Testing Your Conditioning With Death Circuits

To be ethical and give credit where it is due, I originally learned about “Death Circuits” from Charles Poliquin. If you’ve never heard of him I would describe him as the Albert Einstein in my industry. He is the man.

A death circuit is essentially a big superset of four compound exercises where you alternate a lower body with an upper body exercise. They are performed for 10-12 reps so you’re under tension long enough to build up a lot of waste by-products, you rest only 60 seconds between each exercise, then after the last exercise, you rest two minutes and then repeat for four rounds.

They can’t be sissy exercises though, they must be big compound lifts, the ones that will give you the biggest return on your investment (squats, dead lifts, pull ups, presses, etc).

Here’s an example of a death circuit (which I’ve actually done at USI (Urban Strength Institute. My private training facility):

  • Back Squats: 4 Sets Of 12 Reps  Rest: 60 secs
  • Mid Incline Mid Grip Swiss Bar Press: 4 Sets Of 12 Reps  Rest: 60 secs
  • Val Slide Reverse Lunge: 4 Sets Of 12 Reps  Rest: 60 secs
  • Neutral Grip Pulldown: 4 Sets Of 12 Reps  Rest: 120 secs

Death circuits take a respectable amount of conditioning to get through without puking up a lung. Very few regular gym goers would make it through this. But for an endurance machine, this would be an easy training day.

Enter Endurance Machine

Here is a picture of my white board at my facility. The Endurance Machine workout is on the far left. This is changed weekly.

USI has over 120 training sessions, many of which coming from jiu-jitsu practitioners. We test every exercise, training methodology, and loading parameters we deem worthy here {currently we’re testing something really cool based off of actual physiology and not arbitrary times to figure out what works best. More on that later}. Here’s a raw description of an EM training session.



  • You’re only allocated 15 seconds of rest between exercises (most of my jiu jitsu athletes don’t even bother taking a rest)
  • The circuits are much bigger (usually 8 exercises)
  • The recovery time after the entire circuit is performed is not real rest time (inactive recovery) where you’re doing nothing, but active recovery where you’re jumping rope.

Before you do any of this (death circuits or endurance machine workouts) you need to know where you’re starting from.

Determine your starting physiology.

You need to know where you’re currently at in order to improve the right way. For instance, say we used the alphabet as an example and said you were at A and you need to get to D. You have to get to B, then C, before you arrive at D. Getting there is the progression. I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t yet found what I’d consider a perfect way to get there for everyone, because people are different. What works for one person might not necessarily work for the next guy. And if something does work well, who’s to say there’s not a better way out there. But everyone needs to establish a frame of reference and have a progression {a set of criteria or stated values in relation to which measurements or judgments can be made.}

A training progression to get you to handle death circuits might require you to start with just two exercises with 2 minutes of rest between the two exercises. Then 90 seconds, then 75 seconds. Now you might add in a third exercise and rest 90 seconds between the three exercises. Then 75 seconds, then 60 seconds. Once you’re acclimated to that, you might add a fourth exercise and rest 75 seconds, then 60 seconds, and then 45 seconds. I’m sure you’re getting the point. Now you’re what I’d consider pretty conditioned.

Endurance Machine is taking it to the extreme. One sign that you’ve reached it is when you’re out working everyone with relative ease, people start referring to you as “a beast” or “freak”, and your body fat is very low. A quick side note: {getting your body fat really low takes more than just serious training, nutrition is of utmost importance. I will be addressing this in great detail in the future.}

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