Triangle Circuits

Triangle Circuits is an excellent tool to use in order to build your circuit and control the volume of exercise that is prescribed. Steve Myrland (the inventor of the agility speed ladder) first introduced me to this training design concept.  It is very simple in concept but can be very complex in the application.   The first exercise (1) has the highest priority since it will be executed the most times during the circuit.  The second exercise (2) has the second highest priority and so on.  Below is a schematic drawing of this type of circuit design.

Circuit   E X E R C I S E S / D R I L L S


1) 1

2) 1    2

3)  1    2    3

4)  1    2    3    4

5)  1    2    3    4    5

6)  1    2    3    4    5    6

7)  1    2    3    4    5    6    7

8)  1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8

9)  1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

10) 1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10

This is an example of a 10 series circuit that builds up to 10 exercises or drills.  It is easy to teach as the athlete builds one exercise/drill upon another, but always begins at the start which is always exercise/drill one.  Exercise/drill one will get 10 sets, exercise/drill two will get 9 sets, exercise/drill three will get 8 sets, etc.  So for instance if core is my main emphasis, followed by single leg strength, upper body pulling and pressing then the circuit with exercises/drills might look something like this.

1) Supine Plank Hold

2) Lateral Plank Hold

3) Prone Plank Hold

4) Lateral Lunge Squat

5) Inverted Pull – Ups

6) Single Leg Balance Squat

7) Push – Ups on Medballs

8) Alternate Step – Ups w/a weight vest

9) Alternate Tubing Pulls with Feet Staggered

10) Alternate Tubing Punches with Feet Staggered

This type of circuit can be time driven or rep driven in order to control either the total time of the workout or in order to increase the quality of the repetitions.  I have found that time creates a sloppiness in reps but can also increase the mental stress of the work bout as the athlete does not know exactly how many reps are left to execute.  If it is timedriven, I have an excellent chart in my “Power Conditioning Handbook” that details exactly how long any timed circuit will take in order to complete.  An example from this table is below.

Number/Exercises Work Bout Recovery/Exercises   Recovery/Sets

2 sets              3 sets             4 sets

4                                 :15           :30                        2:00                             7:00                11:30               16:00

6                                 :15           :30                        2:00                           11:20                18:00               24:40

8                                 :15           :30                        2:00                           13:00                20:30               28:00

10                               :15           :30                        2:00                           16:00                25:00               34:00

4                                  :30           :30                      2:00                              9:00                  14:30             20:00

6                                  :30            :30                     2:00                            13:00                  20:30             28:00

8                                  :30           :30                      2:00                            17:00                  26:30             36:00

10                                :30           :30                       2:00                            21:00                 32:30            44:00

4                                     :45           :45                    3:00                             13:30                  21:45            30:00

6                                     :45           :45                    3:00                             19:30                  30:45            42:00

8                                     :45           :45                    3:00                             25:30                  39:45            54:00

10                                   :45           :45                    3:00                             31:30                  48:45            66:00

This chart is designed to be utilized in conjunction with the old style straight circuits that we are all used to using.  In order to construct a triangle chart, it would need to look something like this:

Time :15 on and :15 off

Number of                             Total

Exercises                                Time

1                                                 :30

2                                                 1:00

3                                                 1:30

4                                                 2:00

5                                                 2:30

6                                                 3:00

7                                                 3:30

8                                                 4:00

9                                                 4:30

10                                                 5:00

Time :30 on and :30 off

Number of                          Total

Exercises                             Time

1                                                 1:00

2                                                 2:00

3                                                 3:00

4                                                 4:00

5                                                 5:00

6                                                 6:00

7                                                 7:00

8                                                 8:00

9                                                 9:00

10                                              10:00

Time 1:00 on and 1:00 off

Here is another tool to use in order to develop and implement workouts for your clients.

A special thank you is in order to Steve Myrland for sharing his expertise with me concerning the development of this topic.

