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Circuits or Stage Training

Probably the best way to introduce athletes to the world of strength training is to have them perform body-weight/circuit type exercises. As you might guess, these exercises use the athlete’s own body weight as the resistance. These exercises can include:


·          Push ups

·          Pull ups

·          Sit ups  (crunches, chinnies, etc)

·          Back extensions

·          Body weight lunges or squats

·          Step-ups

·          Dips

Circuit training consists of a consecutive series of timed exercises performed one after the other with varying amounts of rest between each exercise.

For example, a simple circuit training routine might consist of push-ups, sit-ups, squats, chin-ups and lunges. The routine might be structured as follows, and could be continually repeated as many times as is necessary.

Do as many press-ups as you can in 30 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds.
Do as many squats as you can in 30 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds.
Do as many sit-ups as you can in 30 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds.
Do as many lunges as you can in 30 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds.
Do as many chin-ups as you can in 30 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds.

What makes Circuit Training so good?

The quick pace and constant changing nature of circuit training places a unique type of stress on the body, which differs from normal exercise activities,

like weight training and other conditioning workouts.

The demands of circuit training tend to prepare the body in a very even, all-round manner. I have found circuit training to be an exceptional form of exercise to aid in the prevention of injury. Circuit training is one of the best ways I've found to condition your entire body (and mind).

There are many other reasons why circuit training is a fantastic form of exercise, and what most of these reasons come down to is flexibility. In other words, circuit training is totally customisable to your specific requirements.

  • Circuit training can be totally personalised. Whether you're a beginner, or an elite athlete, you can modify your circuit training routine to give you the best possible results.

  • A circuit training routine can be modified to give you exactly what you want. Whether you want an all-over body workout, or you just want to work on a specific body area, or you need to work on a particular aspect of your sport, this can all be accommodated.

  • Also, you can change the focus of your circuit training routine to emphasize strength, endurance, agility, speed, skill development, weight loss, or any other aspect of your fitness that is important to you.

  • Circuit training is time efficient. No wasted time in between sets. It's maximum results in minimum time.

  • You can do circuit training just about anywhere, at the track in a gym or at home, in a park or playground.

  • Circuit training is a favourite form of exercise for the British Royal Marine Commandos because they tend to spend a lot of time on large ships. The confined spaces means that circuit training is sometimes the only form of exercise available to them.

  • You don't need expensive equipment. You don't even need a gym membership. You can just as easily put together a great circuit training routine at home or in a park. By using your imagination, you can devise all sorts of exercises using things like chairs and tables, and even children's outdoor play equipment like swings and monkey bars.

  • Another reason why I like circuit training so much is that it's great fun to do in pairs or groups. Half the group exercises while the other half rests and motivates the exercising members of the group.

Some of the many types of Circuit Training

As mentioned before, circuit training can be totally customised, which means there are an unlimited number of different ways you can structure your circuit training routine. However, here are a few examples to give you some idea of the different types available.

Timed Circuit
This type of circuit involves working to a set time period for both rest and exercise intervals. For example, a typical timed circuit might involve 30 seconds of exercise and 30 seconds of rest in between each exercise.

Competition Circuit
This is similar to a timed circuit but you push yourself to see how many repetitions you can do in the set time period. For example, you may be able to complete 12 push-ups in 30 seconds. The idea is to keep the time period the same, but try to increase the number of repetitions you can do in the set time period.

Repetition Circuit
This type of circuit is great if you're working with large groups of people who have different levels of fitness and ability. The idea is that the fittest group might do, say 20 repetitions of each exercise, the intermediate group might only do 15 repetitions, while the beginners might only do 10 repetitions of each exercise.

Sport Specific or Running Circuit
This type of circuit is best done outside at a track or in a large, open area. Choose exercises that are specific to your particular sport, or emphasise an aspect of your sport you'd like to improve. Then instead of simply resting between exercises, run easy for 200 or 400 metres. You can even use sprints or fast 400 metre runs as part of your choice of exercises. As in “Oregon “ type circuits you can complete your 15 press-ups and then run 200 metres to your next exercise, complete a set of squats and run 200 metres to begin your sit-ups etc.

Fatigue Saturation Circuit

This circuit is a favourite of mine I picked it up from Frank Horwill at a BMC endurance weekend. It develops over 7 weeks, in week 1 you complete three sets of maximum repetitions of each (7) exercises with a one-min. recovery between each set and two mins. recovery between each exercise. Record the reps.

