What is circuit training?
Circuit training was first developed in 1953 by R.E. Morgan and G.T. Anderson at the University of Leeds in 1953. The formula was as follows:
“A circuit consists of 9 to 12 stations, with each station representing one exercise. At each station, an exercise is performed with a specific resistance and for a specific number of reps. Work at each station takes 30-60 seconds, after which the trainee moves directly to the next station on the circuit (with no break) and begins the exercise. An aerobics station requiring 15-180 seconds of work is placed between the main exercise stations.”
Morgan and Anderson developed this form of circuit training in order to enable individuals to work at their own intensity while also training with others. This is why it is a popular training method for army recruits and other team exercise sessions.
During circuit training, the body is forced to work through exercises of varying intensities, resulting in the use of different energy systems all within one session. Training in both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems provides an excellent workout improving overall fitness, speedwork and endurance.
Over the years, trainers have adapted and changed the formula to suit their needs, such as boxing circuits or bodyweight circuits, but the main structure and end result remain the same.
What are the benefits of circuit training?
- Multiple people can train at once and work at their own intensity
- The variety means there’s no room for boredom
- Circuit training boosts cardiovascular fitness
- Circuit training boosts muscular fitness
- It offers a full-body workout in a short space of time
- It's social
- No wasted time as rest periods are minimal
- Significant calorie expenditure
Research Supporting Circuit Training
A study at The University of Alabama found that circuit training can maintain heart rates at near 80% of the max, at this level of intensity aerobic development can occur - this takes place between 78- 85% of the maximum heart rate.
In a study of weight training circuits conducted by The National Athletic Health Institute in the 1970’s participants performed back to back strength exercises with no rest for 10 weeks. The study’s participants gained 3 pounds of muscle and lost 2 pounds of fat. Both men and women achieved reductions in skinfold thickness and increased their overall muscular strength. Despite the lack of any cardio within the circuits, participants saw an improved running time to exhaustion on a treadmill by 5 to 6% and an 11% increase in their VO2 max.
A study for Aging and Disease called “Impact of Resistance Circuit Training on Neuromuscular, Cardiorespiratory and Body Composition Adaptations in the Elderly” found that in order to optimise the body composition, muscle strength gains, and developed cardiovascular function from circuit training, the following protocols need to be maintained:
- 2 circuits should be completed weekly and can be implemented with endurance training.
- Circuit weight training should last 30–50 minutes. The number of sets and the repetitions per exercise is going to depend on the intensity of training.
- The loading intensity to promote hypertrophy (build muscle) should approach 60–85% (more highly trained individuals 85%) of 1RM, although low intensity is also recommended (e.g. 40% of 1RM), high velocity contractions on at least 1 day per week to develop muscle power.
- The work to rest ratio is also a critical factor in the prescribing of circuit training. The work to rest ratio 1:1 (30:30 s) may be an excellent stimulus to promote improvements on aerobic fitness, and modifications on body composition (i.e. decrease body fat).
Circuit Training Workout Routine
5 - 10 minute warm up light run.
Complete 3 rounds of the following exercises, try 45 seconds on with 15 seconds rest (just enough time to switch between exercises)
1.Bench step ups
3. Bench push ups
3. Travelling plank
1.Box jumps onto the bench
2.Bench plank rotations
3.Lateral Step up with abduction
1.Bunny Hops with hands on the bench
2.Mountain Climbers with hands on the bench
3.Feet elevated plank
5 - 10 minutes cool down stretches.
The beauty of circuit training is that a circuit can be set up anytime anywhere, you can change the routine to suit the equipment you’ve got, or use none at all. The main factor is your level of effort, as long as your circuit works you hard, you’ll reap the rewards.
Trekking and hiking are not widely talked about in gym circles or running groups. Yet they are great ways of keeping fit, as well as being specialised and adventurous. Trekking differs from walking in that trekkers tend to go further afield and test their endurance; it takes walking to the next level. Hiking involves climbing mountains, which is great for building strength and stamina in the legs.
Exploring new trails, new countries, and unknown areas can really lift your sense of adventure. Trekking is something that really challenges you physically and mentally. It will give you an adrenaline rush, as well as these other benefits:
Benefits of Adventure Trekking & Hiking
1) It is a whole body workout - A major plus in trekking is that it will give your entire body a workout. You continually use and build your overall body strength. You move your legs, your arms, you climb, wade and stretch all the time. Whether it is climbing a hill or crossing a lake, you need to use your entire body, and the fun thing is, you won’t even be aware you are doing it.
2) It helps with joint problems - Trekking does require stamina, so build it up slowly, allowing yourself the chance to get used to it. It builds muscles in your arms and legs, which in turn will help joints which were once stiff or painful. If you do suffer from a long term joint complaint, please do seek medical advice before embarking on an adventure holiday that involves trekking.
3) It is a stress buster - You can trek anywhere in the world. An adventure holiday that involves trekking, will take you to some of the most beautiful places on the planet. Getting outdoors will help you reconnect with nature and give you the chance to immerse yourself in it. Just taking in the world around you can help you forget the stress of everyday life.
4) You will meet new people - If you trek at home or abroad, you will meet new people. People trek all over the world and it is a great opportunity to have a cultural exchange. Crossing language barriers and sharing an experience is a wonderful experience for all involved.
Hectic modern lifestyles can really stress us out and we can forget how to relax. Something like trekking can help lift our mood, as well as our fitness, the long term benefits are immeasurable. If you are thinking about a holiday experience for next year, then why not pack your walking shoes and see where you can end up?
Interesting to find out more? Have a read of our interview with Sundried ambassador Sarah Outen MBE who is a professional adventurer!
If you spend a lot of time training at high altitude in a mountainous region, would your performance be better racing at sea level? How do you train to race at high altitude? These questions and more will be answered as we explore the performance differences between training at high altitude vs sea level.
How does altitude training work?
Altitude training works because the air is thinner. As the air is thinner at high altitude, with every breath you take you are delivering less than usual amounts of oxygen to your muscles. Your muscles need oxygen to work optimally, so less oxygen means your body needs to work harder to get the same results. There have been many studies done to try to determine if altitude training works, and if so, how high an athlete would need to train, but research is ongoing.
So what is considered 'high altitude'? There are many differing opinions, but the most common is that any altitude above sea level beyond 3000m (9840 feet) is considered “high” altitude, with 500-2000m being “low” altitude and 2000-3000m being “moderate” altitude. Anything above 5500m (think Mount Kilimanjaro) is considered “extreme” altitude!
There are cities in South America, like La Paz in Bolivia, which are situated at this 'extreme altitude' where the air is much thinner than at sea level and the locals have adapted to the conditions. So, if an athlete were to train consistently in a city like La Paz, would they be faster when racing at sea level because of their better conditioned lungs and muscles? Well, in order to imitate the conditions found in such extreme altitudes, many athletes train with altitude masks. So, do they work?
Do high altitude training masks work?
Altitude training masks work by reducing the airflow to the lungs. In reality, they don't actually simulate high altitude because they do not reduce the atmospheric pressure, and instead simply reduce the oxygen intake in the same way running with a straw in your mouth would (definitely don't do this!)
It would take months or even years of training in a high altitude city like La Paz to notice the benefits of high altitude training. Unfortunately, training in a high altitude mask would not have these effects. There actually isn't any evidence whatsoever that training in an altitude mask benefits your athletic performance. However, actually training at high altitude can.
How long do the effects of high altitude training last?
Experts have agreed that training at 2200m for 4 weeks is optimal altitude training. Once you finish your training, the effects of the reduced oxygen on your blood and muscular endurance can last up to 2 weeks. So, is it worth it? Well, if you're a serious athlete looking to push your own boundaries and are looking for any way to improve your training, finding a training camp in the Alps or other mountainous regions could be beneficial, but the effects will wear off eventually.
Barefoot running is taking the fitness world by storm as the latest trend. But what exactly is it? Should you be doing it? We answer all of your questions.
What is barefoot running?
Barefoot running is exactly as simple as it sounds: running without shoes. However, our modern bodies have become accustomed to wearing shoes or at least some form of protection on our feet and so this isn't really an option for many people. However, barefoot-style running is the trend we are seeing and is where the running shoes have been designed to mimic running barefoot, while still offering protection from dirt and sharp objects that may cause an injury.
You may well have seen people wearing barefoot running shoes, such as the Vibram FiveFingers shoes which have five separate compartments for your five toes or the Sundried barefoot shoes. They are designed to be as minimalistic as possible and to imitate running barefoot as much as possible.
Barefoot Running In History
Running barefoot is to run as nature intended and people have been running barefoot for millennia. Historians believe the runners and messengers in Ancient Greece ran barefoot and legend has it that Pheidippides, the first marathoner, ran from Athens to Sparta in less than 36 hours. After the Battle of Marathon, it is said he ran straight from the battlefield to Athens to inform the Athenians of the Greek victory over Persia, all barefoot.
At the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Ethiopian athlete Abebe Bikila ran the marathon barefoot as the Olympic shoe supplier had run out of shoes in his size, winning the race and setting a world record in the process.
Shivnath Singh was one of India’s greatest distance runners and would only ever run barefoot with tape on his feet. He placed 11th in the men's marathon event at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.
South African Zola Budd was famed in the 1980s for her barefoot racing and she won the 1985 and 1986 World Cross Country Championships. She found international fame at the 1984 Olympics after a drama-filled 3000m final, which she ran barefoot.
Today, barefoot running is gaining more and more momentum. Organisers of the 2010 New York City Marathon saw an increase in the number of barefoot runners participating in the event.
But why the increase in barefoot running? Does it have the benefits that people claim?
Barefoot Running Benefits
It promotes natural movement
Wearing shoes prevents your body from getting natural feedback from the ground. As you feel the ground, you learn to walk lighter and strike with the balls rather than heels of your feet, which can drastically decrease the impact on your muscles and joints. Impact in a running shoe is the equivalent of 12 times your body weight with every step.
It helps to heal previous injuries
A lot of people don’t run due to prior injuries. Bad knees, shin splints, or even weak ankles can be relieved through barefoot running. By running with a forefront strike, the Achilles is strengthened and stretched along with the calf muscle which may reduce injuries, such as calf strains or Achilles tendinitis.
Running barefoot uses less energy
Running barefoot or in minimal footwear (usually lighter than traditional running shoes) means that there is less mass to accelerate at the end of the runner's leg with each stride. Running barefoot has been shown to use about 5% less energy than shod running. (Divert et al., 2005; Squadrone and Gallozzi, 2009).
Increased muscle tone
Running without the support of a cushioned trainer sole forces you to engage more of you leg muscles, particularly the calves. But it doesn’t just increase muscle development in your legs, running barefoot increases the level of effort you supply throughout the kinetic chain, so you’ll end up leaner in other places too.
Running with a barefoot style. At some point in your life, I’m sure you’ve fallen over. At some point on a run, I’m sure you’ve thought “where did that rock come from?” moments after you’ve tripped. Barefoot running allows you to feel the ground better, improving your proprioception and making you more aware of your environment.
Running barefoot forces you to switch on previously disengaged muscles and reverses you back to how you would walk and move as a child. By gradually reverting back into barefoot running or walking you strengthen every muscle in your feet and lower legs.
Reconnect with the earth
Some people believe that by running barefoot they become more “at one” with nature.
Downsides to running barefoot
Slow adaptation phase
Many people try a barefoot run, ache after and decide never to run in the minimalist shoes again. But why? Aches are an inevitable part of any new footwear, remember how you wear your new heels in, practice walking in them? It’s only the same as with any new pair of trainers, or any new training regime. Initially when starting a new barefoot running regime you should start with short distances and gradually build up a tolerance. Embrace the aches and know that it’s improving your technique in the long run.
Lack of protection
Trainers are now designed with technical features to protect your foot from injury, as well as keep your feet dry, maintain their temperature and make sure nothing sharp such as rocks, stones or debris has access to your foot.
It is inevitable that almost everyone who switches to barefoot or a minimal shoe will find themselves dealing with blisters for the first few weeks until calluses are formed. Whilst this can be frustrating, investing in the correct socks and some gel blister plasters can make all the difference.
Barefoot creates extra pressure
Running shoes also partially absorb the extra pressures created by foot misalignment (for example, highly arched feet). Without the absorption, higher pressure can be a direct cause of pain, which can cause a protective adjustment in technique that in turn could lead to injury.
You can only run in good conditions (which in the UK, are few and far between)
The American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine warns against barefoot running in all but ideal conditions, saying that on soft or slippery surfaces, shoes are required for traction, otherwise you are prone to Achilles or plantar fascia problems (ligament inflammation along the base of the foot).
Tips for going barefoot
- Running barefoot can make your calves tight and tire your feet to start with, since you're firing up muscles you’ve barely used since childhood. Foam roll your calves to help increases recovery.
- Start trying to walk without shoes or in barefoot shoes more. Try at least 30 minutes of barefoot walking a day to allow the muscles and ligaments to adapt before you start venturing on a run.
- Spend some time walking on the balls of your feet (tip toes) to strengthen the foot and ankle.
- Progress to jogging, then gradually increase time and intensity.
- Stick to smooth ground when you first start running and steer clear of trail runs until you have built up a little more resistance.
Training outdoors has a host of benefits, but it can be hard to get motivated to train outdoors, especially in winter. So why should we do it?
What are the benefits of training outdoors?
Outdoor training increases endorphins
Did you know that the word 'endorphin' is actually a made-up word combining the terms 'endogenous' and 'morphine'? If something is endogenous, that simply means it was made within the body. So, endorphins are basically a type of morphine made by our body. That explains why they make us feel so good!
Endorphins are natural pain-relievers and make us feel happy, just like morphine. Training outdoors has been associated with higher levels of these 'feel good' chemicals being produced in the body. According to a study published in The Environmental Science & Technology Journal, just 5 minutes spent exercising outside in an open green space is enough to significantly lift your mood.
You burn more calories training outside
When you train in a gym or run on a treadmill, your body doesn't have to combat the elements. The surfaces are smooth and man-made and you don't need to work as hard to battle them. When training outside, you have the added elements of wind-resistance and heat from the sun, as well as uneven terrain to keep you on your toes. Research says you can burn up to 10% more calories than your regular gym session.
If it is particularly cold, simply layer up with a base layer and a pair of men's running leggings to keep you warm and toasty for your training session!
High oxygen levels improve almost every chemical reaction within your body. Research shows that spending time in fresh air, surrounded by nature, increases energy in 90 percent of people. “Nature is fuel for the soul, “ says Richard Ryan, Researcher and Professor of at the University of Rochester. “Often when we feel depleted, we reach for a cup of coffee, but research suggests a better way to get energised is to connect with nature.”
Outdoor training can improve bone density
The best source of Vitamin D is sunlight. In fact, there is a type of vitamin D that we can only get through sunlight and cannot be produced by the body or absorbed through food. Vitamin D is essential for our bodies to absorb calcium and it also improves your mood. Lack of vitamin D is one reason so many people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder in the winter.
According to the National Osteoporosis Society recommendations, we should try to get at least 10 minutes of sun exposure to bare skin once or twice a day. Even if it’s cloudy, your body can still get vitamin D from sunlight; it just takes a little longer.
Exercising outdoors saves money
By training outdoors you are enabling yourself to train for free. You don't need expensive equipment in order to do a good workout, in fact, you don't need any equipment at all! Simply use park benches, trees, and other natural things in order to complete your workout. Just make sure you have the right fitness clothing so that you're comfortable and protected against the elements.