Olympic Lifting for Athletic Development

Olympic lifting is a sport consisting of the Clean and Jerk as well as the Snatch.  The clean is two movements, pulling the bar from the floor and catching it in a front squat position and recovering to a standing position followed by the Jerk.  At this point a consolidation of the grip is allowed as part of the recovery.  The Jerk is a short dip and drive accomplished by flexing the knees and driving the bar overhead to a locked out press position.  The catch in the Jerk is usually a split squat stance in which the athlete pushes back from the front leg before moving the rear leg in the recovery.  The Snatch is a wider grip lift (so the bar does not have to be pulled as high) with essentially the same mechanics as the clean, the difference is that the bar is racked or caught overhead in a wide grip, fully locked out press position in a deep squat.  Recovery is accomplished by standing up out of the squat and moving the feet into a comfortable standing position.  Some of the key technique cues are to pull the bar by pushing the feet through the floor, not pulling or jerking the bar as this generally disrupts the flat back, pillar core needed to execute the lift safely.  Always maintain pressure on the bar by either pulling or pushing.  In heavy loads the breath must be large and locked and held in order to support the spine as the loads are on the shoulders and transferred through the spine to the legs, feet and floor.  The arms do little other than hold the weight.  For novices, it is easy to cue them that they are jumping with weight and speed and technique are the keys, not strength.

Weight lifters in the lighter weight classes generate some of the greatest power outputs measured in sport.

Why Include Olympic Lifting as a Part of the Training Process

In Olympic lifting, the athlete is jumping with weight.  In other words, Olympic lifting can be viewed as loaded, in-place plyometrics.  In athletics, rate of force development (RFD) is the key to power.  Jumping is the key for lower body RFD.  What is sprinting other than jumping from foot to foot?  The greater the variety of drills imposed on the athlete that optimizes the RFD at varying loads, speeds, angles and directions, with consistent dosage, will increase the athletes ability to be explosive, quick, fast and powerful.  Olympic lifting is one tool that can be used to increase vertical plane RFD in the extensors of the lower body and in creating “triple extension” at the hip, knee and ankle in a parallel stance.  Single leg power is generally developed by agilities and plyometric drills.  In order to measure actual power output abilities and adjust the prescription for an athlete for any given workout the use of the Tendo unit is currently the only practical device that can be utilized to quickly determine an athletes’ ability to generate force at that moment.

Techniques of the Clean, Jerk and Snatch

The clean is a pull from the floor, a re-bending of the knees (or scoop) for the explosive second pull to lift the bar above the hips as the body is pulled under for the catch or rack. During the second pull, great hip extension will result in the bar brushing the mid to upper thigh.  Pressure is kept on the bar at all times by either pulling or pushing.  The depth of the squat during the rack is determined by the load.  The lighter the load, the higher the squat during the catch phase as the bar is pulled higher. Cleans can be classified in a number of different ways.  Olympic clean is usually executed by going deep in the hole (deep squat) to catch the rack, a power clean is usually caught higher as the athlete lacks the squat skills to go low, a hang clean is executed above the scoop from just above the knees/mid-thigh and a muscle clean is executed by using more back and upper body than legs.  The snatch is essentially the same with the exception that the grip is wider, there is more flexion at the hip, the weight is lighter, the amplitude of movement is greater and the speed of the bar is faster.  For athletic development, the snatch is rarely if ever loaded above 70 – 75% of max as speed is essential in the snatch. Remember, it is being prescribed to enhance RFD.

Teaching Olympic Lifting

Olympic Lifting is taught backwards or from the top down.  The athlete is generally taught with a dowel rod before moving to a bar.  Many times the snatch is taught before the clean as it is the more technical of the lifts.  The general techniques are to teach, in order the following cues:

Technique            Cue                        Reason

Stance                      Feet                        7-15 degrees external                                                                               rotation

Legs                          Knees                    Knees bent to kneecaps                                                                          even with toes

Posture                    Chest                      Pull shoulder blades                                                                               back or lift chest up

Grip                          Wrist                      Turn wrists down/flex                                                                         forearms for wide                                                                                                                                                                                          elbow pull

Now the athlete has two techniques to execute one at a time, a slight to moderate RDL followed by a jump.  The arms at this point do not bend at the elbow as posture and jumping are the keys.  After this is mastered, the athlete will be allowed to repeat (with verbal feedback of each cue from the athlete to you) and add a shrug to the jump.  After this is mastered a standing, medium grip upright row is executed followed by a standing medium grip upright row with an elbow whip to a front squat position, holding the bar on the front shoulders for the clean.  In the snatch, the techniques are the same but the bar is pulled with a wider grip upright row, the whip occurs to move the elbows under the bar and it is pressed overhead as the body is pushed under the bar for an elbow extended, overhead catch.

