Taking leg circuits to the next level

Every year I become more and more convinced of the effectiveness of the Gambetta Leg Circuits. A simple combination of four exercises ticks so many boxes for me in training: it is efficient, improves coordination, and develops strength all at the same time. For those familiar or unfamiliar with leg circuits, I hope this article explain a bit about how they work and some new variations that can make them an even better tool for training.

» Related content: Learn more about implementing leg circuits in our video lesson with Nick Garcia and Martin Bingisser.

Understanding the power of leg circuits

I don’t know exactly why the leg circuits work so well, but I know they do. Finishing a leg circuit with good pace requires high coordination of all leg muscles, the coupling of fast concentric and eccentric movement, both unilateral and bilateral movements, and immense time under tension. This provides a strong stimulus, even if done just twice a week with bodyweight.

This past week I saw many of my athletes hitting 5-10% strength gains despite the fact that we are only in our third week of barbell training for the upcoming season. Prior to that we had our foundation phase, and before that 4-6 weeks of rest. The only substantial leg work we did in the months before this phase were the leg circuits, so I give them full credit for the gains. I am not alone either. Throughout the month on the podcast, GAINcast, and in articles the leg circuits came up a central pillar of foundational strength.

The basic leg circuit

The basic leg circuit consists of the four classical leg exercises performed after each other: squat, lunge, step up, and jump squat. The main variables we play with to start out with are the number of repetitions and amount of rest between sets. Here are the two classic variations I always start out with, normally with a 1:1 rest ratio for each set of the circuit:

Standard Leg Circuit Half Leg Circuit

Key variables for the leg circuit

The number of repetitions and rest are just two variables you can play with to alter the stimulus. Steve Myrland put together a great primer on leg circuits several years ago that highlighted the key elements coaches need to focus on. Altering any of them will adaptations you get from the circuits:

  • Volume of repetitions and sets (more volume = more muscular endurance stimulus)
  • Amount of rest between exercises and rounds (less rest = more muscular endurance stimulus)
  • External resistance (more weight = more strength and stimulus)
  • Height of the step (more height = more strength and power stimulus)

Adding planes of movement

One thing you might notice is that despite the variety of movement, everything happens on the sagittal plane. Nick Garcia makes a more conscious effort than anyone I know to train all three planes of movement, as he’s written about in describe how he creates training templates. Here also, he alternates the standard (sagittal) leg circuit with leg circuits that work in the lateral (frontal) and rotational (transverse) planes of movement. His versions still use the same type and order of exercises—squat, lunge, step up, and a plyometric movement—but with variations that are in different planes of movement. Here is what he has come up with:

Lateral Leg Circuit Rotational Leg Circuit

The possibilities are limitless

But you don’t have to stop here. Never one to do the same thing for long, Steve Myrland has also created his own variations. Like the standard circuit and Garcia’s circuits they still rely on the same four types of exercises, but using different variations of each. As you can see below, you can take a simple concept and make endless variations from it. In the end, it all just helps build a more robust foundation.

Myrland Variation 1 Myrland Variation 2
  • Parallel-stance squat x 20
  • Forward lunge-twist x 20 (total)
  • Forward alternating box step-ups x 20 (total)
  • Jump-squats x 10
  • Staggered-stance squats x 20 (10 each way)
  • Lateral lunge-twist x 20 (total)
  • Forward non-alternating box step-ups x 10 / leg
  • Lateral bounds x 12 (total)
Myrland Variation 3 Myrland Variation 4
  • Split-squats x 20 (10 each way)
  • Transverse lunge-twist x 20 (total)
  • Lateral alternating box step-ups x 20 (total)
  • Box jump-ups x 12
  • Skater’s squats x 20 (total)
  • Cross-step lunge-twist x 20 (total)
  • Non-alternating box cross-step-ups x 10 / leg
  • Forward frog-jumps x 7
Myrland Variation 5
  • Wide-stance alt side-to-side squats x 20 (10 each way)
  • Backward lunge-twist x 20 (total)
  • Non-alt box hop-ups x 20 (total) (10 each way)
  • Alternating cross-step bounds x 6 (total)