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Bodybuilding circuits for athletes

An experiment that I have been running for the last 3 months is the implementation of bodybuilding circuit sessions into my training regime. The idea is inspired by the work of Boo Schexnayder and his work at LSU. Boo is a master of many realms of physical preparation in the world of Track and Field and I’ll do my best to link some resources to follow up with and learn more about his work. I’m particularly inspired by his understanding of the endocrine and bioenergetic systems, as well as his ability to integrate elements of motor learning abilities into physical preparation.

Boo implements bodybuilding circuits into his preparation for his T&F athletes at LSU for the following reasons:

Moderate glycolytic training elicits a short term positive lactate response for recovery and growth hormone. Improves conduction of neuromuscular junction improving effectiveness of skill acquisition potential due to biomechanically receptive state.

  • - Completed days following high neural lifting days in order to regain homeostasis and readiness for training.

  • - Long term endocrine adaptations.

  • - Improve glycogen storage capacity (hinging upon nutritional interventions).

  • - ‘Secondary lifts’ are more effective when they’re able to be given a day for them to be improved.

How they are implemented:

  • - Circuit styled

  • - Varied movements, smaller muscle groups, 24 sets with 8-10 reps, 60-90s recovery.

These are the circuits Boo utilises:

  • - Circuit A:

    • - Leg Curl

    • - Twist Lunges

    • - Hyper-Ups

    • - Bent Over Row

    • - Back Pulldowns

    • - Dips

    • - Behind The Neck Press

    • - Leg Extensions

    • - Hanging Leg Lifts

    • - Russian Twists

    • - Windmills

  • - Circuit B:

    • - Single Leg Curl

    • - Crossover Step Ups

    • - Straight Leg Deadlift

    • - Hyper w/ Twist

    • - Front Pulldowns

    • - Behind Neck Press

    • - Single Leg Leg Extension

    • - Weighted Crunches

    • -Hanging Lateral Leg Raises

    • - Stooped Russian Twists

    • - Alternate Weighted V-Sit

I think Boo was motivated by being in an era in which you were coaching against doping regimes and you needed to find ways to create hormonal and endocrine adaptations naturally. I love that the main purpose of a session could be to elicit GH and Test, however, I’m not smart enough to understand the biochemical implications for recovery or the biomotor learning opportunities the manipulation of the endocrine system presents; but after experiencing these circuits for 3 months consistently (probably 3-4 times per fortnight), I have the following reflections:

Capacity underpins intensity

I’ve preached intensity being the most important variable in the driver of neuromuscular adaptation (particularly in the disciplines of track and field); but I’ve definitely come to appreciate the need for capacity. I’ve neglected capacity as I’ve always found it to be a nebulous term which is hard to define. I’ve tried to become a little less nihilistic about terms like capacity recently, and just accepted that you can merely define capacity through the ability to complete work and recover. The issue with the development of capacity in sports which require so much intensity is that if you modalities used to develop general work capacity can often undermine readiness for high intensity training modalities. The example of this in my experience is tempo running that is run too quickly or at too high volume. The bodybuilding circuits are a good way to get athletes to complete work which has positive general work capacity benefits from a tissue standpoint; a bioenergetic standpoint and an endocrine standpoint.

An athlete who is overworked will always feel more ready for sport than an athlete who is underworked

To continue with the above point regarding work capacity, the psychological benefits of ‘work’ extend beyond physical adaptations. A trap that I’ve fallen into in the past is focusing so much on things which always create the highest outputs (whether it be force, power or velocity). The reality is that if you are seeking the highest intensity possible, you can not train that much. How many maximal effort maximal velocity sprints can one handle in a week? 3x60m? How much maximal strength can be hit in a week? 3x3 Squat? Although these kinds of training prescriptions are necessary in season or at pointy ends of a competitive preparation phase to minimise fatigue and freshen up, when athletes live on this for months on end, I’ve anecdotally witnessed a phenomena of physical and psychological deconditioning. Athletes feel like they lose their fitness and the capacity to complete work; and this trickles into their ability to complete high intensity work. They may feel flat for competition; they may have lost confidence in their body. A reality in a sport like sprinting in particular is that you could go weeks on end without breaking a sweat in training. These bodybuilding type sessions get sweaty; you breath heavy; you leave the gym a little light headed; you have a huge pump from head to toe but you do not compensate for speed or strength training. It’s awesome. These bodybuilding circuits are a great way to get athletes to feel like they’re working hard without undermining intense training and to raise psychological morale about working hard.

Slow training is a good body check-in

One of my most recent articles explores that RPE is a difficult way to prescribe intensity for modalities which hinge on velocity and power due to a poor sensory experience from the athlete. This type of training is the complete opposite. This is like an athletic body pilates. You consciously get to move your joints through large ranges of motion and to feel how they’re doing. Check in with yourself in a safe and slow environment. Use these sessions as an opportunity to restore range of motion and mobility following the postural and mechanical stress of sprinting, throwing, jumping or intense lifting.

Circuit training is a poor way to make hypertrophy gains

This is a good thing in this instance. You don’t really want to put on excessive muscle. The bodybuilding circuits are meant to be metabolically challenging globally as much as they are locally. The reduced recovery ensures that mechanical tension isn’t high enough to elicit muscle damage to cause bad DOMs or induce muscle gain (based on the assumption you aren’t a noob). Ironically, these types of sessions are the most cookie cutter noob programs known to man - 8 exercises, 8-12 reps, 60s rest - it sounds like the bro split which the skinny fat guys at your local anytime walk in and make no gains with. But that is not the point of this sort of session - these sessions are made to support high intensity training as opposed to being a form of high intensity training themselves. In saying that, if you train with truly high intensity in the gym, you’ll find yourself absolutely wrecked after multiple sets of jumps, squats and bench press. What energy can be given to more peripheral, yet still important exercises? Give them a bit of love by giving them their own day.

How do you achieve a sense of wellness from training?

I’ve never really got a buzz out of bodybuilding type splits or cardio kicks. What truly gets me off when it comes to training is intensity and community. When I played team sports, my sense of wellbeing was being a part of a coherent unit that executed a plan together and demolished opponents. As an individual sport athlete now, I get a sense of wellbeing from really high intensity training. Big lifts, fast sprints and sick jumps. The reality is, is that this form of training cannot be your everything. It will destroy you over time if you are to do it year round. You need to find a sense of wellbeing or dopamine or endorphins or whatever it may be from things other than just intensity - these circuits do that for me. It feels good to walk out of a gym with blood pumping and my eyes a little blurry knowing that tomorrow I’ll be ready to train with intensity. I gain a sense of wellbeing from the blood pulsing through my muscles and the sweat dripping down my forehead. This is a good thing - I’m getting the dopamine hit while not absolutely demolishing myself. If you’re a sicko like me, you may benefit from this type of training.

Bodybuilding circuits provide an opportunity for novelty

Most of the important adaptations you’ll make will be neurological and through simple training exercises. You should become a master of a few exercises, such as squats, presses and olympic lifts; as through mastery of these types of exercises, you’ll forever have vessels which can be utilised for training big outputs. The bodybuilding circuits provide an opportunity to explore movements outside of what is truly driving neruoligical improvement. You can use it as an opportunity to rotate and bend; to flex and curl. Although Boo doesn’t do it (from my understanding), you could essentially rotate exercises semi-regularly as the adaptations you seek are metabolic and not neuromuscular. The way I have designed my circuit is to have some sort of sagittal, rotation and frontal lunge movement, upper body press, upper body pull, knee flexion and maybe some core. It’s not overly specific, you just need to get fitter.

Final reflections:

  • Give these sessions a whirl if you find that you don’t have the energy for accessory exercises on your high intensity training days.

  • Give these sessions a whirl if you find yourself feeling ‘underworked’ or ‘deconditioned’.

  • Give these sessions a whirl if you want to improve general fitness but don’t want to sit on an assault bike and be bored.

  • Give these sessions a whirl if you like getting a pump on.

  • Give these sessions a whirl if you want to tell yourself that a session’s goal is to boost testosterone, growth hormone and to improve your ability to acquire skillz.

  • These sessions are time efficient (only 45-50 minutes required).


This blog post is a reuploaded post from the original MetamorphosisTrackProject blogspot. Originally uploaded on 20th October, 2022.

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