Circuit training has gone in and out of fashion a number of times over the years. Sometimes it is seen as the greatest exercise technique ever, while other times it is seen as old fashioned and ineffective. The truth is that like any fitness technique it can be very effective when used correctly, but it should not be overused.
Circuit training is a combination of between different exercises that are performed one after the other. This is a pretty broad definition, and if you think about it, this describes any exercise session. Where circuit training stands out is that the exercises tend to flow into each other, and there is often little or no rest in between them.
For example, you could have a circuit that went like this: 10 push-ups, into 10 squats, into 10 lunges, into 10 crunches. All without any rest. Sometimes there will be a rest period placed between exercises, but it will be deliberately short. Circuit training can change to suit different goals, if you are looking to build muscle, your circuit could involve resistance exercises, and concentrate on form and tempo rather than on speed.
On the other hand, you might be looking to burn maximal calories, in which case you would be concentrating on keeping the intensity high, and use more cardio based exercises. For example Burpees, mountain climbers, running on the spot, or step ups.
Sometimes a circuit will be aimed entirely at working for just one muscle group, you could do an arm circuit that targets just the biceps and triceps, or you could have an abs circuit that just works the abdominal muscles.
The physical benefits are dependent on the type of circuit you are performing.
If you are performing a hypertrophy-based circuit (aiming for bigger muscles), then you can expect gains in size and strength. An AB circuit would help strengthen your abdominal muscles, and again increase muscular endurance.
Circuit training is incredibly versatile, and this is why it is so popular in exercise classes. A good instructor should help structure it so that every member of the class can receive an excellent session that suits their ability. They are great for building camaraderie amongst members, and participants will usually find that they work harder when part of a team. Others will find that circuit training can bring out their competitive side.
The first thing that you need to do is decide what it is you want the circuit to achieve. Is it going to be the entirety of your workout? Or will it be the last minute finisher to help you burn those last few calories? Are you looking to build muscle, burn fat, or create a circuit that will help improve your performance in a specific sport? What equipment do you have available, and how much space?
To finish off this article we are going to look at two different circuits, one is aimed at building muscle, while the other is aimed at burning fat. These are just two examples of thousands of different circuits, but hopefully, they will demonstrate how to design a circuit that is specific to your needs.
Participants: 10 untrained males looking to lose weight. Very little experience in a gym.
Equipment: 2 x 5kg Dumbbells, 1 x Exercise Bench
Time Available: 25 minutes
*Use Exercise Bench
REST = 30 seconds
Repeat this circuit for a total of 2 rounds. Have a 5-minute rest between rounds.
Participants: 1 highly trained male looking to build arm muscles. Very experienced and using a personal gym.
Equipment: Barbells, Plates and Dumbbells
Time Available: 10 minutes at the end of a 60-minute session
REST = 45-60 seconds between sets
Repeat this circuit 3 times, or as often as you can manage within the 10-minute time limit.
As you can see those two circuits are completely different from each other, with one being best suited to an exercise class or sports field, while the other is highly specific to an individual. Learning how to teach different circuits can be an incredible benefit for exercise class instructors, personal trainers, sports coaches, and even people who just want to train themselves. Check out our to find out more.