In the simplest terms, to get better at running, one must run. This is true. But, for those of you serious runners who seek to run at highly competitive levels, even running marathons (or longer races), you need more tools in your belt than just a jogging session every day. This is especially true in the off-season, when you are not training for a race. It is my contention that circuit training is the best way to supplement your running regimen in the off-season. Let me tell you why and how.
Why? You are not just legs. We are holistic beings whose parts depend on one another to achieve maximal performance. That being so, as runners, we must look for ways to make ourselves more fit as a whole person, and not just focus on those parts of our bodies that directly do the running. Plus, if you have been running for a while, there is a good chance that your body has become accustomed to the level of punishment you put it through, which may not stimulate your heart rate the way it used to. Circuit training addresses these concerns. The concept behind circuit training is constant explosive movement performed in patterns or cycles (a.k.a. circuits). This type of training is favored by athletes, such as football players, wrestlers, boxers, and rugby and soccer players, who need to maintain high levels of endurance while also being able to make explosive and powerful movements. Having this sort of edge can be incredibly beneficial for the competitive runner.
How? What does circuit training for runners look like? During your off-season, substitute 2 or 3 days of running workouts with customized circuit training for 30 minutes to an hour. The great thing about circuit training is that it gives you the freedom to invent a workout that helps you meet your particular goals. If you are trying to lose weight as a running goal, you can design a circuit of sprints or running stairs, alternated with abs and bodyweight squats to keep you heart rate high and your body moving. If you are trying to focus on building muscle tone and strength, a circuit of pushups, pull-ups, jump ropes, and squats or deadlifts with weights can keep your body conditioned, but will also emphasize the anaerobic element of fitness that pure running often neglects. Circuits can also be designed for races of differing lengths, assisting in developing speed and pace.
Circuit training in the off-season allows the runner to fine-tune his or her body according to perceived needs, while also giving it a break from the endless pounding that comes from training for a race. These workouts are also great for days that you can’t leave the house or don’t have time to take a full-length run.