Whether you have just started running for the first time or are a seasoned runner, if your goal is to run faster you should add some circuit training and weight training into your weekly fitness routine. When it comes to optimizing your athletic performance you cannot hope to have perfectly formed muscles without carefully honing your assets.
Fortunately one of the greatest middle-distance coaches of all time shared some of his circuit training workouts with Track Technique* in 1987. British athletics coach George Gandy introduced his athletes at Loughborough University to new strength training techniques during the 1970s and 1980’s. The result was runners such as Seb Coe (1500m Olympic Gold in 1980 and 1984) and Jack Buckner (5000m European Championship Gold in 1986).
“To compete at world level a middle distance runner needs more than just exceptional natural endowments and a general commitment to fitness. Such are today’s standards that a large heart, powerful lungs and favorable balance of muscle fibers honed by plenty of mileage and high quality repetitions are unlikely to be enough.” George Gandy.
The following information addresses this and is wholly based on the advice in the 1987 article which George Gandy wrote.
Important: This circuit would be tailored to each individual athlete and underwent many modifications by George Gandy between 1974 when he first introduced the concept through to 1987 when the article was written. However, if you are not currently doing any circuit training or weight training to compliment your running, following this circuit will certainly help you.
Circuit training was first developed in schools during the 1950’s when it was felt that the harsh winters were not suitable for outdoor running. Early circuit training would set a prescribed number of repetitions for various exercises (stations) which had to be completed within a certain time. By getting faster you would be getting fitter and stronger.
The key goals of circuit training really is to improve overall fitness, strength and core stability while also improving flexibility and joint range and strength – these combined make you a better runner who is less prone to injury.
Not strictly a circuit
Gandy comments that while this circuit is called the Loughborough Circuit, it was not the only form of circuit training taught at Loughborough as other strength coaches would do different gym based circuits., Also, Gandy says that it is actually “stage training” and not circuit training. What is the difference?
Gandy describes stage training as “a distinct derivation of circuit training aimed at greater local muscular stresses and thereby increases in specific strength endurance.“
After a foundation of general muscular development is set the work start to then focus on developing more powerful quadriceps and gluteals, plus also developing a stronger core. Cardiovascular fitness is not of concern in these sessions as they are covered in other parts of the athletes training program.
Also training is not static throughout the year. From October to January the weekly workout would cover 13 exercise stations with plenty of stretching taking place. The workouts are performed as 30 x 30 second stations.
In February and March total number of repetitions / volume is reduced, with greater emphasis on higher quality demand – fewer exercises with more weight, more control, perfect form. Throughout the year various tests are conducted to gauge athletic development – there is no set formula, usually different athletes will do different tests, e.g. consecutive bent-knee sit-ups, rope climbs, rebounds.
These circuits and training sessions are finished by April when event specific training starts.
The 13 stage circuit
These exercises are from George Gandy’s original notes which were published in Track Technique.
Bounding develops both increased power and stronger joints and muscles. Aim to increase stride length and height. Keep your torso upright and land with flat feet to minimize risk of injury. In time aim to bound with the leading thigh horizontal. Use you arms to power yourself along. As you get better focus on increasing speed while maintaining good distance, height and overall form.
A standard press up, but with the feet raised to increase the weight on the arms. Sometimes clapping press-ups are done instead, or as well as, to improve explosive strength.
3. Knee extensions
To do a standing knee extension you face a wall and perform a mini-squat, lifting your body weight by extending your knee and straightening your leg. A simple and effective way to do a knee extension without weights.
The purpose of this exercise is to create more stability in the quadriceps by strengthening the vastus medialis (the inner thigh muscle). It helps control the kneecap and in turn reduces knee pain from over-exertion (e.g. joggers knee, housemaid’s knee, chondromalacia patellae). This muscle is not conditioned through normal running exercises, so knee extensions are vital in both treating and preventing knee problems.
