold on and come in at 11 hours, 52 minutes and 51 seconds or something. So, 1200 pound total between the hours of 3:00 and 4:00 AM, and then from 6:00 AM until 5:53 PM was a sub 12 hour Ironman distance triathlon, exactly one year on from 500Five, 1200Twelve.
Brett McKay: We’re gonna take a quick break for a word from our sponsors. And now back to the show.
So now with your coaching work, you not only work with the people who wanna do that kind of super high level of performance that you’re doing, but you’re working with regular people who just generally wanna get in better shape, both with their strength and their endurance. And when they come to you, these people aren’t necessarily the most amazing athletes starting out. So let’s talk about the kind of programming you do for your clients, and I wanna talk about each component separately before we see how we combine them together. On the strength side, what kind of lifts are you having your clients do, is it just kind of the basic barbell lifts?
Fergus Crawley: So for the most part, it’s barbell focused. It’s big-three focused or bodybuilding style focused with some strength endurance stuff worked in, which is more MetCon style, threshold work stuff. But we generally work to the client’s preference. We’re working Oly lifts, but generally speaking, we try to… Unless they’re quite advanced, we try to have them do that in certain classes, in certain groups, because not being there on hand to look at the technical side of things is a challenge with online coaching. But the baseline is heavy compound lifts that you’d probably more, see regular… Well, regularly see in Powerlifting than you would Olympic lifting or CrossFit. But again, it’s dependent on the client, and there’s no one way to skin this hypothetical cat, it’s what does the athlete want to achieve? And then how do we fit that into their goals.
Brett McKay: Got you. So we’re talking the big barbell lifts, bench press, squat, deadlift?
Fergus Crawley: Yeah, and a overhead press or dumbbell pressing, and variations of. So we’re working a hinge, we’re working a press, and then we’re sort of assisting those things along the way through… As well as the squat, obviously.
Brett McKay: And what’s your approach to reps and adding weight? Are you doing like a 3 x 5? 5 x 5? Is it gonna differ throughout the week? What does that look like? So, I guess generally, ’cause every client’s gonna be different.
Fergus Crawley: Correct, correct. But loose structure is we tend to work in three to four week blocks of linear progression, and we then monitor over time how much the athlete responds to that and then how do we adjust things moving forward. Because the challenge with balancing this sort of programming is, you can’t apply the logic of conventional periodization to the strength work, because you are not accounting for the fatigue induced by the endurance/speed/triathlon work, because they’re at opposing ends of the spectrum. So where we try to monitor and focus on things is sort of the perception and feedback that we get from the athlete in terms of, how they’re feeling, how it felt, what their pace is, what their heart rate is, whether it moves as well as it did last week, etcetera, etcetera. Because bar speed on a triple one week, if it’s significantly slower the following, might be indicative that the volume over the weekend on, let’s say, a trail run leading into that was too demanding.
So we’d therefore either have to reduce the volume or reduce the intensity on the lifts to account for that fatigue from the volume, but that then comes down to prioritization of the athlete’s goals. But the real overarching principle is that Johnny and I, we peak intensity at the start of the week and we peak volume at the end of the week. So practically speaking, that means that our heaviest, faster sessions are on a Monday and our longer, slower sessions are on a Saturday or a Sunday. And that allows us to monitor intensity over the week, how it affects volume, how it affects the recovery, how it affects fatigue, and vice versa. So just to run you through things, I’ll run through the example of my… Let’s go 1200Twelve. So a regular 1200Twelve week for me, for the eight weeks leading to it, would have been Monday morning, heavy lower bodies, that would be in heavy squats, heavy deadlifts, and then some assistance work.