Week 2 you complete three sets of maximum repetitions of 2 exercises with a one-min. recovery between each set and two mins. recovery between each exercise. Record the reps and continue for the seven weeks until you are doing the seven exercises every day, when you have completed the seven weeks you then continue with the seven exercise circuit on alternate days.  All the equipment you are likely to need is a bench or box for step ups and a chin up bar ( available from Argos for around £7:00 )



Circuits are a great form of exercise and it is something you can do as a club in a school hall or gym during the winter especially if you have a large mixed group. I have a video of George Gandy at Loughborough with a team of Spotters working their way round the gym, and there are more than 300 athletes from all sports taking part in his circuit session.


Some Important Precautions


Circuit training is a fantastic way to develop strength & endurance, however, the most common problem I find is that people tend to get over excited, because of the timed nature of the exercises, and push themselves harder than they normally would. This tends to result in sore muscles and joints, and an increased likelihood of injury.


Below are two precautions you need to take into consideration.

Firstly, your level of fitness. If you've never done any sort of circuit training before, even if you consider yourself quite fit, start off slowly. The nature of circuit training is quite different to any other form of exercise. It places different demand on the body and mind, and if you're not used to it, it will take a few sessions for your body to adapt to this new form of training. Be patient.

Secondly, your warm-up and warm-down are crucial. Don't ever start a circuit training routine without a thorough warm-up that includes dynamic stretching. As I mentioned before, circuit training is very different from other forms of exercise. Your body must be prepared for circuit training before you start your session.


Circuit or Stage training can be as simple or as complex as you choose to make it and the variety and limitations are as wide as your imagination. Circuit training is an excellent way to simultaneously improve mobility, strength and stamina.

The benefits of these exercises are several-fold. First, this type of exercise is inexpensive and easy to implement with little or no equipment required. Second, these exercises strengthen the core muscles of the body (the core is defined as the muscles surrounding the body’s center of mass – namely the abs, lower back, and hip musculature) that help to stabilise the body. It is important to develop a solid strength base in these muscles before progressing on to more advanced exercises.

The initial goal of any programme should be to build some muscular endurance. Start out slowly, initially performing one set of 15 repetitions. As the athletes develop, strive to complete three sets of each exercise, each containing six-15 repetitions, three times a week as part of the regular program. As an athlete matures physically and emotionally, you can begin to introduce more complex exercises (multi-joint lifts, free weights, low intensity plyometric as examples) into the programme. However, even the most basic multi-joint exercise requires a solid strength base in the body’s core musculature to minimize the risk of injury. If strength training is a part of the overall training program, it is important to make it consistent – when strength training is stopped, detraining (a loss of strength and the strength associated benefits) will occur.

An example of a Circuit & a Stage training routine is shown below. A Circuit works through the different exercises in turn whereas Stage training you would complete all the press-ups ( 3 sets) before moving on to the sit-ups. Always try to work your routines through the different major muscle groups, don’t have an arm exercise followed by an arm exercise. Try Arms, Legs, Abs, Legs, Arms.


Circuit and Stage Training 

Circuit Training  ( speed endurance ) 

  1.  press - ups 

  2.  step   - ups 

  3.  chinnies 

  4.  squats 

  5.  tricep dips 

6.      sprints/burpees 

Complete circuit by working on 3 x sets of exercises above with 20 seconds on and 2 minutes between sets. 

All exercises to be completed with no rest, ( ie.  2 minutes of continuous work ).  

This will increase to 30 seconds on ( ie.  3 minutes of continuous work ) when fitness improves, After which you can move on to  4 x sets. 


 Stage Training  ( strength endurance

  1.  3 x press - ups                       

  2.  3 x sit  -  ups 

  3.  3 x step - ups 

  4.  3 x tricep dips 

  5.  3 x squats 

  6.  3 x incline press - ups 

  7.  3 x abdominal crunches 

  8.  3 x sprints or burpees


All exercises to be at  50% of 1 minute max. with 45 seconds between sets and 1 minute between stages reducing as fitness improves.

Check max. every 4 to 5 weeks 

 Graham Smith B.A.F. Senior Coach

Level 4 Performance Coach

Level 4 Strength & Conditioning Coach


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