4. Squat thrusts
Not to be confused with American style squat thrusts which include a full squat from standing position, these are done by supporting your upper body with your hands on the floor (in push up position) and jumping both feet forward together to tuck your knees underneath you, then quickly thrusting your legs backwards.
Squat thrusts work the gluteals, quadriceps and stomach muscles, all of which are vital to running.
Rebounds build power and resilience. They are performed by first supporting your body weight on a gym bar with your arms, so that your feet are completely off the ground. Then allow yourself to fall to the floor, and as soon as your feet touch the floor power yourself back up by extending your feet to jump. Try to limit the use of your arms and knees, the power should come from the feet and ankles.
Chin-nees are often called knee-to-elbow sit-ups or twisting sit-ups. With your hands lightly touching your head (to not strain your neck) perform sit ups but as you lift your torso twist and aim to get your elbow to meet the opposite knee. Alternate side on each sit up. An excellent core / ab workout.
7. Box and hurdle jumping
Jump with both feet together. When jumping up onto the box stand up straight before jumping down. On the hurdles aim for speed and on all jumps try to bounce off the ground.
8. Hip thrusts
Hip thrusts are a very dynamic movement. They may appear gentle in the picture, but they are certainly not the same as the hip bridges on our 20 minute workout. Hip thrusts should be explosive, but it takes time for an athlete to build the strength and conditioning to perform them effectively without risk of injury. For those less used to them they can be performed more gently.
Take your rope and skip. Aim to be light on foot and as fast as possible to start with and then as your skipping improve add high knees to work the legs harder. Skipping should be practiced outside of the circuit too as the time in the circuit for skipping is not really enough to get the most gains from it.
10. Rope climbs
You climb the rope anyway that you can. Start with one rope using both arms and legs, then progress to one rope with arms only, and finally 2 ropes with arms only. These work the biceps, deltoids, and the muscles of the upper back. Pull ups not required!
11. Continuous step-ups
Using a low step (max. of 30cm / 1 foot) as this builds the strength of action in the other 10-15 degrees of movement, as with the knee extensions. Keep arms relatively still – the work is done by the legs.
12. Horizontal sprinting
This is an explosive exercise to work the glutes hard, as well as the quads and abdominal muscles. First work on building length of stride for maximum leg motion before developing speed. Like mountain climbers (also in our 20 minute workout) but with hands on a low step.
13. Bent-leg sit-ups
Unlike modern-day crunches, these are the full sit-ups which are still performed in boxing gyms and sports clubs all over the country. Your abdominal muscles should be considered the platform against which all your other muscles work. Bent knees allow you to isolate the abdominals and avoids engaging the psoas muscle (top of the legs / lower pelvis).
Note from George Gandy
The article ends with the following words of advice from George Gandy, which we feel should be quoted in full:
“The varied exercise demands of the circuit offer further advantage in highlighted individual qualities of movement—timing, balance, fluency and coordination, as
well as strength/strength endurance aspects. Each session does therefore have its clinical/diagnostic aspect. In fact the sheer number (sometimes well over 100) and quality of the athletes who have used my circuit, over more than a decade, have provided invaluable insights into the physical machinery which forms the basis of outstanding performance.” George Gandy.
Each workout should be assessed and modifications made to improve performance. You may need more work in specific areas, for example with upper body (more rope climbs) or leg speed (horizontal sprinting). Adjust accordingly. This workout would generally be done once per week by Gandy’s athletics students with close supervision. Just remember, it formed the basis of Seb Coe’s success, so it should certainly help to improve your own running performance over one mile, and also aid longer runs too.
*Track Technique was a quarterly magazine (full title actually The Journal Of Technical Track & Field Athletics). The magazine changed name to Track Coach and then finally Track & Field.
“Indoor Conditioning For Middle Distance” by George Gandy, BAAB Senior Coach. first published in Athletics Coach, December 1987. Reprinted in Track Technique Issue 107. Re-published in Trackandfieldnews.com/technique/107-George_Gandy.pdf.