By on 14.5.2014

Alex Viada: In search of ultimate performance


Alex Viada is a coach and athlete from North Carolina who competes in both powerlifting and endurance events throughout the year. He is also the owner of Complete Human Performance, a training facility that primarily focuses on strength and conditioning for athletes. In this interview, Alex explains some of his preferred methods for making endurance and strength training work concurrently.

Hi Alex! Let´s get the introductions out of the way.

– My name is Alex Viada, 33 years old living in Durham, North Carolina. Coaching is my full time job – I came from a background in clinical trials/clinical research and consulting, but two years ago left corporate to start this business. The original plan was to open a local facility designed around training hybrid athletes- strength and endurance combined- however, we realized early on that not only would this kind of training need almost every type of equipment on the market, but we also realized that our greatest value was in programming. We’re currently nearly exclusively distance-based when it comes to coaching, designing programs for people across the globe- for local athletes we have partnerships with various local facilities that allows us to use whatever kind of equipment we need to train our athletes. We MAY open a facility in the next few years, but we will need a TREMENDOUS amount of equipment!

I understand you compete in both powerlifting an ultra-endurance events yearly. What are your all time best results, and could you give some examples on your best results from powerlifting and endurance that you´ve attained within the same year?

– My all time best numbers, all within the last two years:

• Powerlifting, single ply: 805/505/710

• Powerlifting, raw: 705/465/726

• One mile / 1650m: 4:15

• Two mile: 10:35

• 5k: 17:18 – as you can see, my running speed slows dramatically over distance!

• 1/2 marathon: 1:31

• Marathon: I haven’t done a full marathon in over six years, back when I first started this form of training. Back then, the best I ever achieved was a 4:00:00 finish amidst three stress fractures, which goes to show the perils of poor programming!

• 50 miler: 9:38

– All of these were set concurrently- i.e. at the moment I hopefully COULD approach or duplicate most of those numbers in any given week. For example, last month I ran a 7/7/7×7 workout, which is a 700 squat, 700 deadlift, then 7 miles at a 7:00 pace. This year I’ve yet to compete – my season starts with the Eagleman 70.3 half Ironman next month, a PL meet following, a 100 mile ultra, and Cozumel Ironman.

What kind of athletes do you train at your facility, mostly endurance people, or..?

– Our client base is HUGELY varied, but the largest single population/athlete group is military- a lot of our military athletes enjoy strength training and wish to be competitive strength athletes, but still need to stay in top cardiovascular shape for their job. We also train a number of CrossFit competitors (our second largest group). Third would be triathletes, mostly long course (half iron or iron). We also have a growing number of Olympic weightlifters that we train- this is a growing portion of our in-person training.

What are your basic ”tenets” for periodizing your yearly training? Is it possible to focus on training for an ultramarathon and a powerlifting meet at the same time? Or do you divide the year into endurance blocks and powerlifting blocks?

– The basic form of periodization would be considered “concurrent-block”. In other words, every microcycle/training week contains strength and endurance work, and combines all the basic types concurrently- i.e., for strength, we combine maximum effort, hypertrophy, and plyometric/speed work, and for endurance we do interval work, tempo work, and long slow distance- all in the same microcycle. The larger cycles are organized in basic blocks- an initial base building phase, where we focus on the fundamentals (long duration endurance and maximum strength), then an accumulation phase, where intensity increases and both types of training become more event-specific (i.e., endurance training moves towards race-distance training, and strength training focuses on the Powerlifts, or the Olympic lifts, for example), followed by a competition phase, where we relegate training to maintenance and peaking for events. Nearly all our athletes train all disciplines at once- we rarely break the year into “strength” and “endurance” blocks.