Technical Errors and Corrections

Problem                                                                         Coaching Cue

Using too much upper body                                        Use more legs, jump

Hit belly or belt with 2nd pull                                     Too much back, too little leg, use                                                                                                          more legs

Elbows too low in rack                                                  Either lazy elbow/forearms too long

Hitting knees in pull                                                      Trying to clean from                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         floor, pull from floor, clean from the hang position

Jerking from floor                                                           Push feet through the floor – do not pull from the floor

Loss of posture/pillar core                                            Lock in breath, retract shoulder blades, big chest

Lack of power                                                                    Cover bar with shoulders until 2nd pull, then cover bar                                                                                                                  with hips by great triple extension.  (FASTER!)

Rubbery core during pull                                                Lock the core, tighten the abs, pull blades back

Soft rack/catch                                                                  Put force into the floor – stomp                                                                                                             your feet on the catch

Can’t get low                                                                       Move feet wider after pull for                                                                                                                 rack/catch

Assist lift for the Olympic Lifts

The assist lifts for Olympic lifting include pulls from the floor and boxes or plinths; various deadlifts, various squats, various presses and jerks as well as a bendover back side chain movements.

Pulls – Pulls are prescribed for loading more than the athlete can catch or to train triple extension without the catch in order to save the athlete from getting beat up by catching rep after rep.  However, the eccentric ability of the legs to absorb the force of the clean is paramount for translation to generating force at the tendon in plyometric, change of direction, sprinting type activities.  In pulls, the technique is the same as in a clean from the floor, box or plinth but the bar is guided back down with no attempt at a rack.

Deadlifts – Deadlifts are executed from the normal squat stance, wide sumo stance, off of boxes/plinths or from the top down in the RDL (Russian or Romanian deadlift).  The grip is either an overhand grip or an over/under alternate style grip.  Usually the former grip is assigned.  Deadlifts are utilized to stress the back, glutes and hamstrings of the back side chain.  Reverse hypers and glute ham raises are other examples of this type of bendover exercise.

Squats – Squats are used to increase the ability of the athlete to catch or rack the load in a low position.  Power squats are done with the bar low on the back and usually a wide stance.  Power squats involve the back to a great degree.  Olympic squats are executed with the bar high on the shoulders and the stance is usually somewhat narrow, thus putting less stress on the lower back.  Front squats are executed with the bar in front of the neck with the bar supported on the shoulders and high elbows and is least stressful on the lower back.  This squat may be difficult for long forearmed athletes.  Overhead squats are executed with the bar extended overhead in a locked out position.  Overhead squats put the greatest stress on the functional mobility of the shoulders, hips and ankles as well as the core to support this squat.  The Safety Bar squat is used to stress the thoracic spine more than the lower back.  It allows the athlete to use greater loads on the hips and legs than normal squats, put less stress on the lower back, spot themselves for a great degree of safety with the handles and are generally a great addition to Olympic lifting.  Single leg squats (Bulgarian squats) are executed with one foot elevated to the rear without rotation at the hips, so the load is supported on the front leg only.  This puts greater stress on the loaded leg and much less stress on the low back.  The Soviet Bloc coaches tended to prescribe many more single leg exercises to their lifters once they were able to back squat 500 pounds (225 kilos) in order to save their backs for the lifts and pulls.

Jerks – Jerks are overhead presses in which the bar is driven up by flexing (dip) at the knees and using the legs to drive the load overhead while assisting with the shoulders and arms.  The feet will rapidly split forward and backward in order to lower the center of mass for the catch in a lunge or split squat stance.  The push jerk is an overhead press in which the legs assist the press, the feet even leave the floor, but there is no split.  The push press is executed the same with out foot movement off of the floor.  The press is executed by just using the upper body, no legs.

Combination and Complex Lifts

Combination lifts are exercise in which two or more techniques or lifts are combined in order to create a series of exercises.  For example, 3 hang snatches + 3 overhead lunges + 3 good morning to a press could be prescribed.  This would include speed pulling, core stability, push back lunges for recovery and bendovers with speed to a wide grip overhead press.  A complex lift is similar with the exception that each technique is executed in a row 3 times.  For example, 1 hang snatch + 1 overhead lunge on each leg + 1 good morning to a press x 3 repetitions.  The complex lift is more demanding on the strength fitness of the athlete.  Combination and complex lifts are excellent for stressing technical aspects of the lifts, fitness of the athlete, build up sets, as well as increasing time under tension at light to moderate loads.  In order to increase time under tension (TUT), prescribe a hold for a certain time at each change of direction, from eccentric to concentric, in the lift.  Usually it is best to prescribe a three second hold as the athlete will count too fast.  Three seconds is usually about 1 – 1.5 good seconds.  Combination and complex lifts are excellent ways to prescribe corrective exercise for athletes that are time challenged and need/want results in measurables and are not as interested in screens, assessments and injury prevention.

