Circuit Training for Metabolic Gains

TAGS: rugby season, Strongman Circuit, workout finisher, metabolic fitness, circuit training, body composition, Ashley Jones

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I started as a fitness instructor at the Nautilus Fitness and Leisure Centre, in Crows Nest, Sydney, Australia. After almost 40 years in the fitness and sports performance industry, I still believe that the simple things elude most people in their quest for training results. Intensity is and always will be the key for those who have a training age from which to cope with the severity of workouts. It is the most important thing to garner the best results.

Circuit training has made a major resurgence in the last few years, due in part to the creativity of the CrossFit style of training. Whatever the reason, it is great to see that a most valuable style of training has found its way back into the spotlight. Not only does circuit training have a distinct effect on metabolic fitness with the elevation of the heart rate for a period of time, but the effect on metabolic rate over the next 24 hours also has a great effect on body composition.


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I have often used these circuits as mainstays of my metabolic conditioning program for rugby players. They can be used equally well for anyone wishing to increase their condition—both aerobic and anaerobic—as well as improve body composition. They are simple and basic but brutally effective in elevating heart rate for extended periods of time. They can be used as standalone programs or included as a finisher after the main elements of the strength and power program have been completed.

As with any types of exercise, a full body warm-up to elevate heart rate and core body temperature is extremely important to optimize results. I recommend the following type of warm-up before starting the circuits:

  1. KB Swings
  2. Skipping
  3. Sledgehammer Tire Hits
  4. Rope Wave

Do each exercise five times for 30 seconds each.

Strongman Circuit

I used my first strongman circuits back in the late 1990’s with the Parramatta Eels Rugby League team, and since then there have always been elements of this wonderful style of training in my programming.

The strongman circuit can be set up using specific exercises over a pre-set distance (as is the case in the video below), or can be set up for a time period (like a Tabata interval program or 60 seconds work and 30 seconds rest, which I have used quite regularly as well). You can use whatever equipment you have available to achieve the results, and the program can be done either indoors or outdoors. There have been a number of different implements available for sale. Just look at what is available for you to create a strongman program at home or an area in your gym.

Beastly Circuit 

In the Beastly Circuit, you can use a wide range of exercises, but the sequence in this video is by far the most used and familiar for trainees to grasp. The aerobic equipment used at the conclusion of each round of the Beast can either be a set time, usually three minutes, or as in this case, a set distance. Distances will vary by the equipment you use — two kilometers on a Watt bike and 750 meters on either the Concept II Rowing Ergometer or Ski Ergometer are the ones that we usually use at present. I have also included the Beastly Circuit with skipping and a variety of running and/or skill drills as well, depending on where and when in a rugby season I am programming it.

The above example is just one of a number of circuits I have used in this style. I will often program them for players that have not played on a Saturday, as a substitute session. This is often used in-season with a running or rugby skills component for the three minutes each circuit. You can also perform the Beastly Circuit with a regular bar, or a Tsunami Bar, strength bag, duffel bag, thick bar or even a steel log.


Below is a complete list of the Beastly Circuits that I often use:

  • Option 1: Deadlift/Power Clean from Hang/Front Squat/Push Press/Bent-Over Row /Romanian Deadlift
  • Option 2: Power Clean from Floor/Split Jerk/Front Squat/Hang Clean/Lunge/Bent-Over Row
  • Option 3: Power Snatch from Floor/Push Press/Back Squat/Hang Clean/Split Jerk/Romanian Deadlift
  • Option 4: Three-Position Clean/Push Press/Jump Squat/Hang Snatch/Split Jerk Behind Neck/Good Morning
  • Option 5: Power Snatch from Floor/Overhead Squat/Push Jerk Behind Head/Combo Good Morning/Jump Squat/Power Clean from Hang

Do six sets of six reps, then three minutes hard cardio or a set distance on whatever equipment you have available:

  • Bike
  • Box
  • Row
  • Versa
  • Rope Pull
  • Treadmill Incline Run
  • Grinder
  • Kayak Ergometer
  • Cross Country Ski Ergometer
  • Grappler

Kettlebell Circuit

  • A1. Alternating KB Cleans
  • A2. Alternating KB Press
  • A3. Alternating KB Upright Rows
  • A4. Alternating KB Snatches
  • A5. Alternating KB Floor Press
  • A6. MMA KB Row

Do 30 seconds or a designated number of reps. I often use eight reps on each, rest 90 seconds at the end of the complete circuit, and repeat for a total of six to eight sets.

Body Weight GPP Circuit

Do 15 reps on each as a non-stop circuit:

  • Grasshoppers
  • Hindu Pushups
  • Knees-to-Feet Jumps
  • Scorpions
  • Mountain Climbers
  • Alternate Lunges
  • Rock & Rolls
  • Pushups
  • Prisoner Jump Squats
  • No-Momentum Sit-Ups

Power Fitness

Six sets of power clean, pull, or deadlift at 70% for 5-4-3-2-1 reps with 15 seconds between sets, then three minutes hard bike or Versa Climber. Rest 90 seconds between sets.

Power Circuit

Five sets of:

  • Power Snatch
  • Clean and Push Press from Blocks
  • Jammer
  • Power Tackler (or Combat Twist)
  • Band Box Squat
  • 500-meter row

Ab Circuit

After each of the training options, select three exercises and perform for three sets of five to 10 reps in circuit style:

  • ½ Turkish Get Up
  • Lateral Side Bend and Pick Up (Windmill)
  • Zercher Pick Up
  • Suitcase Deadlift
  • Rollouts
  • Combat Twist
  • Helu Press

Of the above exercises, the Helu Press is probably the only one that needs further explanation. Please see the video below.

Progressive Weights Modified Circuit

Progressive Weights Modified Circuit

In this circuit you progressively add an exercise as you move through the program, working from complex to simple. Do not be limited by the suggested circuit, but use a range of exercises that your players are familiar with for maximum effect.

Borreginne Super Circuit

Borreginne Super Circuit

You can also utilize a combination style of programming where you have traditional training elements combined with elements of the circuit style of training and metabolic work within the same workout. This session I have used with players on a break week or single sessions with players that are not down to suit up on a weekend.

Screenshot 2016-12-12 10.25.09

My thanks to my players Ross Ford, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Will Helu and Nasi Manu for allowing themselves to be filmed in these two circuits. Also thanks to Marc Keys for his filming and editing of the final product you see here.

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