Circuit Training with Auburn Swimming

Get better at the sports you play and the life you lead at STACK. Improve your training, nutrition and lifestyle with daily


Auburn University is the class of D-I swimming, as both its men's and women's swimming and diving teams took home 2006 NCAA National titles. Bryan Karkoska, strength coach for both teams, has developed a killer dry-land circuit to enhance his swimmers' skills, which he dishes on here.

Explain the circuit.
It's based on the number of athletes we have. Currently, we have 65-plus, so we have 65-plus stations—one athlete per station. The stations include a mix of everything—from free weights, machines and med balls to cardiovascular exercises, plyometrics and bodyweight exercises. The athletes spend 45 to 90 seconds at each and get 10 to 20 seconds to switch. It's unique because we have no set order to go through the stations. The athletes never know what to expect; they just know they have to go hard. The workouts last an hour and a half to three hours, and we hit every station. But, if they get too tired and start doing exercises incorrectly, they stop.

What about water breaks?
BK: They really only get breaks between stations, but they carry water bottles. The teams go through 10 to15 gallons of fluid during the workout.

How often do you do the circuit?
It's just one phase of our off-season training, and we do it twice a week.

How does this work help them improve?
More than anything, it's a team- and confidence-building exercise. It puts our athletes in a place of physical fatigue, where they don't like being. They have to tap into their reserves to keep going, which helps them realize how much further they can always push.

How does it help team unity?
Everyone is in here working hard together, cheering for each other and giving words of encouragement.

Any exercises an athlete could use to mimic your circuit?
Anything you can do with your body weight is perfect— push-ups, chin-ups, dips, lunges, squats—anything for the low back and abs, and anything that forces you to hold a streamlined posture, like a wall sit with your hands above your head. Include several stations that will make your heart rate rise, like jumping rope, hurdle hops, small box jumps and jumping jacks. Start with a 30-minute circuit.

Is this circuit unique to swimmers?
I don't work with any other sport whose athletes could handle the intensity and duration of this circuit. There's something different about these athletes; they're accustomed to getting up at 4 a.m., jumping in the water and doing some crazy stuff. They're extremely motivated, and everything is competition to them. They've been competing against the clock and other people since day one. Throw them into an environment like this circuit creates, and they'll be competitive and bring their team along.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock