Circuit training is a type of workout in which you perform several exercises as part of a round, then complete several rounds of those exercises. It’s closely related to HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts if you use exercises with a focus on cardio. Circuit workouts are endlessly customizable and can be used as part of a strength-building exercise plan, a full-body plan, a cardio-intense plan, or any combination of the three. Here, David Reagan, Atlanta-based personal trainer, shares his tips on how to put together a killer circuit workout that will blast your body and help you get the results you’re after.
1. Pick your focus.
A circuit workout where you just pick some random exercises and do ten reps of each for four rounds will probably not be challenging enough to get results. Before you start your workout, take a few minutes to figure out what you’re trying to focus on for that day. Are you trying to build upper body muscle? You could choose anaerobic exercises like push-ups, planks, or upper-body weightlifting exercises (if you have access to weights or resistance bands). A good technique is to add in core exercises between your upper-body resistance exercises to allow your muscles time to recover. Are you trying to burn fat? You should lean towards a HIIT-type workout that emphasizes aerobic exercises that get you moving and get your heart rate up. At any rate, your circuit exercises should fit into your overall fitness goals.
2. Time or rep-based.
The next thing you should think about is whether you’ll be working out for time or reps. Either one works, but you want to make sure you’ve thought about it before you get started. If it’s rep-based, you’ll do a certain number of reps of each exercise for a specific number of rounds. For instance, if you’re focusing on the upper-body, you could do 15 push-ups, 25 crunches, 15 bicep curls, ten leg raises, and then five pull-ups for five rounds. A time-based workout will look a little different; you will put together a circuit of exercises and do a certain number of rounds. You may choose to do each exercise for 30 seconds and complete five rounds. Another option is to combine rep-based and time-based by counting reps on the individual exercises and then doing as many rounds as you can in a specific amount of time. This is similar to some workouts-of-the-day (WODs) that Crossfitters use, and it allows you to track your improvement over time by counting how many rounds you can complete.
3. Build in some cardio.
Even if you’re focusing on strength-training, short bouts of high-intensity cardio have been shown to increase fat loss when combined with a good diet. Sprinting is an effective way to incorporate a simple cardio station into your circuit workout to get your heart rate up and improve fat loss. If you’re working out in a gym, you can simply add a minute of treadmill sprinting to your workout plan to accomplish this. As opposed to longer-form cardio, sprinting has also been shown to have less muscle-loss. You can still get your cardio without losing your gains.
Sample Circuit Workout
Feel free to use the sample workout below, or modify it to fit your needs. This is a total-body burner using only bodyweight exercises that will challenge you as well as get your heart rate up with the cardio portions. Take a one-minute break between each round to catch your breath and enable you to work hard on the next round.
Complete as many rounds as possible in 40 minutes:
- 45-second plank
- 15 normal-grip push-ups
- 20 crunches
- 20 bodyweight squats
- 10 leg raises
- 15 wide-grip push-ups
- Quarter-mile sprint
If you want to incorporate some circuit training into your workout plan, try to add it two or three days a week if you work out five or more days. You can certainly combine it on the same day as another workout, like your normal strength-based workout, if you’re just looking for a little added intensity. At the very least, circuit training can allow you to get some variation in your workout and keep yourself from getting bored at the gym. Try it today!
About David Reagan
David Reagan is an Atlanta-based NASM Certified personal trainer specializing in weight loss, personalized workout plans, bodybuilding, and nutrition. He caters to high-end clients and executives, helping them achieve their fitness goals by accommodating their busy schedules. The client’s needs come first, and David’s fitness plan will set you up on the path to success.