What is Circuit Training?

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Great Full Body Home Workout
Great Full-Body Home Workout

In this article, I’d like to talk you through circuit training. This workout style allows you to target your whole body in a quick, efficient way. You don’t need any special equipment or prior knowledge: just a few quick tips and you’re good to go! Firstly, I’ll describe what circuit training is. Then I’ll show you how to plan your session. Finally, I’ll highlight some common mistakes to keep an eye out for. I’ll also touch on how to combine circuit training with other workouts so you can reap the full benefits.

First Things First: the Theory

Circuit training is a form of cardiovascular exercise involving aerobics and resistance training. Similar to HIIT, a “circuit” is a series of back-to-back exercises of varying intensity designed to build strength and muscular endurance. To perform a circuit training session, you will complete several groups of exercises with little rest between them.

Circuit training is one of many workout types that can be done anywhere, without fancy gym equipment. Through these sessions, you will learn how to use your own body’s weight to burn fat, grow lean muscle, and improve your cardio all in one!

Before I go detail, I’d like to give you a concrete example. Say I want to train my arms, legs, and abs, but only have 30 minutes twice a week to exercise. This isn’t enough time for a structured resistance training regimen, nor will simple cardio give me the full-body benefits. What I’d do instead is chain together exercises targeting different muscle groups to target my whole body in one session. It might look something like this:

Warm-upHigh knees (1 minute)
Jumping jacks (1 minute)
Jumping, knees to chest (1 minute)
Circuit 1
(repeat x3)
Squats (1 minute)
Push-ups (1 minute)
Crunches (1 minute)
Rest30 seconds
Circuit 2
(repeat x3)
Jumping lunges (30 seconds)
Diamond push-ups (30 seconds)
V-ups (30 seconds)
Bicycles (30 seconds)
Rest30 seconds
Circuit 3Burpees (1 minute)
Wall sit (1 minute)
Front plank (1 minute)
CooldownFreestyle stretching (8 minutes)
Sample 30-minute Full Body Circuit

Circuit Training is much easier than it looks!

During the above session, I had time to warm up, target all three muscle groups, and stretch, all in 30 minutes! Because I’m setting the pace, I can decide how difficult the workout will be. For example, I could put on a heavy backpack or hold full water bottles to make the exercises more difficult. This can go both ways however; on bad days I could also do my reps more slowly or substitute exercises for breaks if I really need to

This example is quite simple, involving no equipment or difficult techniques. I would recommend sticking to the basics, especially if you’re just starting out or just need a short morning/evening workout. I would suggest searching a list of basic bodyweight exercises like the ones in this gif and ordering them like this;

Warm-up2-3 dynamic full body exercises for 30-60 seconds each
“Easy” Circuit2-3 simple bodyweight exercises for 60 seconds each
“Hard” Circuit2-3 more difficult exercises for 30 seconds each
Simple Circuit Training Structure

Paper and pencil ready?

In brief, you should always start with a goal in mind. Next, think of a few key exercises that help you reach that goal, keeping in mind how long you can do those exercises at 40-80% of your maximum effort. Then, arrange them loosely in a structure like the above table. Finally, think realistically of the session’s difficulty level. It’s also helpful to take a minute to actually do an exercise and see how that makes you feel.

Shoulder Taps are a great Core/Upper Body exercise
Shoulder Taps target your core and upper body

For example, my goal is to lose belly fat, so my exercises need to be dynamic and make me work up a sweat. Additionally, it would help to target my core with some exercises. Although spot reduction is often disproven, shaping core muscles will give me a leaner look. After some online research, I pick burpees, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, and bicycles. I know for sure burpees are the toughest, so I do those first. Then, I perform both core exercises and finish with the jumping jacks. This way, my heart rate stays quite high throughout the workout. I’m also not dreading the end of the circuit because I know jumping jacks are quite easy compared to the rest. So to wrap up; decide on a goal, pick your favorite exercises around that goal, and do a trial run to keep it realistic.

Next up, the Benefits of Circuit Training!

Now that you understand the basics, I’d like to go through the benefits of performing these workouts. Namely increased cardiovascular health, muscular endurance, and fat burning, all packed into short, social workouts!

A study examining the impact of circuit training on amateur soccer players concluded that not only did circuit training have a better impact on their bodies, but it also reduced training time by 66%. This means that you don’t have to compromise between the quality of your workouts and finding time for your family or chores. Oh, and speaking of children, circuit training was also seen to greatly improve cardiovascular health and muscular endurance, even when done only twice a week! This is a result of two things; continuous physical exertion for at least 30 minutes, and high repetitions with little added resistance. On the whole, circuit training strengthens your heart, lungs, and targets your type 2 muscle fibers to give you a cut, lean look!

Whether you’re competitive by nature or just looking to start a fitness challenge with a partner, circuit training might be what you’re looking for. You and your partner(s) can keep each other motivated by starting the session with the same exercise. Or if you need to set up equipment, why not alternate exercises and save time? Not only will training with a partner motivate you to push just a little more, it will also give you a soundboard to try out new ideas and improve even more!

If you’re familiar with HIIT training, you’ll know that high-intensity training not only burns more calories during the workout itself, but also your body’s 24 hour recovery phase. If this is the first you’re hearing about HIIT, check out my article on it.

Teamwork Makes Dreams Work!
Teamwork Makes Dreams Work!

What Could Possibly go Wrong?

So there you have it; all you need to get started with your very own personalized home workout plan! To conclude, I’d like to go through some common mistakes to save you some time. As with all workouts, it’s very easy to jump head-first into circuit training without taking the time to think or properly plan your sessions.

The first issue taking too long transitioning between exercises. This causes your heart rate to slow down, reducing the positive impact of circuit training on your aerobic capacity (VO2 Max) and caloric burn. To avoid this, arrange exercises so you can jump from one to the next in no time. I like to take at most two short breaks to let me focus between circuits, but that’s wholly up to you.

Rushing into a workout can also be dangerous. Before your first real circuit training session, do a “mock” circuit or a trial run without a timer. Go slowly through all of the exercises and transitions to make sure you’re doing them in good form and without pain. Doing so will also give you an idea of how intensely you can do that exercise during the “real” sessions.

Sadly you can also have too much of a good thing. Like HIIT, the benefits of doing circuit training are tremendous, but so is the cost to your body. These workouts are short and intense, putting your joints under quite a bit of pressure. Circuit training isn’t something I’d recommend doing every day, because even without the risks, it can lose some of its charm over time. I would recommend taking at least 1-2 days a week for an LISS session instead, which you can find out more about here.

With that in mind; ready, set, go!

by Victor Popov

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