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Circuit Training

Circuit training is an excellent way to improve mobility, strength and stamina. The circuit training comprises of 6 to 10 strength exercises that are completed one exercise after another. Each exercise is performed for a specified number of repetitions or for a set time before moving on to the next exercise. The exercises within each circuit are separated by a short rest period, and each circuit is separated by a longer rest period. The total number of circuits performed during a training session may vary from two to six depending on your training level (beginner, intermediate, or advanced), your period of training (preparation or competition) and your training objective.

Planning

Identify on paper 3 to 4 circuits of 6 to 10 exercise that can be performed with the available resources. In each circuit try to ensure that no two consecutive exercises exercise the same muscle group. e.g. do not have press ups followed by pull ups.

The exercise circuit should be set up so that you work each body part as follows: Total-body, Upper-body, Lower-body, Core & Trunk, Total-body etc. For each circuit I have a set of linoleum squares (6 inches by 6 inches) with an exercise written on each that I lay by the equipment to indicate to the athletes the required exercise at each stage of the circuit. You could use plain card or paper and include an explanation as to how to perform the exercise, duration and recovery.

A set of 25 Circuit Training Cards has been kindly created and donated by Maree Buchanan, a Physical Education Teacher from Bron Bay, Australia. All that you have to do is download the file, print off the 25 cards and laminate them.

It is important to conduct a warm up at the start of the session and a cool down at the end of the session.

The following are examples of exercises that can be used in a circuit training session:

  • Upper-body
    • Press ups, Bench dips, Pull ups, Medicine ball chest pass, Bench lift, Inclined press up
  • Core & trunk
    • Sit ups (lower abdominals), Stomach crunch (upper abdominals), Back extension chest raise
  • Lower-body
    • Squat jumps, Compass jumps, Astride jumps, Step ups, Shuttle runs, Hopping shuttles, Bench squat
  • Total-body
    • Burpees, Treadmills, Squat thrusts, Skipping

Example Circuit Training Sessions

6 Exercises

  • Treadmills, Press ups, Squat Jumps (forward astride), Sit ups (bent knees feet on the ground), Squat Thrusts, Bench Dips

8 Exercises

  • Treadmills, Press ups, Squat Jumps (forward astride), Sit ups (bent knees feet on the ground), Squat Thrusts, Bench Dips, Shuttle runs, Back extension chest raise

Duration

  • 20 to 30 seconds work on each exercise with a 30 second recovery between each exercise
  • 3 to 5 sets with a 3 minute recovery between each set

The duration can be based on time (e.g. 30 seconds) or set to half the number of repetitions of the exercise the athlete can complete in 60 seconds of 100% effort.

If training is based on the number of repetitions then regular testing (e.g. every 4 weeks) will need to be carried out to determine the maximum number of repetitions that can be completed in 60 seconds for each exercise.

Training can be based on a four week cycle comprising of an easy week, medium week, hard week and test/recovery week. The workload can be varied by changing the number of exercises, duration, sets or repetitions and recovery time.

A selection of upper body, core and trunk, lower body and total body exercises are available on the Circuit Training Exercises page.

Example program

Identify a circuit of 8 0r 10 exercises so that you work each body part as follows: Total-body, Upper-body, Lower-body, Core & Trunk, Total-body, Upper-body, Lower-body, Core & Trunk

Exercise Circuits
Week Work Rest Number Rest
1 20 sec 20 sec 2 2 min
2 30 sec 30 sec 2 2 min
3 40 sec 40 sec 2 3 min
4 20 sec 20 sec 3 2 min
5 30 sec 30 sec 3 2 min
6 30 sec 30 sec 4 2 min
7 40 sec 40 sec 3 3 min
8 30 sec 30 sec 3 2 min

Complete the circuit training session twice a week with at least 48 hours between each session. If you are carrying out other training on the same day then the circuit session should follow, with a suitable recovery period, the other session.

The following is an example circuit of ten exercises. Exercise cards could be made up for each station explaining the exercise, duration and recovery.

Circuit Training 10 exercises

Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages of circuit training are:

  • Develops strength and endurance
  • Appropriate form of training for most sports
  • Can be adjusted to suit age, fitness and health of the athlete
  • Exercises are simple enough to make each athlete feel a sense of achievement in completing them
  • A wide range of exercises to select from which will maintain the athlete's enthusiasm

Disadvantages of circuit training are:

  • Many exercises require specialised equipment - e.g. gym equipment
  • Ample space required to set up the circuit exercises & equipment
  • In general can only be conducted where appropriate facilities/equipment are available
  • Use of additional equipment requires appropriate health and safety monitoring

Stage Training

In stage training, the required number of repetitions and sets are performed for each exercise before moving to the next exercise. A rest is allowed between each set (e.g. 30 seconds). The number of repetitions can be based on time (e.g. 20 seconds) or set to one third of the number the athlete can complete in 60 seconds of 100% effort. The number of sets - five to eight.