Monday PM would have either been track work from 800 meters to 1500 meters, or a high intensity, big gear turbo trainer session, so I alternated those Mondays week by week. But the essence of the lifting was linear progression from 80% to 90%, so we’d go 80% for 5 x 3 and then two AMRAPS, and then 85% for 4 x 4 the following week. And then we would work up to heavy triples, and then from there, we’d see how I was reacting, because once you start going into the 90% plus range, that’s where neurologically you really start to get hit quite hard by the heavy lifts, so it’s all a balancing act. But back to the sort of programming; Monday, heavy lower body AM, PM track reps or turbo reps. Tuesday morning, heavy upper body. Tuesday evening, intervals in the pool. Wednesday morning, more sort of tempo style FTP, which is functional threshold power. And there’s the same premise as lactate threshold heart rate, that I mentioned before with the running. It’s basically the estimate on how many watts can you hold for an hour, and then we sort of programme certain percentages based off that. So a…
A more sweet spot functional threshold power training session with turbo, Wednesday morning. Wednesday evening would be a tempo run. Tempo running is basically where you’re working at half marathon pace, give or take, so it’s sub-threshold, generally. And then Thursday would be a volume swim, Friday would be a full body session focused on pre-fatiguing us ahead of the Saturday, so that we hit localized fatigue sooner, which means that we can induce systemic fatigue on the Saturday and therefore improve overall efficiency. And the Saturday is where we focus on a real low intensity steady-state work. So for triathlon, that would be, let’s say, a four-hour bike ride into a one-hour run, and that would incrementally build volume over time. And we also work in low intensity steady-state work after the pre-fatigue session on the Friday as well, so that we’re running or riding on heavy legs, which from a psychological point of view as well, feels awful, but it means that when you feel fresh, there’s a bit of a varied perception in terms of effort on then how much you can suffer through.
So there’s a balancing act going on here of how much can we get away with without over-spilling our maximum recoverable volume and causing injury or fatigue that we can’t recover from. And how much can we adjust so that the athlete’s developing psychologically, in terms of their preparedness for an event, as well as physiologically for how much can we actually force them to adapt, without having these different disciplines interfere with one another too much. But that was the way that I approach things. It can be elusively translated for others. But the prescriptions in each session is obviously are gonna be different. And the main thing is, Johnny is still very focused on the data that I provide, the feedback that I provide, and we’re constantly adjusting this in the prescription based on how everything’s going. So, hopefully that gives an answer, quite long-winded, but hopefully that covers it.
Brett McKay: Yeah. So okay, just big picture, I’m gonna summarize this. So you’re gonna start off early in the week, it’s gonna be high intensity, so it’s gonna be in the weight room, it’s gonna be heavy weight. And then with the endurance stuff, it’s gonna be sprints and things like that, like the turbo charge stuff, HIIT type of things?
Fergus Crawley: Yeah.
Brett McKay: And then as the week progresses, it’s getting… You’re shifting from high intensity, so heavy weight, to lower weight but more volumes, so you’re doing more reps. And then on the endurance component, you’re shifting from the sprint type work to longer distance work, that’s the volume, correct?
Fergus Crawley: Correct, correct.
Brett McKay: Okay. And then on the strength stuff, it sounds like you’re doing an upper-lower splits. So one day you’re doing lower body, the next day you’re doing upper body, is that… Do you carry that split with you throughout the week, kind of alternating between the two?
Fergus Crawley: Yeah. So if I’m slightly more endurance biased, so if I’m training for an ultra or training for a full distance triathlon, I’ll probably go upper-lower, and full body. If I’m training for something that’s slightly more strength biased, I’ll probably go lower-upper, lower-upper depending on how the week unfolds. But it’ll be two uppers, two lowers, if I’m strength biased, depending on my goals in sort of the prioritization hierarchy. And if I’m endurance biased, I’ll be upper-lower and a full body.
Brett McKay: Got you. And the goal of this, again, is you’re building up fatigue, enough fatigue throughout the week so that you can induce adaptation both with strength and endurance, correct?
Fergus Crawley: To some degree. So we’re manipulating fatigue to try and elicit certain effects. And that really is improved efficiency, improved tolerance for volume, improved tolerance for suffering as well, from an endurance point of view. Because if you’re running 40 kilometers, when you’re really beaten up, the 40th kilometers where you feel fresh, is gonna feel much better, which from a perception point of view is a critical component of being an effective athlete, really. So we really in-build resilience conditioning into our programming as much as we can, because that is ultimately where a lot of people get their first ultra wrong, their first triathlon wrong, is because they focus on the wrong things, stick to the plan too rigidly without focusing on, what can go wrong, why does this feel so bad? And then they get inside their own heads and things fall apart. We know that our heads are powerful things and they can send us in one direction or the other, so we try and present people with as many uncomfortable situations in training so that when it comes to event day, that they’re better set up for it.
