Have you ever thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could save a ton of time and find a way to combine strength training with cardio?” Well, circuit training is basically that – several exercises (resistance, cardio, body weight, etc.) performed back-to-back in a circuit fashion, which causes your heart, lungs and muscles to work overtime. Circuit training may not be the first mode of exercise bodybuilders and powerlifters go with (since they’re aiming for size and strength, respectively), but if you’re looking to save time, burn calories and burn fat, it’s definitely worth looking into.
The Benefits of Circuit Training Workouts and Fitness
The list of circuit training benefits is long, but let’s start with the basics.
- First, it’s difficult to burn out with circuit training for the simple fact that your options are only limited by your imagination. You can combine any exercises you can dream up and program them into a circuit.
- Secondly, circuit training can be done just about anywhere; in a gym, at home, in a park, in a pool, standing in line at the grocery store – you get the idea.
- Third, and maybe most important in this stressed-out-over-scheduled society we live in, circuit training saves you time. The intensity of circuit training means you’ll get the job done in an efficient manner and won’t feel obligated to hang out on the treadmill for an extra 30 minutes. Performing exercises in a continuous back-to-back configuration will force your body to tap into the aerobic energy supply to deliver a steady supply of oxygen and energy to those hard-working muscles, resulting in improved cardio fitness and you praying for the workout to end.
Weight Loss and Fat Burning Potential
The combination of constant movement and muscular resistance means that you’ll end up burning through a decent amount of those calories. The more calories you burn (without negating them by binging on Cold Stone), the more fat you’ll burn and, potentially, pounds you’ll lose. In fact, several studies have found circuit training, specifically of the high intensity nature, to be a quick and efficient road to fat loss.
Did you know 30 minutes of circuit training can burn almost 300 calories? Add in some weights and you’ll torch even more!
- EPOC, or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, is partly to thank for the fat-burning nature of circuit training. One study had 10 untrained college men (unfortunately, most of the studies I came across were on men, but we can assume that women will reap similar benefits) perform standard weight training and circuit style weight training. Researchers found that the magnitude and duration of EPOC produced by the circuit training were significantly higher than in the standard weight training workouts. Oh and did I mention the standard weight training workout took 50 minutes while the circuit workout lasted only 19?!
- Some more searching finally yielded a study done on women, and great news! Young women who performed high-intensity circuit style training three times per week for 15 weeks lost significantly more total body weight and fat mass (specifically on the legs and trunk) than women who performed steady-state exercise for the same amount of time. Insulin sensitivity also displayed better improvements among the circuit trainers.
Toning and Muscle Building Potential
Working your muscles above and beyond their everyday load is bound to build and strengthen those fibers, at least to a point. How you circuit train will depend on how much muscle you build and how toned you can make those limbs look.
Circuit training can be performed with only bodyweight exercises, resistance exercises, or a combination of the two. Whichever route you take, there’s a good chance you’ll see a difference in muscle tone, especially if you’re pushing yourself to melt off that layer of fat that, for some reason, wants to keep your sexy assets hidden.
Classes: What to Expect; Should I Take Them?
Coincidentally, circuit training classes are pretty easy to find – mainly because circuits are what almost every group class in a gym setting abides by, including many CrossFit WODs.
Whether you take a class or not is entirely up to you: do you like working out with/in front of other people? The majority of classes will likely be pretty full so you won’t get a lot of individual attention from the instructor.
However, the option to hire a trainer is always there and he/she can design circuits for you to perform during your sessions and give you hands-on instruction. You may also want to seek out a trainer if you have questions regarding proper technique for any resistance exercises you’d like to use in your circuit training.
To be completely honest, unless you want to spend money on classes or a trainer, circuit training is simple enough you can do it on your own. One perk about classes, aside from the social aspect, is that all of your equipment is there and ready to use. If you try to crank out a circuit on the gym floor, you might have some issues securing all of the equipment necessary if you’re using weights and racks. Bodyweight, dumbbell, or kettlebell circuit equipment should be pretty easy to get your hands on. And, of course, at home you can do and use whatever your little heart desires.
Instructional Circuit Training Videos and Training Tips
Basic Training Tips
- Perform a warm-up – Circuit training is intense so before you even start your workout, spend 10-minutes to prepare your body for what lies ahead.
- Choose exercises that target all of the major muscle groups in the body – Shoulders, chest, back, core, hips, glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves all need to be included in your workout. You can choose to do one exercise for each muscle group or throw in some compound movements to shorten up your workout time and up the intensity.
- Work all parts of the body equally — Avoid over-targeting one specific area and neglecting others.
- Order your exercises to allow for alternating of opposing muscle groups — For example, move from upper body (shoulder press) to lower body (squat jumps) or pushing (push-ups) to pulling (deadlift). This way your muscles get a chance for acute recovery but your body is still dishing out the effort.
- Aim for 15 to 20 repetitions of each exercise — This should take you about 30 seconds, which is roughly how long you can push yourself hard without rest. Another option is to do as many reps as possible in a given time frame, like 30 to 60 seconds, cycling through one exercise after the other.
- Intensity matters — Circuit training in hopes of losing weight, means you’ve got to push yourself – going at half throttle is going to give you half the results, if you’re lucky. Minimal rest breaks will keep your body working hard and your metabolic furnace stoked.
- Begin with just one circuit — If you’re new to exercise or are just not in tip-top shape, circuit training is rough and can kick your butt in no time. As your fitness and strength improve, go ahead and add a second, third or, even fourth circuit to your workout.
Sample Body Weight Circuit
- 5 to 10-minute warm-up
- Burpees for 30 seconds
- Side plank with pulse 30 seconds each side
- Jumping lunges for 30 seconds
- Push-ups for 30 seconds
- Tuck jumps for 30 seconds
- Reverse snow angels for 30 seconds
- Mountain climbers for 30 seconds
- Side lunges alternating sides for 30 seconds
- Glute bridge with marching for 30 seconds
- Complete the circuit one to four times and end with a 5 to 10-minute cool-down, making sure to stretch those exhausted muscles.
Sample Kettlebell Circuit
- Begin with a 5 to 10-minute warm-up
- Kettlebell swing for one minute
- Halo for one minute, switch directions with each rep
- Kettlebell press for one minute, switch sides at 30 seconds
- Kettlebell deadlift for one minute
- Single arm overhead squat, 30 seconds each side
- Suitcase carry, 30 seconds each arm
- Complete the circuit one to four times and end with a 5 to 10-minute cool-down, making sure to stretch the major muscle groups and the little ones too.
Check out any Jillian Michael’s DVD and you’ll see exactly what circuit training is all about — and get your butt worked into shape!
Clothes and Proper Attire
The clothes you don for your circuit training workouts can vary just as much as the workouts themselves. If you’re crackin’ out a circuit on your living room floor, you can wear whatever you want (or whatever you don’t want). Obviously, you’re probably going to, at the very least, need a sports bra, but from there, get crazy. In a gym or any other public space, opt for workout clothes, cotton or technical fabric; it really doesn’t matter as long as you can move freely.
If your circuit is made up of high-impact cardio movements, you may want to protect your tootsies with cross-trainers. If you’re sticking strictly with the weights or bodyweight movements, I’d recommend going barefoot when at all possible. When shoeless is not an option, go for the minimalist look or shoes with non-compressible soles to keep your base as stable and mobile as possible.
Results and Success Stories
Success stories, especially before and afters, are always fun to look at, not to mention give you big time motivation. Turns out circuit training success stories are hard to find, but here are a few ladies who are kicking some serious ass and getting amazing results with their circuits. Continue reading to see their stories!