Why assign or prescribe Olympic Weightlifting exercises as a part of the workout or training program?

In a word – POWER.

In addition, postural strength, work capacity and mobility/stability are all byproducts of good weightlifting exercises as a part of the training program.

Pattern Quality: The Impact of Exercise Prescription Variables on Overuse Injuries

It is important in prescribing exercise programs to be aware of several variables and the impact the exercise prescription can have on a person that is not ready to execute certain drills, movements, loads and intensities due to lack of training age, poor general fitness and/or  inadequate movement patterns due to lack of mobility and/or stability.  Some popular exercise programs assign exceedingly large loads of volume and/or intensities (resistance, speed and/or range of motion) with little regard to the ability and state of preparation of the end user.  The human body is a superb machine, able to compensate for many inadequacies and still execute some form of the movement, even though the pattern is less than ideal.   Over time, especially with increasingly larger loads/volumes, the body will begin to exhibit symptoms that relate back to these less than ideal patterns of movements.  Poor compensation patterns of movement may ask muscles to do jobs they were not designed to do, in a sequence and order that is not optimal for the pattern, or put joints in poor positions in terms of their designed function.  These symptoms include low back tightness; hamstring tightness and pulls; tendonitis and bursitis in various areas; stiffness in joints; and over time, the inability to execute certain movements due to pain and restrictions in muscles and/or immobility in the joints themselves.

Let me explain.  If a person is unable to squat in a normal squat pattern because they tend to load the front side by bending the knees first (rather than hinging at the hip), collapse forward at the trunk due a weak core or tend to shift onto one leg due to a lack of flexibility in a muscle group or lack of mobility in a joint, is it wise to load them with 40-50 reps, added resistance, speed as in jumps or large range of motion movements?  They may be able to execute the prescribed workload (4-5 x 10 with a 20 pound vest and squat below parallel) and not immediately have any noticeable ill effects.  However, over time, the cumulative effect of repeated poor movement patterns will cause training adaptations that may not be ideal and could contribute to muscle, tendon, ligament, joint and disc problems.

If the professional tasked with prescribing exercise programming is aware of some simple parameters when implementing the exercise prescription, then the program designed for the athlete will not only prepare them for the rigors of their occupation and hobbies, but can also enhance the athlete’s ability to stay fit, healthy and active at an exceedingly high level for as long as they choose.

Observing the athlete moving in any skill or pattern begs the question, is the pattern optimal and clean in its execution.  If the answer is yes, it is ok to execute that pattern.  However, if load is added in terms of speed, additional ROM, volume, TUT (Time the muscle is Under Tension – i.e. heavy and slow, light and fast or medium loads with pauses or stops in the range of motion) or some other variation and the pattern changes for the worse, then the athlete is not prepared adequately. This compensation is due to a weakness, imbalance, lack of mobility or stability and negatively impacts the ability to execute that exercise prescribed. At this point, a decision must be made to either restrict the load/intensity or regress in the progression and periodization of the exercise prescription.

However, in some instances, the movement improves, providing a clue as to the cause of the poor pattern.  If the athlete is unable to perform a decent squat pattern, i.e. collapses forward in the trunk region, but when load is added in the form of a medicine ball or weight held at bent arms length which subsequently improves the movement pattern, this tell us something.  The front of the core (abs) is a spring built for resistance to collapse.  With the addition of external load at bent arm’s length, many times the body will compensate by engaging the core and resisting the collapse, thus causing improvement in the squat pattern in terms of the anterior core no longer collapsing.

As a professional tasked with assigning exercise, if optimal pattern awareness is made a part of the exercise prescription process, then managing the physical ailments by our athletes as they age will be made easier by the type and quality of training the end user does in their younger years.  No pain – no gain is no way to prepare the people we are entrusted with improving their fitness abilities.  No train – no gain combined with train for stability/mobility for enhanced physical ability to bend, rotate and extend with strength, power and fitness is a way to approach program design and exercise prescription for the diverse population that presents itself each and every day.  Pattern, progression and periodization pave the way to optimal movements, continued progress and few injuries.