Training Sessions

Anderson (2000)[1] provides some example training sessions.

Basic Endurance Circuit

Warm up with 10 to 15 minutes of easy jogging, swimming or cycling, and then perform the following exercises in order. Move quickly from exercise to exercise, but do not perform the exercises themselves too quickly (do not sacrifice good form just to get them done in a hurry).

  1. Run 400 metres at current 5k race pace (if you're a swimmer, swim 100 metres at high intensity; if you're a cyclist pedal for 1600 metres at a high rate of speed)
  2. Do 5 chin-ups
  3. Complete 36 abdominal crunches
  4. Perform 15 squat thrusts with jumps (burpees)
  5. Do 15 press-ups
  6. Complete 30 body-weight squats (fast)
  7. Run 400 metres at 5k pace again (if you're a swimmer or cyclist, see step 1)
  8. Do 12 squat and dumbbell presses (with 10-pound dumbbells)
  9. Complete 10 feet-elevated press-ups
  10. Perform 36 low-back extensions
  11. Do 15 bench dips
  12. Complete 15 lunges with each leg
  13. Run 400 metres at 5k pace again (if you are a swimmer or cyclist, see step 1)
  14. Repeat steps 2 to 13 one more time (for two circuits in all), and then cool down with about 15 minutes of light jogging, swimming, or cycling.

Once your fitness and strength have increased so much that the above circuit sessions are no longer challenging, you can then move on to a more challenging circuit workout, as follows :

Warm up with two miles of easy running, and then perform the following exercises in order. Move quickly from exercise to exercise, but do not perform the exercises themselves too quickly (do not sacrifice good form just to get them done in a hurry).

  1. Run 400 metres at 5k race pace
  2. Complete 8 high bench step ups with jumps
  3. Do 6 plyometric press ups
  4. Perform 3 series of the 6 way lunge with arm drop
  5. Complete 8 reps of the hanging scissors plus double knee raise
  6. Do 12 one leg squats with hops
  7. Perform 8 prone trunk extensions with arm raises
  8. Run 400 metres at 5k race pace
  9. Repeat steps 2 to 8 once more (for two circuits in all), and then cool down with 2 miles of easy ambling.

5k Circuit

Warm up with two miles of easy running, follow with some stretching routines and then perform the following activities in order. Move quickly from exercise to exercise, but do not perform the exercises themselves too quickly (do not sacrifice good form just to get them done in a hurry).

  1. Run 4 x 100 metres at close to top speed, with short recoveries
  2. Run 200 metres (or ¼ mile) at 5k race pace
  3. Complete 20 squat thrusts with jumps (burpees).
  4. Do 15 "side sit ups" on your left side and then 15 on your right. To complete a side sit up, lie on your left side with your left leg flexed at the knee and lying under your right leg, which is straight. Let the left side of your upper torso lie relaxed on the ground, and fold your arms over the front of your trunk. Then, slowly raise your torso with a twisting motion so that you end up with your torso upright and perpendicular to the ground, and your chest and face facing forward. Slowly lower your upper torso back to the starting position on the ground (don't let your upper body plummet downward in an uncontrolled manner!) to complete one rep. Complete 15 sit ups with your left side down and then shift over to the right for 15 more.
  5. Perform 20 lunges with each leg. Do each lunge from a six inch platform or step, so that the forward, lunging foot undergoes an exaggerated downward acceleration.
  6. Run 400 metres at 5k pace.
  7. Do 15 feet elevated press ups.
  8. Complete 15 one leg squats with your right leg and then 15 more with your left
  9. Perform 30 low back extensions with a twisting motion (I, instead of lifting your upper body straight up as you lie flat on the ground with your belly touching earth, your arms at your sides, and your palms on the ground, lift and twist your upper body to the right during the first rep, lift and twist your torso to the left during the second, to the right during the third, hectic. Naturally, you will need to untwist your upper body each time your trunk moves back toward the ground so that your stomach and chest, not your sides, touch the ground. Always do this rhythmically and smoothly, while maintaining good control.
  10. Run 400 metres at 5k pace.
  11. Carry out 20 bench dips.
  12. Hop on your right foot, covering 20 metres as fast as you can; then do the same on your left foot.
  13. Complete 15 high bench step ups with each leg.
  14. Run 1600 metres at 5k pace
  15. Repeat steps 3 to 14 one more time (for two circuits in all), and then cool down with 2 miles of light jogging

Half Marathon Circuit

Warm up with two miles of easy running, follow with some stretching routines and then perform the following activities in order. Move quickly from exercise to exercise, but don't perform the exercises themselves too quickly (do not sacrifice good form just to get them done in a hurry).

