Oregon Circuit Workouts: Big Bang for Your Training Buck!
There’s a small group of us up here in Norwich who venture out very early on a Monday morning to undergo a certain type of torturous run-strength session, colloquially known as Oregon Circuits.
There’s no sugar-coating it, these sessions hurt! However we’ve all been pleased to quickly see the clear performance benefits in our run splits as race season gets into full swing. As an example of this type of session, here’s a video from my friend Urban Bettag (@RunUrban) putting his group of athletes through their paces with his own variation of Oregon Circuits at Battersea Park Track in London.
What & How…?
Taking their name from the University of Oregon where they were apparently first conceived, these sessions entail a measured balance of tempo running combined with targeted strength exercises. The benefits are multiple, as I will discuss shortly. Not least in that you quickly begin to replicate the ‘heavy legs’ feeling we’re all familiar with that normally hits late-on in a race.
Essentially the sessions take a format similar to an interval session. Our Monday morning variation entails 300m reps at race pace with strength and core exercises interspersed in what would normally be ‘rest time’ (run pace will of course depend on athlete’s specific goals).
The most important coaching point in terms of pace and effort is that while the runs should be at ‘race pace’, these should feel like the recovery in terms of effort from the challenging nature of the exercises.
If the exercises feel restful compared to the running, you’re doing it wrong!
N.B. We have sprint triathletes through to ultramarathoners in our Monday morning group, so ‘race pace’ is a very individual concept… this isn’t a session to compare yourself against others around you – pacing is important!
As I alluded to earlier, there is method to the madness.
These sessions are intense and should be performed once a week at most, but I’m yet to find another running workout that builds strength-endurance and resilience as effectively, not even hill reps, another favourite workout of mine.
As with all sessions, the outcome will depend on the reasoning used to structure the session. If we set out just to smash ourselves with the hardest combination of exercises we can think of, then we won’t get the most from the session! Instead we choose specific exercises to target key running muscle groups, prime movers, stabilisers and core muscles all included. As fatigue kicks-in don’t compromise technique.
Running Technique – Fatigued
This for me is the biggest benefit of these sessions, with the correct cues in mind (see our online course – 50% discount), every run rep can be very focused on technique. Not only this, but with well chosen strength exercises, you get a degree of transfer of muscle activation between the exercise and the run rep.
For example: If we know we have a runner with poor Glute Med function during running gait, we can set an exercise such as resistance band crab walks in between run reps, to achieve a pre-activation in Glute Med then immediately run a short technique focused rep to help fine-tune the firing pattern within running gait.
I often explain this to the athletes as “firstly getting the muscle working effectively, then show it the running movement pattern… and repeat”. Ask me to show you the science and I’ll struggle, but it certainly seems to consistently work really well
There is also the benefit of running at race pace, pre-fatigued by the exercises in bursts short enough to focus on form. This makes for a great session to practice maintaining form on heavy legs. Triathletes will understand what I mean when I call these workouts “brick sessions without the bike”!
A number of the athletes in our group, myself included have commented on the similarity in feeling to the heavy legs experienced towards the end of some races. These sessions are very effective in replicating this type of situation, and building strength to maintain form into such fatigue.
Integrating strength work into a training program has well documented benefits both in terms of injury prevention and performance. I often refer back to a case study of an athlete I worked in 2011-12. Our work really cemented in my mind the benefit of this type of session.
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