But in principle, we’re sort of stacking, and building, and ramping up fatigue as we go throughout the week. And that’s culminating in a low intensity, steady-state work on a Saturday. Generally speaking, we then re-start that micro-cycle within the context of a week with the high-intensity work on Monday. And high intensity work, to some degree, works as a great recovery mechanism for low intensity work. And low intensity work, to some degree, works as a great recovery mechanism for high-intensity work. And then that’s why we consolidate the stresses into intense lifting and intense running or riding, and then less intense running, less intense riding, and less intense lifting. Because if we consolidate the stresses into those certain days, then the groupings of energy systems that you’re working, they’re slightly closer together, which means that you don’t need to recover from that dosage, that session, that hit of demand on your body, twice within the context of a micro-cycle, in this case a week.
Brett McKay: Got you. No, I’ve experienced that with my power lifting. And there’ll be periods where you’re doing the high intensity stuff and to recover from that, you just lower the weight, you do more volume. And I think if you’re a runner, you’ve probably experienced, you might have had a period where you’re doing just sprints and to recover from that, you just shift to a slow, like a steady-state run, and then that’ll help you recover from the high intensity work.
Fergus Crawley: Well, that’s it. It’s where the phrase recovery runs, recovery rides comes from it. It’s basically, it’s zone two and bod flow. Those are the key, real mechanisms working here to allow for that recovery to take place, so yeah, exactly.
Brett McKay: So the strength work you’re doing them primarily focusing on barbell lifts, generally. For the endurance work is, are you just having the client pick what they wanna do, whether they wanna focus on running, swimming, biking, etcetera?
Fergus Crawley: To some degree, it’ll depend on what they’re competent in and confident in already. If they’re training for a triathlon, we’re obviously gonna have them swim, bike and run. If they’re just running, we might throw in the odd bike session if they’ve got access to it, but unless they explicitly say they want to swim, we might not add in swimming unless it fits. Because yes, we want people doing as many things as we can, but we also wanna give them the maximum amount of adaptation from a limited opportunity, because you can’t work at 100% lifting and at 100% endurance, ’cause you’re working at 200% there. And you can do the maths as well as I can, that doesn’t work. So we need to try and reduce the volume, reduce the intensity, refine the dosage as it were, so that what we’re giving the athlete is eliciting maximum adaptation for the…
The sort of maximum return that we can get on the limited adaptive energy we’re demanding from them. So in terms of endurance stuff, running is the key thread of DNA that runs through this, it’s the most accessible, it’s the one most people have done before, it’s the least cost-prohibitive, I guess, as well, and it’s probably the least intimidating. So for those that are earlier on their journey, we focus on running, but we do have a lot of triathletes and then working in… The premise is still the same, it’s still the same of high intensity start of the week, low intensity end of the week, varied intervals, steady work and tempo work as well. It’s then the case of how do we stack things on top of one another, like certain days we’ll put AM bike, PM run, or stick them together for certain effects.
Brett McKay: Are there benchmarks you want your athletes to hit? I know one thing I liked about powerlifting is that you could always chase numbers, whether it’s a one rep PR or it’s like, “Well, I did a set of five at 405 or 500 pounds.” It gives you something to shoot for. Do you provide those for your clients as well?
Fergus Crawley: If they don’t have goals, we’ll help them ascertain some, but generally speaking, people come to us with clear goals, or if their… There’s no minimum entry requirements to work with us, put it that way. It’s a case of we can see steady improvement across the board. Like you said, powerlifting or running, it’s easy to chase numbers. If you do a 5K time trial in week one or a mile time trial in week one, eight weeks later we might retest that mile and see you’ve shaved off 90 seconds, which is gonna be a huge win. That’s gonna give you a real fire up your back side to do more. So I think the universal desire to see numbers on the board is always there, but most of our athletes come to us with pretty clear goals. But if they don’t, then we try and work some in as we go, and it’s kinda built into the program anyway, ’cause it’s linearly progressive. So, four weeks from week one, you might PB your squat triple just because of the way things have unfolded. But I think in short, there’s no benchmark that we require for athletes to work with us. The only real benchmark that we aim for is improvement.
