It used to be that the word circuit training meant stations of high repetition machine training. This was viewed as a viable method of training that improved cardiovascular fitness, but was shown to have a much smaller effect on strength in anyone other than beginners. As with most things, circuit training has evolved. Now we see more functional exercises being performed and better athletes using this system. However, there is still something missing: the programming.

Most combative circuits only use timed or high repetition training, this still negates a strong strength training effect and makes circuit training one dimensional. The concept of using various movement patterns and reduced rest intervals is very useful, however, you can truly combine strength, power, speed, and conditioning into one workout if structured correctly.

Density Training

Strength Coach, Charles Staley, developed the concept of escalating density training. In this form of training conditioning is improved by short repeated efforts of high intensity work. Instead of focusing on high repetitions which minimizes power and strength output, escalating density training allows both strength and power of low repetition training combined with conditioning of short rest.

The goal is to set two “PR Zones”. The first is typically about 15 minutes and the second is 10 minutes. You will select two exercises for each PR Zone which you will alternate back and forth. The repetition schemes will be low and you will only take as much rest as needed. Record the number of sets completed and when you are able to improve that by 20% you increase the weight. The weight is typically what you can do for your ten repetition max.

Example Workouts:

Workout A:

PR Zone A: 15 minutes
Sandbag Shouldering: 5 each side
Weighted Pull-ups: 5

PR Zone B: 10 minutes
Kettlebell Overhead Lunge: 5 each side
Suspended Rotating Push-ups: 5 each side

Workout B:

PR Zone A
Kettlebell Clean and Press: 5 repetitions
Zercher Sandbag Squats: 5 repetitions

PR Zone B
Sandbag Get-up Left: 5 repetitions
Sandbag Get-up Right: 5 repetitions

Power Circuit Training

We can use traditional circuit training but change up some of the variables to get that conditioning effect, but get stronger and more resilient as well. We will incorporate low repetition power and strength exercises with exercises that are better suited for high repetitions.

Circuit A:

A1. Deadlift x 5 repetitions, rest 60 seconds
A2. Rope Waves x 30 seconds, rest 30 seconds
A3. Weighted Pull-ups x 5 repetitions, rest 60 seconds
A4. Kettlebell Swings x 20 repetitions, rest 30 seconds
A5. Plank Holds x 60 seconds, rest 30 seconds
Repeat 3-5 cycles

Circuit B

A1. Sandbag Shoulder and Squat x 5 repetitions, rest 60 seconds
A2. Hindu Push-ups x 25 repetitions, rest 30 seconds
A3. Sandbag Zercher Step-ups x 12 repetitions each leg, rest 30 seconds
A4. Band Resisted Bear Crawls x 30 seconds, rest 30 seconds
A5. Cable Woodchops x 10 repetitions each side, rest 30 seconds
Repeat 3-5 cycles


Circuit training isn’t outdated and if fact is always evolving. Current trends always have to be questioned as they are sometimes just a sign of the times. The above workouts are constructed with the needs of the MMA athlete in mind. One of the biggest mistakes coaches make is try to do too much conditioning and end up with a constantly fatigued and overtrained athlete. Try alternating these two methods three times a week and see how you become a better fighter!

Josh Henkin, CSCS is a strength & conditioning coach in Phoenix, Arizona. He is the creator of the best selling Sandbag Fitness System fitness program ( Visit his site for FREE training tips and workouts.