Reap the benefits of this strength-based aerobic workout.
Circuit training still gets a bad rap in many fitness circles, mostly due to misinformation and oversimplification by the personal training industry, when done correctly, these workouts can provide significant specific benefits for injury-prone, beginner, and even elite triathletes.
In short, circuit training is a high-intensity workout that combines aerobic exercise with strength training. The exact combination of strength exercises and the type of aerobic work can span the depths of a coach’s or athlete’s imagination. However, with the right planning and knowledge, triathletes can mold a circuit-training routine specifically designed to improve their all round fitness.
Who benefits from circuit training?
Circuit training is especially helpful for beginner or injury-prone triathletes who aren’t yet ready to handle an increase in mileage, but do have the time to do more aerobic exercise. For example, if you find yourself getting injured every time you try to run more than 4-5k at once, instead of spending hours on cross-training equipment, you can use circuit training to develop running-specific strength while still getting in an aerobic workout. Not only will this make you a better runner, but it will also begin to address some of the structural imbalances causing your injury in the first place.
Circuit training can also be effective if you have a busy schedule or travel frequently and you don’t have hours to spend at the gym, yet you want to do both strength work and cardio. A sample circuit routine, such as the one found at the end of this article, lasts about 30 minutes and can easily be lengthened or shortened by changing the running distance between each set.
Finally, circuit training is effective for triathletes who are looking to lose weight or increase their percentage of lean muscle mass. While running burns more calories than almost any other pure aerobic activity, strength training, and specifically circuit training, has been found to burn more fat per minute than any other type of exercise. A running-specific circuit training routine gives you the best of both worlds – the aerobic development and calorie burn of a run with the fat burning benefits of a strength workout.
Benefits Of Circuit Training
Studies have shown that circuit training can significantly boost performance. A review as far back as 2003 by Alan Jung at the University of Alabama found that circuit training can maintain heart rates at near 80 percent of maximum (aerobic development occurs between 78 and 85 percent of maximum heart rate). Furthermore, studies conducted on untrained individuals found improvements in time-to-exhaustion on a treadmill test, V02max and the lactate threshold.
The National Athletic Health Institute conducted a study on the effectiveness of circuit training in the late 1970’s. While the specific circuit routine performed by participants did not include any running, just strength exercises performed on a 30-second circuit with no rest, the researchers saw amazing results: after 10 weeks, participants gained about three pounds of muscle and lost about two pounds of fat. Both men and women achieved reductions in skin-fold thickness and increased overall muscular strength. More importantly, participants improved running time to exhaustion on a treadmill by 5 to 6 percent and saw an 11-percent increase in VO2max — without doing any running.
Finally, circuit training helps you become a better overall athlete, circuit training develops balance, strength, athleticism, and flexibility.
Sample Circuit Training Routine
So, what does a real implementation of circuit training look like? Below, we’ve reproduced a circuit workout found in Strength Training for Runners Guide that only uses body weight, this circuit workout is adapted from John Cook, former coach of Shalane Flanagan, and Jay Johnson, coach of three U.S. National Champions.
This routine can be completed with no outside equipment and can be easily adapted for more advanced athletes and made more difficult by adding resistance with a medicine ball. Finally, it works the entire posterior and anterior chain to ensure proper muscular balance. If you do not know the specific exercises – demonstrations for all of them are easily found on youtube.
Note: Perform each of these exercises for 30-60 seconds before moving on to the next one. No rest between exercises.
1. Squat thrust doubles
2. Squat thrust singles
3. Squat thrust singles out
4. Squat thrust doubles out
Jog 800 meters
5. Push ups
7. Hip thrusts
8. Pike Press
Jog 800 meters
9. Prone with twist
10. Running motion v-ups
11. Back extensions
12. Mason Twists
Jog 800 meters
13. Lunges w/turn
14. Push-up walk
16. Squat jumps
By keeping each exercise dynamic, specific, and constantly moving, this routine is able to keep your heart rate high, balance general strength with running-specific exercises, and addresses the entire core and hip girdle.