Brett McKay: So what do you think the benefits are of this type of Hybrid Training, maybe in general, but also especially in regards to someone who maybe specialized in a type of fitness modality, maybe they were formerly just focused on something like powerlifting?
Fergus Crawley: The main lessons and things I’ve spotted people have learned is as an overarching weakness… I hold off on using that term weakness ’cause it’s not necessarily weakness, but something that we can all benefit from doing more of as a entire world is more zone two training. And I think when a lot of people come to us saying, “I’ve never really enjoyed running. I’ve never really got much better. I’ve always got injured,” it’s because they have no concept of what zone two low intensity work looks like. So we focus on heart rate, getting to understand heart rate perception to start with, and then that helps them understand pacing zones, and then they can actually work through different energy systems, different energy pathways and actually start to progress across the board. And this allows us to then monitor how is their fatigue? What are the stresses they’re dealing with in their personal lives? How is this all piecing together to give us a bigger picture perspective of how the athlete ticks?
Brett McKay: Okay. What is zone two training, for those who aren’t familiar?
Fergus Crawley: So zone two training is basically our aerobic zone. So, for me, for example, working off… We tend to work off lactate threshold heart rate, so we’ll put people through a thirty-minute max effort run, so once you hit 10 minutes into that 30-minute run, you then hit lap on your smart watch, and then the heart rate and the distance covered in that 20 minutes will give us your lactate threshold heart rate, as well as your pacing on your feet that you can hold in a sort of threshold pacing zone. So we then take 84% to 89% of that, and that is zone two, so for… You can also work out max heart rate, you can do 220 minus age. It’s not as accurate, but as a starting point, let’s say we’ve got a forty year old, 220 minus age is 180. And then we look to be around 75% of that for zone two. And that is the aerobic zone where you are working at a conversational pace. You don’t need to necessarily work off heart rate. If you can breathe through your nose without needing to breathe through your mouth to start with, then that’s a good indication that you are in zone two. If you can hold a conversation with somebody you’re running with without having to gasp for air, without having to take breaks between sentences, that’s a good way of indicating you’re on zone two.
But principally, we’ve got… There’s different zones that we work in. Zone two is aerobic, zone three is sub-threshold, zone four is moving to threshold, zone five is moving up towards real, real hard effort, and then we’ve got zone five A, B, and C, where we’re just red-lining. But zone two, for the most part, unless you’ve got a way of measuring it, you don’t know that you’re in it, so we get people coming to us that say whenever they run, they just put on their shoes and run as fast as they can for 5K. And then, “Oh, my calves are sore, my tendons are sore,” but zone two forces you to drill and discipline pacing. It allows you to become more efficient, and then zone two training is what ultimately helps your recovery, not only a recovery from session to session point of view, but for example, if you’re a BJJ athlete, your recovery between rounds is gonna be massively ramped up because you can then use that aerobic base to support your recovery and get your heart rate back down lower and steadier so you can go into the next round with a little bit more confidence and a little bit less fatigue that’s still sitting there. So hopefully that answers your question, but it’s basically the aerobic zone that we can work in and where the majority of our running work as beginners should be.
Brett McKay: Gotcha. And yeah, I imagine if you have a lot of powerlifters coming in, they don’t… They’ve probably never done zone two training.
Fergus Crawley: No, and the thing is like myself, they’re used to real high intensity bursts. It’s a very, very different attitude to training, so it’s kind of a slip knot in your ears, smelling salts up your nose, big fight moment to get that single up. Whereas zone two is really quite peaceful, it’s really quite steady, you can focus on your environment, you can switch off a little bit, because if you switch off and focus on your environment with 500 pounds on your back, you’re gonna break your spine most likely, which is not what we want. So the beauty of combining zone two with heavy lifting is you can actually train yourself across those psychological elements as well, which can give you a more balanced attitude to resilience, suffering, how to train, when you’ve really gotta dig deep and fight through things.
