The contralateral circuit can be used during the first aerobic block to develop an effective aerobic base to build upon later. The aerobic block is an overlooked and neglected component to any program. While lifting heavy all the time may be fun and flashy, it is not beneficial for the athlete if they are only able to produce large amounts of force 1 time every 5 minutes.
The aerobic base acts as the foundation of the ATP-PC and Anaerobic Glycolysis energy systems. The larger the aerobic base we have, the faster we can recover between exercise bouts and reps on the field. A larger aerobic base produces higher potential for increased athletic performance.
Implementing the Contralateral Circuit
The primary goal of the aerobic training block is to focus on the amount of stress the athlete can handle and recover from. Therefore, it’s important that we increase our athlete’s functional reserve range which allows them to recover rapidly from exercise bouts. The contralateral circuit is just one of the many ways to do so.
There are some pros and cons to the circuit but it is very beneficial if we can use and implement it correctly. Many contralateral (opposite sides) total body exercises that require little equipment and space make up the circuit. There are 4 levels of the circuit, which should be carefully considered for the population that you are working with.
Staying Below the Threshold
The primary focus is to stay below the lactate threshold and the ventilatory threshold.
The ventilatory threshold marks the point where oxygen delivery to the muscles becomes a limiting factor. This results in your body forced to rely more on its anaerobic energy system. It’s important not to rely on the anaerobic energy system since we are focusing on the aerobic energy system.
The lactate threshold is the point at which lactate begins to accumulate and is also a marker of the anaerobic energy system. It refers to the maximal effort an athlete can maintain without increase of lactate in the blood.
Both the lactate threshold and the ventilatory threshold are often met at very similar intensities. A heart rate monitor is recommended to achieve best results, but this may not be realistic depending on the facility/equipment which we have available to us. Instead we could manually take HR’s of certain athletes to monitor progress. We should be training them at around 120BPM but no higher than 170BPM to avoid training in the lactate and ventilatory thresholds.
There are many interval timers that are easily accessible via smartphone apps or online.
- 1 – 15 seconds on 10 off (per side)
- 2 – 20 seconds on 10 off (per side)
- 3 – 25 seconds on 10 off (per side)
- 4 -30 Seconds on 10 off (per side)
The circuit is continuous, so the setup needs to be efficient so that athletes do not fall behind. The circuit can be done 1-3 times per workout and up to 2-3 times per week. It should be done during the first 1-2 weeks of the aerobic training block. This can be paired with other forms of aerobic exercise such as Escalating Density Training (EDT) or simple General Physical Preparedness (GPP) programs. It’s a great and fast way to develop a strong aerobic base and re-address the aerobic energy system very quickly.
Based on the residual training effects, we know that this aerobic energy system needs to be re-addressed every 30+5 days to maintain the physiological adaptations. If you have the tools necessary to implement this circuit, you should strongly consider it. To be even more efficient, athletes can work in pairs or we can setup all the stations and have athletes rotate between each one.
The circuit isn’t the perfect solution, however. Some athletes may have a difficult time understanding and following the vast number of exercises it incorporates. A simple fix would be to reduce the total number of exercises and increase the number of times that athletes complete the circuit. The circuit may also be difficult to implement with large groups and monitor everyone. Lastly, if you are not equipped to track heart rate data, then you may receive inconsistent results.
Despite minor shortcomings, this is a great circuit which I plan to utilize with my teams during the aerobic block. The circuit can be easily modified depending on the facility that you are in. Here are references to the original article by Cal Dietz. Below is a video that explains the circuit and physiological adaptations in depth.