Physical training can generally be broken into two extremes: strength and endurance. Obviously, there are many nuances and variations of each end of the spectrum, but let’s start with this dichotomy. When one talks about strength training, a routine that consists of lifting very heavy weights for 1 to 3 reps is the general protocol. Powerlifting is the ultimate expression of pure strength training. Endurance training is the opposite end of the spectrum, in which an activity is performed for over 20 minutes, sometimes up to an hour and in extreme cases, much longer.
Obviously, there is some merit to training both ends of the spectrum concurrently, although many people choose to train one or the other to focus on their sport specifically. For the average non-athlete, however, a good hybrid of the two is optimal. A training regimen that balances enough strength to keep your joints, muscles, and bones healthy and strong while giving you the benefits of extended cardiovascular activity provides you with injury prevention, cardiovascular health, and an ultimate calorie burning workout to boot! When properly combined with a sound diet plan, you can achieve multiple goals, depending on your individual needs. It is easy to make a subtle switch to emphasize more strength, or to add a pure endurance day to increase to aerobic capacity. Keep in mind that all of this, when executed properly, has been shown to be the most effective way to burn calories, as well.
The trick to all of this is balancing out the two ends of the spectrum effectively based on a person’s individual limitations and abilities. Ideally, one would need to conduct at least two strength sessions and two endurance sessions per week. A more effective method is to integrate the two using a well planned circuit. That is the origin of our TRI-Circuit® Training system. We’ve developed a simple way to conduct modified endurance activity while integrating a strength aspect. In its simplest form, it is a three station circuit drill with minimal rest between stations. Each TRI-Circuit® is completed a minimum of three times, with a brief rest period (1 minute) between circuits.
The key is in the choice of exercises and load applied. For example, if I want to focus on building strength in the upper body, I would focus on the largest muscles in the upper body first: chest and back. I would pick one very basic compound movement for each of these muscles; let’s say push-ups and dumbbell rows. Now I have the base for two separate circuits. The base is the strength component. This exercise should be moderately heavy so that the number of reps per time allotted (30 to 90 seconds) is very challenging, sometimes to the point of requiring a modest pause to complete the station.
After choosing my base exercise, I need to pick two more exercises to complete the TRI-Circuit. Both of these exercises are going to be performed at a lower intensity. One of them should be similar to the first as a finisher to bring the primary muscle group to complete exhaustion. The third exercise should be one that is an antagonist muscle or one that is on the opposite side of the body. It can even be a low intensity lower body or abdominal exercise. The purpose of this exercise is to keep the body working while allowing the primary muscle to rest. It is an active rest period.
So an example TRI-Circuit® routine that involves chest for one circuit and back for the other might look something like this:
1) BASE: Pushups
2) FINISHER: Band bench presses
3) ACTIVE REST: Stability ball crunches
1) BASE: Dumbbell rows
2) FINISHER:Band rows
3) ACTIVE REST:Leg raises
Each of these circuits should be completed non-stop. After the third exercise is completed, take a brief rest period (up to 1 minute) to allow the primary muscles to fully recover prior to the next circuit. Depending on one’s level of fitness and the amount of resistance used, these circuits may be as short as 20 seconds, or as long as 90 seconds. If more strength is desired, use heavier weights and shorter time periods. Longer time periods with lighter weight will increase the endurance training effect.
I prefer to complete each circuit three times through for most people, although some will only be able to complete two. Beginners should keep the weights modest; the time periods brief, and focus on executing each exercise with proper form.
These circuits and the TRI-Circuit System are very effective and it is a time saver, allowing three exercises per effort rather than just one. Modifications to this system can be made in increase the intensity with more advanced trainees.