For example, I think I’m better at fighting through certain levels of ultra-endurance events because I know when I can switch on that, get your head down and really just fight through it momentarily. Whereas pure ultra runners who only spend time running and doing supportive exercises rather than having real heavy weight on the back might not have that immediate fight mechanic that you can build in your head through the heavy lifting. So the two massively support one another to a degree. Obviously, we know with concurrent training and Hybrid Training, it is not optimal for the individual discipline, and that’s something that we need to accept. And actually, it was what held me off getting back into it in the first place when I was a powerlifter but… The question I ask people to ask themselves is, are you gonna podium on the Tour de France? Probably not. In that case, I’d focus more on doing what you enjoy at a good level, rather than focusing about not being the best at something that you’re not gonna be the best at anyway.
And that’s not to say that people can’t aspire to be whatever they wanna be, but more a case of, look at your training goals, look at what direction you wanna go in, assess what you enjoy, assess what you wanna achieve, and then let’s try and piece together a road map to get there. And I know road cyclists try and talk down to triathletes for being average at three things rather than good at one, but a lot of those road cyclists aren’t podiuming on the Tour de France anyway. So why not do five, six things that you’re good at or at least average at, above average at, and then in my mind, you’re having more fun, you’re doing more things, you’re better-rounded as an athlete, you’re benefiting more from it psychologically, you’re seeing new places, you’re spending time with varied people, and you’re not the one that’s talking down to other people for trying different exercises at the end of the day.
Brett McKay: Okay, so that’s a good point to make. We can call it a downside, but it’s not a down… It doesn’t have to be… The way you frame it can be a downside. If you decide to go Hybrid Training and you’re not specializing, you’re not… You’re probably not gonna deadlift 700 pounds, or you’re probably not gonna run a sub-four mile because. In order to do those things, those are very specific displays of strength and endurance or speed or intensity, and that takes concentrated training. With Hybrid Training, you’re trying to just do both at the same time, you’re gonna be okay at both. You can get pretty good, the results can be good, but they’re not gonna come fast, and it might take a while, and then they might not be as great as if you had specialized.
Fergus Crawley: That is, in essence, I think the four-minute mile and 700-pound deadlifts is a good example because there are certain physiological limitations that come with being human, and you’re not gonna be running sub-four-minute mile at 200 pounds. There are a few people that might get close. Hunter McIntyre, for example, is an excellent runner. Hunter and I spent some time together in September last year, and he is just a fantastic runner for the size that he is, but even him getting down to a sub-four, he’d need to lose 10, 15, maybe 20 pounds, just because there is a physiological drop-off where you can actually output that much speed over that much time. So there are considerations, but then again, are you gonna deadlift 700 pounds anyway without devoting five, six years of your life to get there? It’s all about what do you want to achieve? How do you wanna approach it? Are you somebody that’s gonna be world-class in powerlifting?
My suggestion would probably be pursue that first. If you do end up really enjoying it, continue to pursue it. If you think, you know what, maybe that wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be, then look, you’ve got a 700-pound deadlift which means you’ve got a really good base to improve your aerobic base, you can get faster, you can get stronger, you can see new places, you can run in hills, you can spend time… I know there’s actual wildlife that you need to deal with out in trails in America. So you know, what if you’re getting chased down by a bear in Canada or anything? You’re probably gonna be better off for it. I think broadening your horizons is a good thing.
Brett McKay: Continuing on this idea of the benefits of Hybrid Training, we’ve had podcast guests, psychologists who studied the connection between exercise and mental health. And one thing they found is that endurance, aerobic activity is really good for depression and anxiety and things like that. I’m curious, did you notice when you started adding in the endurance stuff into your training, was that something that you think that helped your mental health?
Fergus Crawley: I cannot advocate it anymore, honestly. So I’ll tell you a little story about the sort of real light bulb moment for me was when… I’d never, for example, I was somebody that didn’t understand zone two when I was younger. So that period of time post-rugby when I just spent two years just being fit. My Tuesdays were 5k hard effort, my Thursdays were 10K hard effort. And I had no concept, even though I was running a 38 minute 10k at the time, I had no concept of how anybody could run a marathon because I didn’t understand that you could have gears and that you could go slower and your pace over time would be relatively slower. So when I, three, four years later saw two hours in zone two running given to me by Johnny, my coach, now business partner, I thought, how am I gonna do that? There’s no possible way I could do that. But by taking control of my heart rate, relying on the engine that I had from strength training, and just moving at a really low intensity, I spent two hours running along a canal that I’d grown up near, never really exploring, really switching off and paying attention to my surroundings.
