Posted on December 3rd, 2016 by Urban Bettag
The winter season is upon us. After all the club championship races it is now time to either have a break or settle into the winter training. When the weather changes and gets a bit colder doing hard, long intervals are not so much fun. When approaching December, it is time to take the foot off the gas and take it a bit easy and have some fun. Traditionally, early December is an ideal opportunity to introduce the Oregon Circuits, one of my favourite sessions are the Oregon Circuits. In this week’s ‘Hare Brain’ blog we explain a bit more about Oregon Circuits.
Oregon Circuits, as the word suggests have been invented at the University of Oregon. It was coach Luiz de Oliveira, who came up with the workout when coaching the Brazilian middle-distance runner Joaquim Cruz while studying at the University of Oregon. Later on, Cruz won the 800m gold medal in 1984 Olympics and beat Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe. Later on, Cruz won the 800m silver medal in the 1988 Olympics too. Cruz still holds the South American area record. He is only one of five men, who have run sub 1:42 (1:41.77). Today, Cruz train Paralympic athletes and applies the same training fundamentals he used to follow.
The first time I came across the Oregon Circuits was when I met the late Dave Sunderland, coach to many international athletes. Dave Sunderland spoke about coaching middle distance runners and the type of training distance runners would do in and outside the season. When coaching at the Serpentine Running Club, I adopted the Oregon Circuits for long distance runners and used to do this session once a month during the cross country season. While this is a tough workout, some of the exercises can be challenging, athletes enjoyed the session and welcomed a break from the more structured sessions. One of the benefits of this session is that athletes have to use all muscle groups and their nervous systems. Oregon Circuits give them a good all round full body workout and promote mental toughness as well.
Oregon Circuits explained
How does an Oregon Circuits session work? The format of an Oregon Circuit session requires a bit more explanation compared to the traditional interval sessions. However, the session builds on the principles of interval training. The session contains bouts of fast running, interspersed with an active recovery of general strength and core exercises. Depending on the event, training age and the ability of the athletes I use 700 and 300 meter repetitions, use 1 – 2 exercises and two circuits. It is a demanding session and I recommend a cool down jog. Allow your muscles to fully recover and take it easy on the next day. As these are intense sessions, I recommend only one session per week at best. Start with once a month and progress to any other week during your base training period.
Start your session from the 1,500m start. Experienced athletes run 700 meters at your 5k race pace. Improvers would either do 300 meters or alternate between 300 and 700 meter repetitions. Once finished with the repetition, jog forward to the high jump area and start with the general strength exercises. Typically, the exercises last 30 seconds with the same amount of rest between exercises. Exercises alternate between upper and lower body exercises. For example, while doing a full body squat, the upper body is less stressed, while the lower body is less stressed when doing a set of press ups. More advanced athletes can alternate between upper, core and lower body exercises. For example, press ups, plank and body squat.
There are many ways to progress Oregon Circuits. Start with a small number of repetitions first, then build up the total volume of the session by increasing the number of repetitions and circuits. The same applies to the general strength exercises, though the main focus should be on running specific strength exercises and not on doing as many exercises as possible. Start with one exercise first, then progress to 2 exercises during the active recovery. More advanced athletes can do 3 to 4 exercises and match the duration of running with the total time spend doing the general strength exercises. For example, 700 meters require 2’30’’, then spend 2’30’’ for the general strength exercises.
General Strength and Core Strength Exercises
Important to note, don’t rush doing the general strength exercises. Try to understand how to perform the exercises correct first, before doing the exercises faster. Doing the general strength exercises wrong will only increase your risk of injury. On observation, when doing the body squat, athletes try to do this as quickly as possible, just thinking about the effort rather than form. Ensure both feet are shoulder width apart, when moving into a squat position, have your feet pointed forward. Ensure the knee caps are not too far ahead of your toes. Place your hand behind your head and point your shoulder blades together, so that your spine in a stable position. While combining running and strength, the complexity of the exercises can vary and require full concentration.
I am a big fan of the Oregon Circuit session. I do this session frequently especially when I am working with a new athlete. The Oregon Circuit workout has pretty much everything. It helps me to assess the athlete’s running form while running in between the exercises and I can see the athletes sense of coordination and determine the level of core strength. Often there is a connection between both. Are there any imbalances or muscular weaknesses? If there are weaknesses, they will be revealed especially towards the end of the session, when the athlete feels more tired and starts to become fatigued.
You don’t need a track for doing an Oregon Circuit session. Instead of running a fixed distance, you can run for 1 minute, or do a shuttle run (100 meters out and back) and do the exercises. This session works well on a ‘trim-trail’.
Many club standard runners like to do interval sessions throughout the year and are not too keen deviating too much from the format in fear of losing fitness. Oregon Circuits is a great session to break up the routine and combining running with strength exercises in such a way that all muscle groups get a stimulus. Besides the physical benefits on strength endurance, the session schools mental toughness and prepares athletes for maintaining running form in a tired state. Comes spring you will be better prepared to do a more demanding speed workout. Alternatively, similar to Joaquim Cruz when coming back from injury/break, Oregon Circuits are the workouts to recover your full strength.
Urban Bettag coaches for the Mornington Chasers and leads the development of their track training and mentors their junior coaches. He blogs and shares his wisdom about running on the Hare Brain Blog every Friday.