How to Use Circuit Training to Sculpt an Amazing Body
Written by Tony Schober, CPT
Short on time? Want to knock out strength training and cardio at the same time? Does building muscle while losing fat sound good to you? Then circuit training is your answer.
What is Circuit Training?
It’s a training protocol where you take 3 or more exercises and place them into a “circuit”. Each circuit is then repeated multiple times until the completion of your workout. Your workout is considered complete once you reach a predetermined workout time or after you’ve completed a certain number of circuit sets.
The exercises you use for a circuit can be done weighted with a barbell/dumbbell at home or in a gym, or with your own body weight. Circuit training is best suited for full-body training. That means you’ll want to pick a variety of exercises for each circuit so that each body part is getting worked.
Benefits of Circuit Training
- Builds muscle – as with any strength training protocol, circuit training builds muscle. By providing a muscular stimulus beyond the norm, your muscles adapt by growing and getting stronger.
- Burns fat – while any kind of physical activity will burn calories, circuit training has the added benefit of the afterburn effect. The afterburn effect, also known as EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), is the additional calories your body uses to return itself to homeostasis. This period of elevated calorie burn can last 24-48 hours.
- Cuts down workout time – time and time again I see people doing their 1 hour weight training session and then following that up with another 30-60 minutes of cardio. That’s completely unnecessary. Do your circuit training right, and your heart rate can be elevated to the same degree (or more) than any steady-state cardio session. It’s strength and cardiovascular training in one.
- Improves short-term recovery between sets – because of the short rest intervals between exercises, your body adapts over time by reducing its recovery time. It learns to remove lactic acid quicker so that your muscles can maintain a contraction and improve their endurance.
- Keeps you focused – for the people that can’t stand running on a hamster wheel (treadmill) for an hour at a time, or for people that get bored really fast with exercise, circuit training adds variety and keeps the exercise pace up so that you stay focused on your workout.
Building Your Own Custom Circuit Training Workout
In reality, the potential exercise combinations for each circuit are endless. What I’m going to do is break down the structure of a circuit so that you’re able to assemble your own custom routine. It’s not as difficult as it sounds, and if you need help with exercise instruction for any of the listed exercises, I’d recommend you go toYouTube.com and search for the exercise. The info there is free and valuable.
Keep in mind that the exercises in each group are not all-inclusive, meaning there are plenty more exercises you could pick that aren’t listed. If you understand the muscles that are being worked with each group, there are literally dozens of different exercises you can use.
Group 1 (upper body push)
Many of these exercises can be performed with both barbells and dumbbells, and also with varying grips (regular, wide, and narrow).
- Bench Press
- Incline Press
- Overhead Press
- Machine Press (hammer or cable-weighted)
Group 2 (upper body pull)
Most of these exercise can also be performed with slight variations. For example, you can use overhand and underhand grips, narrow and wide grips, and different bar attachments for the cables.
- Bent-Over Rows
- Chest-Supported and T-bar Rows
- Dumbbell Rows
- Cable Rows
- Cable Pulldowns
Group 3 (lower body)
Lower body exercises can be performed with free weights and on machines. Some can also be done with your own body weight.
- Squats (front, back, and bodyweight)
- Good Mornings
- Stiff-Legged Deadlifts
- Leg Press
Group 4 (full body)
Most of the exercises in this group are full body in nature. They usually combine 2 or more exercises into a single movement. These are very taxing on the cardiovascular system.
- Clean and Jerk
- Get Ups
- Tire Flips
- Bear Crawls
Example Circuit Training Routines
Now it’s time to put it all together and build a circuit. Each circuit will consist of 3 or more exercises. You will pick only one exercise from each group. Then, you will decide if you want to do each exercise based on reps or time. Let’s look at a couple of examples so you can fully understand.
This is a free-weight circuit that uses some core compound movements. Move from exercise to exercise without resting.
- Bench Press – 10 reps
- Bent-Over Rows – 10 reps
- Squats – 10 reps
- Rest for 1 minute
That is considered one circuit. Notice how I picked an exercise from each group. All 3 exercises together combine to hit every major muscle group. Next, after resting for that 1 minute, you’ll start the circuit over and repeat. You’ll repeat the circuit as many times as you like. For a circuit like this, I’d likely do 5 total sets (each circuit is a set). The workout would last between 15-20 minutes.
This circuit can be done without going to gym. The only thing you need is your body and a little space.
- Pushups – 1 minute
- Pullups – 1 minute
- Bodyweight Squats – 1 minute
- Rest for 1 minute
This circuit is based on time instead of reps. You complete each exercise for a predetermined amount of time, doing as many reps as possible in that time period. If you can’t do a pushup or pullup, there are variations of each for any strength level (pushups from knees, reverse bench, etc).
- Burpees – 1 minute
- Bear Crawls – 50 yards
- Sprints – 100 yards
- Rest for 1 minute
This circuit is more cardiovascular in nature, and will improve both strength and speed. It uses time and distance to determine when to end an exercise and start the next one.
Hopefully I’ve made a believer out of you that circuit training is a highly effective training protocol. Not only that, but you’ve been provided the information necessary so that you can design your own workouts for many years to come.
You might be a little intimidated at first with all the new information, but once you get the hang of it and start looking at exercise instruction videos, everything will start to make perfect sense. It’s a very rewarding experience to create a workout from scratch and watch your body change before your very eyes.