Circuit training doesn’t need to be complicated or time-consuming and here Olympic finalist Eilish McColgan gives her take on a simple strength session you can do at home with minimal equipment
Circuit training is essential if you want to progress as an athlete. Not everyone has access to a gym or hours to devote to it every evening and the good news is that a simple circuit requiring only an exercise ball is more than adequate for most of us.
The following circuit is extremely basic, but it’s what I’ve been doing all year as part of my rehabilitation from injury and in preparation for this summer’s Rio Olympics.
I know it works. Because it is so low-level, it can be done much more frequently than a hardcore circuit and throughout the racing season. As you get stronger, weights or medicine balls can be added for increased resistance.
This format is perfect for beginners and athletes coming back from injury, as well as those with limited facilities or time. There is no real recovery time between the repetitions – move from one exercise to the next.
But that means the entire circuit is completed within 15 minutes – or less time than it takes to cook your dinner.
Make sure you warm up well with a light jog and some stretches. And be sensible – if this is your first circuit training session, then start with one set of repetitions.
Check out the video below and then read on for further explanation of each exercise.
2×12 repetitions of each exercise
SINGLE CALF RAISES
Balance on one leg with the other leg bent in a running motion. You can face a wall, touching it with the tips of your fingers for balance if it helps. Raise the heel of your balancing foot, so that you are up on to your toes. Make sure the gluteal muscles (in your bottom) of your standing leg are switched on. Hold at the top for a few seconds and gently fall back down to the ground again. After 12 reps, repeat on the other leg.
Progression: Add a weighted bar to your shoulders or hold a medicine ball.
Standing on one leg, drive the other up into a running position and hold it there. Make sure you are really engaging the gluteal muscles on your standing leg and driving the other leg up in a smooth motion. Hold at the top for a few seconds. Make sure the drive isn’t done too quickly, it needs to be controlled so that the correct muscles are switched on.
Step backwards with one leg into a lunge position. From a lunge, drive up into the previous leg drive exercise. Complete all 12 reps on the one leg before switching legs.
You can do this with or without an exercise ball. If you are using one, place it against a wall at the small of your back. If not, make sure your weight is distributed evenly across your feet and your back is straight, hinging slightly forward from the hips. Squat down to 90 degrees by rolling the ball and then drive up to fully standing again (but without locking the knees). Keep pushing the knees outwards to stop them from falling inwards. I sometimes use a Thera-band (thera-band.co.uk) around my knees as an added pointer.
Progression: Repeat the same exercise but on a single leg. It’s very important to make sure your hips are even and not dropping down.
Lie on your back with your feet up on a chair or ledge at a 90-degree angle. From the floor, use one leg to push your hips up towards the ceiling. As you push one leg into the chair, drive the other leg up towards the ceiling. Be sure to keep your core and gluteal muscles engaged before you start the exercise. Keep resetting your position before each rep to make sure your back is flat to the ground.
Progression: When this becomes too easy, use an exercise ball to add some instability.
2×20 reps of each exercise
Start position: Lie on the floor with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Keep your lower back flattened before commencing each rep. Core needs to be engaged throughout.
Progression: Hold a weight or medicine ball above your head to make things a little harder.
From the start position, straighten each knee to hover your leg above the ground and then back up again. This needs to be a controlled, smooth motion with a slight hold at the bottom.
SIMPLE DEAD BUGS
From the starting position, lower each heel to tap the ground and back up again, keeping the knee bent. Make sure your lower back doesn’t start to sneak up into a curve – keep things flat and your core muscles engaged.
Keeping your feet elevated from the ground and knees at a 90 degree angle, drop one leg to the side. Again, this should be a slow and controlled movement with your core engaged throughout the entire exercise.
2×20 reps of each exercise
Keep the exercise ball in between your feet. Drive your arms and body up towards the ball, touching the highest part you can. Control your body as you lower yourself back down to the floor again.
Repeat the sit-up exercise, but instead of driving your body directly upwards, cross over to touch each toe.
PLANK – 20-SECOND HOLD
This is like a normal plank but with the ball replacing the standard hold on the floor. Elevate yourself a little on to the exercise ball. With your knees on the ground and forearms on the ball, hold your body straight and keep your core engaged. Make sure your back doesn’t start to sag down or that your bottom begins to rise towards the ceiling.
Progression: When that becomes too easy, assume the plank as above and then roll the ball out away from your body in a straight line, hold at the top for a few seconds and then roll back in again.
This is similar to the plank position. Just move your knees up towards the exercise ball just like you would while running. Aim to keep your hips and lower back level and avoid dipping to either side. Keeping your core muscles strong, start off slowly but build up the speed of your leg movements as you get into the repetition.
Lying on your back with your arms open like a crucifix, place the exercise ball between your feet. Lift your legs straight up into the air, directly in front of your body. You can move your arms overhead at this point if it’s more comfortable. As slowly as you can, drop your feet (with the ball still between them) down to the side of your body. While engaging your core, move back into the start position and repeat by dropping your legs down to the other side.
Lie down on the floor with the exercise ball between your hands. As you rise up, alternate with each leg; bringing your toes up towards the ceiling and touching them with the ball.