| The Power Athlete Metabolic Circuit – 50 Years in the Making

Author / John

10 - 12 minute read

Power Athlete Nation, we’ve got six really big weeks ahead of us on Field Strong and you all are in for a real treat with our favorite repeater: the Power Athlete Metabolic Circuit cycle.

Having been applied to thousands of field sport athletes in collegiate programs with incredible results, this circuit style training is the stuff of legends, with roots going all the way back to the 70s at the University of Nebraska. This training met the likes of the Cal Bears and a young offensive linemen named John Welbourn, a player so psyched up by the thought of performance that he threw his inhibitions to the wind and jumped in with full force. Legend has it his dried sweat is still in one corner of the Cal gym to this day.

Grab that butterfly net and catch a little S&C history lesson as we take yog down memory lane and get warmed up for the Power Athlete Metabolic Circuit.

Husker Power

The “Nebraska Circuit”, “Husker Power Circuit”, or the OG, “Survivor Circuit” goes by many names. Odds are if you played a college sport with a strength program, you experienced this in one form or another. The development of this program dates back to 1969/’70 through Coach Boyd Epley putting Dr. Bill Kraemer through what was called the Survivor Circuit, where an individual had 20 seconds to do 10 repetitions and 10 seconds to rest before the next set or exercise. Kraemer felt like there was something to the circuit. 15 years after researching and tweaking he helped develop the Nebraska Circuits.

Through Kramers research he found through manipulating exercise selections, order, load, and rest between sets he could affect the neuroendocrine responses and metabolic adaptations. In regards to rest time he found that there was a greater growth hormone release when rest times were at 1 minute compared to 10 seconds and 3 minutes.

By far my favorite component of this circuit’s history, Epley’s willingness to make his athlete wait until at least year 2 in the program to perform it. Reason being, this insured proper lifting technique in the circuit AND upped the athlete’s effort. Freshman took notice of more advanced lifters doing the circuit and built up a want to do it. Epley thought by making them wait one to two years insured greater effort when the time came to attack the metabolic circuit with the intensity in-ten-cities.

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Nebraska Circuit Order

Station #1: Squat or Leg Press
Station #2: Bench Press or Chest Press
Station #3: Lat Pull Down or Chin Assist
Station #4: Leg Curl
Station #5: Shoulder Press
Station #6: Low Row
Station #7: Leg Extension
Station #8 Triceps Pushdown
Station #9 Arm Curl

Nebraska Circuit Loading

The training week looked something like this:

Monday: Explosive
Tuesday: Metabolic Circuit (Light)
Thursday: Explosive
Friday: Metabolic Circuit (Heavy)

Week 1: 1 set of 10 reps done two days per week.
Week 2: 2 sets of 10 reps at each station before moving to the next station.
Week 3: 3 sets of 10 reps at each station before moving to the next station.
Week 4: Add weight
Week 5: Add weight
Week 6: Add weight

If the athlete cannot complete all 3 sets of 10 repetitions on any exercise then do not increase the weight the following week.

Rest Period

Allow only 60 seconds of rest when moving from one exercise to the next exercise. Recall, there is a greater serum growth hormone release when utilizing a 1 minute rest as compared to 3 minutes rest. Aim to complete all 10 reps in 20 seconds. Boyd’s one exception is the squat; a heavy set of 10 will normally take longer than 20 seconds. Allow as much time as needed to do a set of ten on the squat, then allow 60 seconds rest.

Power Athlete Metabolic Circuit

Here we are 50 years since the first metabolic circuit was applied at Nebraska and nearly 25 years since Welbourn first experienced this style of training in college. Similar to advancements in great inventions like the automobile, flight, and the 80’s action film, this program has evolved to optimize human performance.

Power Athlete Metabolic Circuit cycle rearranged and added some movements to focus on the goal of the Field Strong program, enhance your athleticism.

Similar to Epley’s athletes, you will need to put your ego aside and start conservatively to avoid “psychological overtraining”. Mondays and Thursdays you’ll be explosive with jumps and Oly lift variations then Tuesdays and Fridays you will smash the metabolic circuit laid out below. If you are not focused on Olympic lifting, we encourage all athletes try out the movement substitution tool on TrainHeroic and select a barbell movement to load up and move fast on Mondays and Thursdays.

Those that start the PAMC too heavy get smashed and can’t complete the workouts and therefore, do not reap the benefits. My advice, start small, and build momentum following the loading outlined below. The cycle progresses weekly, culminating in a final ‘heavy weight’ fist fight.

You are adults, so be smart.

PAMC Order

Station #1: Back Squat
Station #2: Bench Press
Station #3: Pull Up – Strict
Station #4: Full Glute Ham Raises
Station #5: Press
Station #6: Chin Ups
Station #7: Front Squat
Station #8: Parallel Bar Dips
Station #9: Barbell Bicep Curl

PAMC Loading

The training week looks something like this:

Monday: Explosive
Tuesday: Metabolic Circuit
Wednesday: Steady State and Iron Flex
Thursday: Explosive
Friday: Metabolic Circuit

Week 1:
24 minutes total | 2 sets | 10 reps | Tuesday Light :80 station | Friday Medium :80 station
Week 2:
24 minutes total | 2 sets | 10 reps | Tuesday Medium :80 station | Friday Medium :80 station
Week 3:
~36 minutes total | 3 sets | 10 reps | Tuesday Medium :80 Station | Friday Medium :60 Rest between sets
Week 4:

~36 minutes total | 3 sets | 10 reps | Tuesday Light :80 Station | Friday Heavy :60 Rest between sets
Week 5:
~36 minutes total | 3 sets | 10 reps | Tuesday Light :80 Station | Friday Heavy :60 Rest between sets
Week 6:
~36 minutes total | 3 sets | 10 reps | Tuesday Light :80 Station | Friday Heavy :60 Rest between sets

If the athlete cannot complete all 3 sets of 10 repetitions on any exercise then do not increase the weight the following Light, Medium, or Heavy session.

Rest Period

Notice two key terms above: Station and Rest.

On days Station is listed, this means you have 80 seconds to complete 10 total reps. The remainder of the 80 seconds after 10 reps is yours to rest and set up for your next set/movement.

On days Rest is listed, this means you will hit your 10 reps untimed and then take a full 60 seconds rest between each set. These will be heavy movements, so it might take you 30-40 second to bang out 10 reps. Just make sure you get at least 60 seconds between sets. On movements like the Pull Ups this applies as well. If it takes you 30 seconds to get your 10 reps, rest 60 seconds between sets. It would be great if you could keep the 80 second station time periods, but as this gets heavier it becomes less realistic, so adjust accordingly.

What is Field Strong?

If you’re new to Power Athlete, Field Strong is a ​performance based training program for field and court sport athletes, fighters and anyone who is looking to put​ pinnacle performance ​in front of anything else. John Welbourn, 10-Year NFL Veteran and Founder of Power Athlete, exposes members of Field Strong to the advanced training techniques that contributed to his career playing professional football.

Cycles are typically written in 6 week training blocks, with occasional 1 – 2 week “reload” weeks that offer loyal residents an optional deload from the training.

Do you like what you’re reading here? Thinking you want to take a run at Field Strong?

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Are you a Field Strong Athlete? How are you enjoying the program so far?

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John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.

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