And because you’re moving through a motor pattern, but not at a high enough intensity that you’ve really gotta focus on what you’re doing, you’re in this almost middle zone between being conscious and being semi-unconscious in a sort of sense because you’re limited in how erratic your mind can get, but not so unlimited because you’ve still gotta focus unconsciously on the motor pattern and moving and the pacing and all that stuff. So for me, my aerobic work now is a real calibration point in my week where I actually use it as an opportunity to think about certain things. So before my long runs, I actually write down, these are the things that I want to think about today, and they tend to not be work-related. They tend to be ambition-related, relationship-related, how I’m gonna spend more time with my friends from a social point of view, what do I wanna achieve this year? Have I focused on my habits in the right way? So I sort of go out with a bit of a task in my head and just think about it, because I get a really unique opportunity to switch off the white noise of the world, I get to be out in nature.
Key detail here, I don’t wear headphones when I’m doing my zone two work because it allows me to engage with my surroundings proprioceptively, it allows me to look around, people watch, all these sort of buzz words that sound a bit trivial. But when you actually engage with the zone two work in beautiful settings, engage with your surroundings, think about certain things, for me, it’s the best opportunity I get all week to switch off and just think. And that thinking time for me allows me to decide what to do next for my mental health and how I can constantly improve. That’s why I choose to drive to certain locations to do my run of the weekend because if I can combine my zone two work which is great for my mental health with spending time outdoors, which is great for my mental health. If I can bring a friend along to do the training session with me, that social connection, which is great for my mental health. If I take certain things to think about on my zone two work that I can then take back to my day-to-day life, that’s great for my mental health.
So I can tick off a lot of boxes as I go, and the real beauty of it is that zone two doesn’t force you to be thinking, right, chew the stem, get your head down and really work hard, like if you’re on a track where you’ve just gotta get the work done in and out. Yes, it’s great for your mental health in the sense that you’ve worked hard, endorphins are up, you achieved something, but you’re in a different headspace in a different zone. I’d almost call zone two, zen. That’s what I like to refer to it as sometimes, not somebody with no concept of the actual reality of zen from a Buddhist point of view, but in my mind, it’s what I imagine zen to be in many ways.
Brett McKay: Well, Fergus, this has been a great conversation. Is there some place people can go to learn more about your work?
Fergus Crawley: Yeah, so personally, it’s @Ferguscrawley on Instagram and Fergus Crawley on YouTube. And for any Hybrid Training inquiries from a coaching perspective or tips, tricks, information, go to @omniaperformance and www.omnia-performance.com. We’ve got a whole load of training programs available there. We’ve got information about one-to-one coaching. We have a hybrid 101 PDF, which is basically with the intention of taking complete beginners to their journey to become a hybrid athlete really. So 12 weeks to help get you to set some more specific goals. And then we have a few other exciting things going on for the rest of the year, but that is where you can find us and I hope to hear from you soon.
Brett McKay: Alright, well, Fergus Crawley, thanks for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Fergus Crawley: It has been. Thanks for having me.
Brett McKay: My guest here was Fergus Crawley, you can find more information about Hybrid Training and coaching at omnia-performance.com. Also, check out our show notes at aom.is/hybrid where you can find links to resources, we delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of The AOM podcast. Make sure to check out our website at artofmanliness.com where can you find our podcast archives as well as thousands of articles written over the years about pretty much anything you’d think of. And if you’d like to enjoy ad-free episodes of the aom podcast, you can do so on Stitcher premium. Head over to stitcherpremium.com, sign up, use code and “Manliness” at check out for a free month trial. Once you’re signed up, download the Stitcher app on Android or iOS, and you can start enjoying ad-free episodes of the AOM podcast. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate it if you take one minute to give us a review on Apple Podcast or Stitcher, it helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member who you think will get something out of it. As always thank you for the continued support. Until next time, this is Brett Mckay reminding you to not only listen to the AOM podcast, but put what you’ve heard into action.