Could you zoom in further on the details detail on how you combine your strength training with endurance training. How many times per week do you train? I understand you have cut out all the extra ”fat” from your training programs / sessions. Could you give an example of how one lifting session might look for you when training for endurance at the same time? I have thought earlier that if I want to reach my endurance goals, all the heavy squatting needs to go out the window during that time. Then after my event, I ”start again” from 70-75 % of where I used to be…

– I could certainly give you personal examples- I lift four times a week, following a “loose” Westside Barbell template, with some major modifications – I train the bench press twice a week, one day focused on heavy singles/doubles and heavy back work as accessories (1-2 rows), the other day focused on explosive/speed work and tricep accessory. For the lower body lifts, I do volume squatting (650-700 pounds for reps) and heavy deadlifts on one day, with some form of pulling accessory lift (Romanian deadlifts), and heavy squatting (700-800 pounds for singles) another day, with the accessory work consisting of speed squats or a good morning variant. My endurance training is nearly every day- I pair up speed/interval work with the lower body lifts (working similar energy systems), do various tempo workouts (both running and cycling) on the upper body days, and have one day devoted strictly to long distance (overdistance) low intensity steady state training. Overall, it’s a fairly simple looking split. I often joke with folks who say with my stats I should do CrossFit- I’d be HORRENDOUS at it! The work they do involves about four dozen movements I haven’t performed in years! My routine lets me do so much because it’s so incredibly focused and basic. I squat, bench, row, deadlift, run, and bike. Full stop!

What does your nutrition setup look like? Especially on a training day. How many calories do you ingest + are there any dietary restrictions? I´m assuming paleo is definitely out of the question, as is low-carb… 😉

– My approach to nutrition has always been this: get in your basic, rough basal calories through structured meals- a good balance of protein, carbohydrates, and good fats. The remainder, adjust for activity and get from whatever sources you want. I would say the rough guideline is 150 grams of protein for me (1-1.5g/kg, considered low by many), 50-60 grams of GOOD fats, and the remainder from carbohydrates or whatever other source I choose. I have NO dietary restrictions, I will usually eat oatmeal and Greek yogurt for breakfast, peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, whole eggs or egg whites to snack, the occasional cookie or other sweet before workouts, then dinner is usually a heavy meal consisting of a half pound of pasta and 1-1.5 pounds of lean meat (usually pork loin). I’m also a tremendous fan of Belgian beers, so a good Rochefort 10 or Kasteel Donker will round out the meal. My calories vary dramatically, from 3500 on a rest day to over 7500+ on a long workout day (like a 25-30 mile run or 100 mile ride). My general sense is that the body itself is infinitely complex, and extraordinarily good at converting various fuel sources to energy where needed. Provided the basic macronutrients and micronutrients are provided, the system will make do with the rest of what it is given. On training days, I will get those calories from Gels, sports drinks, miniature sandwiches, fruits (bananas), pretzels, or anything else I can get my hands on.

What kind of other recovery methods would you recommend?

– Truthfully, I do very little actual “recovery” work, beyond ensuring adequate cool downs/warm downs after every workout. The single MOST important thing I’ve found is MENTAL recovery, something that is often overlooked. Adequate sleep is number one here, but I’ve found that there are a number of simple meditative routines that can be done on a fairly regular basis that helps keep me relaxed and focused. Most athletes know that even before the body burns out, the mind burns out- it is hard to get yourself mentally engaged to push yourself over and over again, and maintaining a clear head and healthy state of mind… and positive relationship with training, is tremendously important. And if there is ANY magic to this routine, this is it- the quality of a routine is really found in how the athlete can adhere to it and stay engaged. What has let me get to this point is the fact that I still LOVE to train, I love the challenge and have not yet entered a period where I’ve lost my motivation. If I can pass on one message, this is it – don’t ever stop enjoying what you’re doing, or you will quickly stagnate.

I think it´s really interesting idea to combine endurance and power. Do you think this might be the ”crossfit” of the future? 🙂 Here´s hoping…

– Who knows! CrossFit has positioned itself as a great sport of its own – what we’re doing is essentially just preparing our athletes to be able to participate in any extreme, and do it well. Will this lead to a new wave of fitness and method of training, or will it – I hope – just encourage even the most specialized athletes to stay well rounded? I do what I do to myself to test out what works and what doesn’t. I don’t think all Powerlifters have to run ultramarathons, but if I can convince them that they can run a few times a week and not lose all their strength, I think I’ll have succeeded. The other day one of the powerlifters I worked with years ago contacted me and simply said: “For the first time in my life, I can go out and play football (soccer) with my son, I don’t have to just sit there in a heap and throw the ball for him to kick”. THAT, to me, is more rewarding than starting a wave of fitness or making a million dollars. Changing mindsets and improving lives here and there – to ME, that is what this is about.

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