  1. 5 x 100 metres at close to top speed, with short recoveries
  2. Run one mile at your goal half-marathon velocity
  3. Complete 20 squat thrusts with jumps (burpees)
  4. Do 70 abdominal crunches
  5. Perform 20 lunges with each leg, with your no lunging foot on a step or platform which is about six inches off the ground.
  6. Carry out 70 low back extensions
  7. Do 20 press-ups
  8. Complete 15 one leg squats with your right leg and then 15 more with your left
  9. Run one mile at goal half marathon velocity
  10. Carry out 30 bench dips
  11. Complete 15 high bench step ups with each leg
  12. Jump 100 times in place, getting your propulsive force from your ankles, not your knees, and carrying out the last 30 jumps at an especially quick tempo (for all 100 jumps, don't try for great height - your feet should only come off the ground a few inches; what you're really looking for is quick reaction with the ground, I, minimised ground contact times)
  13. Carry out 30 cross body leg swings with each leg. To do these, lean slightly forward with your hands on a wall (or other support) and your full body weight on your left leg. Then, swing your right leg to the left in front of your body, pointing your toes upward as your foot reaches its farthest point of motion. After this, swing your right leg back to the right as far as comfortably possible, again pointing your toes up as your foot reaches it final point of movement. Repeat this overall motion 30 times before performing 30 reps with your left leg
  14. Run one mile at goal half-marathon velocity
  15. Repeat steps 3 to 14 one more time (for two circuits in all), and then cool down with two miles of light jogging

Marathon Circuit

Warm up with two miles of easy running, follow with some stretching routines and then perform the following activities in order. Move quickly from exercise to exercise, but don't perform the exercises themselves too quickly (do not sacrifice good form just to get them done in a hurry).

  • 1. Run 800 metres at what feels like 10K intensity
  • 2. Complete 15 burpees (squat thrusts with jumps)
  • 3. Perform 12 press ups
  • 4. Do 12 one leg squats with each leg
  • 5. Run 800 metres at a little faster than marathon speed
  • 6. Carry out 50 abdominal crunches
  • 7. Complete 12 lunges with each leg
  • 8. Perform 50 low back extensions
  • 9. Run 800 metres at a little faster than goal marathon speed
  • 10. Do 12 feet elevated press ups
  • 11. Do 15 bench dips
  • 12. Carry out 12 high bench step ups
  • 13. Run 1600 metres at a little faster than goal marathon speed
  • 14. Repeat steps 2 to 13 twice more (for three circuits in all)
  • 15. Cool down with two miles of easy running

These circuits build a tremendous foundation of whole body strength and fatigue resistance, both of which are critically important for marathon running. The circuits also improve efficiency while running at marathon intensity and help to raise lactate threshold. Finally, the marathon circuits enhance your ability to run at goal marathon tempo when you are very tired, and they are a tremendous confidence builder.

Alternative Approach

Over the 30+ years as a coach Frank Hourly has experimented with different methods of circuit training and the one that he found gave the best results is called muscle fatigue saturation.

The athlete completes three sets of maximum repetitions of each exercise with a one minute recovery between each set and two minutes recovery between each exercise.

In the first week, one exercise is done each day, second week two exercises each day, third week three exercises and so on up to the seventh week when 7 exercises are completed each day. The first week could comprise of: Day 1 - Press Ups, Day 2 - Abdominally, Day 3 - One Leg Squats, Day 4 - Squat Thrusts, Day 5 - Chin the Bar, Day 6 - Step Ups, Day 7 - Dips.

After the seventh week the seven exercises are completed every other day during the general training phases and then once a week during the specific training phases.

This following link provides a template of the exercises, day by day for each of the seven weeks.

Referenced Material

  1. ANDERSON, O. (2000) You may (mistakenly) think this training method is old hat. Peak Performance, 133, p. 1-6

Associated References

The following references provide additional information on this topic:

  • GETTMAN, L. and POLLOCK, M. (1981) Circuit weight training: a critical review of its physiological benefits. Phys Sports Med, 9, p. 44-60.

Page Reference

The reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (1997) Circuit Training [WWW] Available from: http://www.brianmac.co.uk/circuit.htm [Accessed

Associated Pages

The following Sports Coach pages should be read in conjunction with this page:

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