Neural Recovery Circuits: Valuable Training Tool for Sprinters & Distance Runners

Introducing Neural Recovery Circuits

Another great method of recovery, after an interval workout or race, that can be used is Circuit Training. Unlike using short uphill sprints or accelerations to produce a mild increase in lactate, which stimulates release of hormones like Growth Hormone and Testosterone, the Circuit method can target many other neural benefits needed for total development of distance runners and sprinters alike.

Speed, movement skills, mobility, stability, general strength, reactive/elastic strength, postural strength and explosive strength can all be targeted with a variety of exercises in a 12 minute circuit using Body Weight, Med Balls, Elastic Bands or, if you have access to a weight room, free weights (dumbells, kettlebells, barbells or a mix).

Boo Schexnayder, Strength & Conditioning Coach (and former field/jumps coach) for LSU’s T&F team provides a lot of background on how to structure the type of circuits that can be utilized for recovery and restoration after workouts or on recovery days. His website (sacspeed.com) has easy access to lists of circuits utilizing a wide variety of exercises beneficial to sprint and distance athletes. You can find this list by accessing “Free Downloads” in the table of choices at the top of the sacspeed.com home page.

These circuits can be constructed fairly easily using Schexnader’s methods by choosing fairly taxing exercises (10-12) exercises that target the bio-motor abilities you wish to develop. Start with spending 15-30 seconds on each exercise with a work/rest ratio of 1/1 or 1.5/1. You need to construct this so that the entire length of the circuit lasts a total of 12 minutes.

The circuit should be fairly taxing with the goal being to allow for athletes to be “powerful”, yet produce high lactate levels. If the circuits are structured correctly the athletes should be able to execute exercises at “max intensity”. The key is to try and achieve perfect balance between fatiguing the athletes and allowing them to be “powerfull” in every exercise, not just the first one or two exercises. The athletes should be tired at the end of the circuit but still able to “powerfully” execute the exercises. This balance can be attained through manipulating the amount of time for each exercise and the allotted rest interval after each.

Circuits should NOT exceed 12 minutes as Power Output drops after 12 minutes. Coaches can construct a variety of Circuits that employ use of many movement patterns so that coordination is improved.

The exercises should be a mix of those that target core and postural strength, anti-rotational and rotational strength, upper and lower body explosive and reactive/elastic strength. Med Balls of various weights are probably best for upper and lower body exercises and should employ many of the commonly used multi-throw and multi-jump type exercises such as OHB (overhead backwards throws), BTLF (between the legs forward throws) as well station lunges with MB held in the “lock” position overhead during reps of forward and/or backward lunges.

Core exercises like:

  • lying Med Ball Crunch and Toss,
  • Seated MedBall Russian Twists,
  • Seated Med Ball Throw and Catch from Butt,
  • Balance and Med Ball Chops from the Hip and/ or Knee.

Use of free weights, if easily available within close proximity of the workout field or track is an option. If you want to take this option design should be based on the method of using 2 sets of 10 reps for each exercise with 60-90 seconds of rest between sets and 10-12 exercises. Personally, I feel that Body Weight and Med Ball provide the types of movement ranges and explosive movement capability that provide the best benefits for transfer to running. Supplementation of body weight and med ball exercises with Elastic Bands (41” and 20” lengths with a variety of thicknesses to provide light-medium-heavy resistance) allows for the ability to progress in resistance with all the movement skills that can enhance running performance.

There are virtually hundreds of exercises coaches can use. I would suggest accessing Coach Schexnader lists of circuits in his Complete Training Inventory. Also of great assistance in understanding the benefits of all the training modalities you can use and the background information of the “why” and “how” these modalities will help can be found by accessing: Speed and Ancillary Training in the Distance Events.  Both of these are “FREE” downloads you will see when you go to sacspeed.com and access the DOWNLOADS option located on the top menu of the home page.

Another great use for Circuits can be to REPLACE a lactate threshold running workout so as to give the runners a break from the repetitive running movements. This would involve a series of Circuits with short rest intervals between the various Circuits so that high levels of lactate can be produced, thus developing the lactate shuttle development needed to improve distance running performance.

Just replacing a L.T. training day once in a while with Circuits is a great way to avoid the monotony of running training while making sure appropriate amounts of Neural training are utilized within each week.

In conclusion, it should be noted that MODERATE levels of fitness work, such as 12’ circuits, short sprints/accelerations and hill sprints provide HIGH levels of RESTORATION along with the many other neural improvements in strength, speed, mobility, posture and coordination.