Get More With Less – The Benefits of Circuit Strength Training

Circuit Training Battle Ropes

Maximize your training time with circuits that improve power, endurance, and strength.

Jack Fabian, Ph.D. (former head swim coach at Keene State College & the US National open water swim team), knows firsthand that high-intensity circuits are one of the most efficient ways to build power, endurance, and  strength.

“For younger athletes, circuits help develop athleticism,” says Fabian. “They build a base that an athlete will carry with them through the years which they can tap into as they age.”

Unless training and racing is your job, most masters swimmers (triathletes and surfers included) don’t have time for regular 7000-yard double-sessions in the pool.

For time-crunched people, 20-minutes of circuit strength training can help athletes get more benefit from the 2,000 – 3,000-yard pool swims they can manage to squeeze into busy weeks.  Another key advantage to strength circuits, especially for Masters swimmers and older athletes is that land-based workouts help build bone density, which typically deteriorates with aging.

Circuit Strength Training

“Don’t shy away from HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training),” says Fabian. Whether you want to swim, bike, run or ski better, short burst intense activity helps. They have a different type of benefit, and they keep you strong and quick without making you tired all the time.”

Fabian designed circuit strength training workouts that are either (a) 20-minutes, sliced into five sets of 4-minute long exercises or (b) a 15-minute strength and core circuit.  He incorporates a Vasa Trainer and a Vasa SwimErg into these workouts.

Coach Fabian has his athletes perform the circuits shown in this video twice weekly as part of a comprehensive training progression throughout the season.

However, you can do core and cardio-building circuits every day and use a Vasa SwimErg or Vasa Trainer to make them swim-specific (also surfing-specific).  If you don’t have access to a Vasa, try an equipment-free bodyweight circuit, or one like this ab circuit from Soul Cycle, when you’re traveling, on lunch break or at home.

For younger athletes, circuits help develop athleticism. Click To Tweet

Tim Crowley, head strength & conditioning coach at Montverde Academy in Clermont, FL, is also former Olympic triathlon coach and an accomplished age-group triathlete himself. He created an outstanding dry-land swim circuit inspired by a circuit based on one used by the late Fran Crippen, World Champion open water swimmer. This circuit can be used as a supplement to in-water swim training, or in place of a swim workout.

Coach Crowley says, “This circuit is challenging when you first begin, but as strength, power, and endurance improve, you will be able to handle more rounds of the circuits. You can create any number of versions using this concept. Invite a few fellow athletes, and you have an effective small group training session.”

Coach Fabian’s Circuit Strength Training Workouts:


Five 4-Minute Stations incorporating a Vasa SwimErg:

Remember to take 1-minute rest between stations. As your fitness improves, reduce the rest period to 30-45 seconds between stations.

Station 1: Vasa SwimErg (4 minutes)

Click here to watch an elite swimmer training with the Vasa SwimErg!

Swim 4-minutes for distance completed as follows:

  • 1-minute double arm pulls max effort
  • 2 x 1-minute freestyle with 30 secs smooth, 20 secs build, 10 secs sprint each minute
  • 1-minute double arm pulls max effort

Station 2: Bodyweight Work  (4 minutes)

4-minute AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) of these three exercises:

  • 5 pull-ups
  • 10 pushups
  • 15 squats

Station 3: TRX suspension straps (4 min)

  • 1-minute double leg squats
  • 1-minute single leg squats (30 seconds each leg)
  • 1-minute speed skater – side to side jumping holding TRX suspension handles
  • 1-minute surfer, jumping 180° side to side and rotating right and left foot closer to the wall while holding TRX handles. Use hips to drive the rotation and lean away from the wall on an angle as you switch feet.

Station 4: Battle rope or Jump rope (4 min)

  • 8 rounds of 20 seconds max effort followed by 10 seconds rest

Rotate the exercise every minute, including single arm waves, double arm waves, grapple, rope jacks, snake wave.

For jumping rope, you can alternate between single-under and double-under.

Station 5: Core Set (4 min)

  • 30 seconds single leg v-ups with med ball 30 seconds per leg
  • 30 seconds med ball leg drops starting at 90° and squeezing medicine ball between the knees
  • 30 seconds reverse crunches med ball between knees
  • 30 seconds suitcase—with the ball between the knees, do an ab crunch bringing knees to chest and then extend, all while balancing on your butt
  • 30 seconds med ball Russian twists: with legs straight or at 90 degrees, squeeze a medicine ball between the knees and hold while rotating shoulders back and forth without rotating your back.

15-minute Strength and Core Circuits incorporating a Vasa Trainer

Select one of these circuits per workout.

Circuit 1: Strength & Endurance

5 rounds

Each round, complete the exercises within 3 minutes.
If you finish before 3 minutes, rest until 3 minutes is up, then repeat the round.
Take minimal rest between sets.

  • 15 double-arm pulls on Vasa Trainer using the webbing straps (about 45 seconds). NOTE: be sure to use proper swim-stroke form and pull up on 1 count, lower back down in control using a 2 – 3 count
  • Plank exercise on a mat for 45 secs
  • 8 reverse crunches lying on your back, holding a medicine ball behind your head
  • 8 ab rollouts on your knees using an ab wheel or exercise sliders

Circuit 2: Push-Pull Work

5 rounds

Each round, complete the exercises within 3 minutes.
If you finish before 3 minutes, rest until 3 minutes is up, then repeat the round.
Take a longer rest between rounds for this circuit.

  • 15 double-arm pulls on Vasa Trainer using the webbing straps (about 45 seconds). NOTE: be sure to use proper swim-stroke form and pull up on 1 count, lower back down in control using a 2 – 3 count
  • 7 pushups
  • 7 V-ups
  • 8 side crunches. Do 4 per side

If You Like This Article You May Also Like: Vasa 30-20-10 Power Building Interval Workout | Dry-land Swim Circuit – by Coach Tim Crowley | 7 Reasons to Include Interval Swim Training in your Workouts | Check out our new Video Library

Useful Videos Related To This Article: Swim-specific Core Stabilizer Exercises | Total Body Swim at Home workout

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