Death Circuits, Timed Sets, and Mental Toughness

I first heard strength coach Charles Poliquin mention “Death Circuits” at a seminar of his I attended. I believe this was four exercises in a row. The four exercises had to be big compound ones such as squats, supinated chin ups, romanian dead lifts, and dips. These would all be done in a circuit with 60 seconds of rest between each exercise, and each exercise would be done for 12 reps.

I’ve used programs like this with too many people to count for several years. Doing circuits at all can be a real problem in a regular membership based gym. Since I have my own private training facility I don’t have that problem. I can do whatever I want with my clients.

I treat my facility like a proving ground. Constantly applying and testing what I know and/or think might work. I still use Death Circuits like the one above, but I also use ones where there’s more than four exercises involved. Recently I’ve been using a heart rate monitor on a few of my athletes that are involved in mixed martial arts or brazilian jiu-jitsu. I’ve messed around with prescribed reps and prescribed times. For instance, instead of having someone perform an exercise for 12 reps I’ll have them just go for 40 seconds straight (40 seconds is just an example. You could go 30 seconds, 60 seconds, etc.) Some exercises when done in a circuit I think work better with timed sets instead of prescribed rep ranges.

I’ve tested different circuits to see which one’s get the heart rate up more. Does three big compound exercises get the heart rate higher than four, five, or six? Some tests have surprised me.

The guys I used these on didn’t necessarily like the training because the workouts were brutally hard. But they knew they were effective. They didn’t complain ever and usually asked for it. They had serious mental toughness.

When I think of mental toughness I think of Drill Instructor Sergeant Kiehle (one of my drill instructors when I was in the Marine Corps) always saying your brain will quite before your body. I’ll never forget that guy. His mental toughness was stronger than anyone’s I’d ever seen. I once saw him run 3-miles with a gas mask on and a back pack with an ammo can inside and he ran it in 19 minutes and 10 seconds. The guy was a beast. To build mental toughness you’ve got to be willing to go through some pain. You’ve got to dig down deep and push yourself harder than you want.

Here is a training video of one of my athletes pushing the limit while getting ready for the Golden Gloves boxing tournament.

Sol Kim (one of my jiu-jitsu athletes) did these workouts and took second at the IBJJF (International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation) Tournament and told me as soon as he was done that the heart rate circuits helped him a lot.

Narcis (another one of my jiu-jitsu guys) did these workouts and took First place at the same tournament and told me the exact same thing.

Jaspaul Gill (the guy in the video) told me the conditioning workouts at USI are legendary.

All these guys exemplify what Sergeant Kiehle had…mental toughness.

You gotta push it to the limit if you want to be an endurance machine.


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