Staying fit in a pandemic: Vol. 14

I still remember the first circuit I ever completed. It was at Baltimore Friends School in what was basically a converted storage closet off the gym that barely fit a universal machine in it. My coach, Gerald Russell, had us either do circuits of 3 sets of 8-12 reps around the universal or a body weight circuit of 3 sets of 8-12 reps. The days we did the body weight circuit were so much tougher. But I still remember the pride I felt when I finally could belt out 3 sets of 12 dips.

Since that time, the winter of my junior year in high school 1978-79, circuits have always been a part of my preparation as an athlete and now for years as a coach.

With the rise of group and community fitness programs, circuits now seem to be everywhere. And the purpose of these circuits seem to have changed from athletic preparation to just the pride of completion. The Murph – which I do think is a great cause and awesome thing to be able to do (1 mile run, 100 Pullups, 200 Pushups, 300 Squats 1 Mile Run in a 20 Lb vest or Body Armor) – is an example.

Not that pride of completion like the pride I felt when I cranked out 3 sets of 12 body weight dips isn’t important. However, as legendary athletic development coach at the University of Oregon Jimmy Radcliffe likes to say – “it’s easy to make someone tired; it’s hard to make someone better.”

Today’s post is about using circuits to make someone better.

The purpose of circuit training is to build strength endurance. Circuit training is like interval strength training. A circuit can be set up for reps or for time. In this particular circuit that I filmed, it’s a little bit of both. All the strength exercises are set for 10 reps. All the jump roping is set for about 15 seconds.

The benefit of circuit training is that you are building muscular endurance and work capacity.

Circuit training is easily adaptable to target certain training themes. In this film it is just a total body workout. But you could create a circuit that targets one area — like just the lower body, or just the core or just the upper body. I particularly like other types of themes, like hitting on all three planes of motion or possibly focusing on a neglected plane like transverse plane. So circuits can be designed to address all sorts of strengths or deficiencies of your athletes.

A couple guidelines for designing your circuits that come from Vern Gambetta’s book Athletic Development:

  1. They need to be appropriate for your athletes.
  2. Focus on strenuous exercises. Save the exercises for small muscle groups to train in a different way.
  3. The exercises need to be simple as coordination and skill break down as athletes fatigue.
  4. Standardize each exercise so athletes can measure progress regardless of the circuit criteria.
  5. Recognize any bias in the circuit.

Although this filmed circuit is mostly a rep based circuit, I personally like timed based circuits better. By either increasing or decreasing time performing an exercise it’s easy to manipulate the training load for a team performing a circuit together.

For a timed based circuit I also can measure total time an athlete works. These are my basic guidelines based on age and experience of the athlete for total time. For beginning or young athletes (8-10 years old) I rarely go over 10-15 minutes of work. For 11-14 year olds, the circuits can be between 15-25 minutes. For 14-18 year old athletes, we can go 25-40 minutes.

I have programmed some circuits that last 50 – 60 minutes, but these are only with particularly motivated and fit athletes.

In many ways circuit training is a perfect form of training during this pandemic where athletes are likely training alone and have limited equipment and space. Doing a circuit 3 times a week as their primary strength work will keep them in great shape. Also circuit training is great for the athlete returning from injury and getting back in shape.

But in general don’t overuse circuit training. Typically I have used them in a pre-season or foundational phase of training for maybe 3-4 weeks. Then circuits can return sporadically throughout a season as a quick reminder of the work from early in the season.

Enjoy today’s circuit:

Here were the exercises and reps in today’s simple circuit. Feel free to adjust and do more than one set!

  • Station 1 10 reps of Push-ups
  • Station 2 10 reps of Med Ball Standing Twist
  • Station 3 10 reps of Body Weight Squat
  • 15 seconds of jump rope
  • Station 4 10 reps of DB ALT Curl & Press
  • Station 5 10 reps of Med ball diagonal chops
  • Station 6 10 reps of Lunges
  • 15 seconds of jump rope
  • Station 7 10 reps of curl and press
  • Station 8 10 reps of Db step and raise
  • Station 9 10 reps of Step ups
  • 15 seconds of jump rope
  • Station 10 10 reps of running arm action
  • Station 11 10 reps of Dead Bugs
  • Station 12 10 reps of Ice skaters
  • 15 seconds of jump rope