Whether you are trying to improve your overall fitness, have only a short amount of time to spend at the gym, or are training with a specific goal in mind, there are circuit training routines that can help you achieve your goals. The combination of cardio exercise mixed with strength training can help increase your level of fitness rapidly.
Circuit Training Explained
Circuit training can include both cardio and strength training. In this form of exercise, you perform an exercise and then move on to the next exercise, and so on. Ideally, the entire workout targets a wide range of muscles in the body. The time in between each exercise is taken as recovery - in some cases, this is a quick, 10-15 second recovery and in other cases (such as when lifting heavy), the recovery might be longer.
Alternating Work Emphasis
Circuit training should be a full-body workout and should be planned to where one body part can rest while the other works. For example, after doing squats, you might next move on to biceps curls, allowing your lower body to recover in preparation of the next lower body exercise of the circuit.
Training With Stations
Though circuit training doesn't have to include stations, many group fitness classes labeled as "Circuit Training" will involve moving from one station to another, doing an exercise at each. The set up varies, but many include groupings of stations, so there may be a group of core-focused stations, a group of lower body focused stations, and another that focuses on upper body - and all station groupings will include both cardio and strength exercises.
Circuit Training vs. Interval Training
Not all circuit training is interval training, but it can be - just as all interval training isn't circuit training, but it can be. It depends on how the workout is programmed.
Circuit Training Routines
Give some of these routines a try to mix up your workout and try circuit training for yourself. These routines will prove challenging for beginners, but can be modified by using light weights or not going as hard as you can. Warm up and cool down with each of these options to help you avoid injury.
Short Amount of Time
If you only have 25 minutes for exercise, try this routine at home or at the gym to get a fast, total body workout. Complete each exercise in order, spending 45 seconds on the exercise with 15 seconds of rest in between. When you have completed the circuit, rest for one or two minutes and then complete it again.
- Squat Jumps - Stand with your feet hip width apart, bend your knees into a squat position and push upward until your feet leave the floor. Land with your knees slightly bent and repeat.
- Push ups
- Jumping jacks
- Triceps dips
- Reverse crunches
- Superman - Lay face down on the floor with your arms out in front of you. Squeeze your back muscles, pulling your arms, shoulders, and legs off the floor while balancing on your chest and stomach.
Gym Machine and Mat Circuit
If you're looking for a resistance training workout that is quick to execute and can grow with you, give this one a try. Start the first week with the same amount of time as the previous circuit routine, and the following week, go up to 60 seconds per exercise. After a few weeks, increase again to 90 seconds at a time with the same amount of rest in between.
- Leg press
- Push ups
- Reverse crunch
- Weighted lunges
- Seated row
- Fast feet or treadmill sprint
- Biceps curls
- Jump rope
- Lat pull down
If you are focusing on building muscle and increasing strength, give this circuit training routine a try. Rest for 60 seconds between each set, using a moderate amount of weight, not the highest amount you can lift. Do this circuit twice a week for best results.
- Squats - 30 reps
- Bicep curls - 30 reps
- Leg curls - 30 reps
- Bench press - 30 reps
- Reverse crunch - 15 reps
- Dead lifts - 15 reps
Weight Loss Circuit
When combined with a caloric deficit, circuit training can help you lose weight. For maximum calorie burn, go heavy on the weighted exercises and go hard on the cardio moves. Each exercise should be 45 seconds followed by a 15 second rest. If you need more recovery time, take it. After your warm-up, go through this circuit four times. When cool-down is added, this should equal around 45-50 minutes. Do this circuit two or three times a week, but include recovery days (such as walks or swims) in between.
- Box (or low bench) jumps - If jumping is too hard on your joints, do step-ups instead.
- Triple threats - Do a dumbbell biceps curl, followed by a press, then a triceps extension.
- Weighted squat - Go slow and deep to build strength.
- Shadow boxing - Add light hand weights for more challenge.
- Weight calf raises - Or, if you have access to a standing or seated calf raise machine, you can use that instead.
- Push ups - Do these on knees or toes, but drop your chest to the ground each time.
- Alternating rear lunges - Add hand weights for more challenge.
- Plank hold - For more challenge, extend one leg directly behind you.
- High knees
- Weighted crunches or sit-ups
Full Body Circuit
Get your entire body moving with this circuit. Follow 60 seconds on/30 seconds off for this circuit, repeating it three times (or two if you're pressed for time). This challenging workout can be done 2-3 times a week as long as recovery days are in between.
- Farmer's carry with shoulder shrugs- Grasping the heaviest hand weights you can manage, keep your arms dropped at your sides and walk across the room. Each time you turn to go back, stop and shrug your shoulders four times.
- Push-ups with plank jacks - Do a push up and then hop your feet in and out once, followed by another push-up and hops and repeat.
- Sit-up with twist return - Do a sit up and as you decline back to starting position, twist your upper body twice (once each side). Resist the decline and make it slow.
- Standing side bend with overhead press - With a dumbbell in your hand, bend at the waist to the side holding the weight (as if you're "a little teapot"). When you return to upright, press the dumbbell overhead and then back to the original position. Repeat.
- Standing side bend with overhead press - Repeat the same exercise above on the other side.
- Triple squats - Squat center, followed by a quick lunge on the right, and then a quick lunge on the left. Repeat.
- Calf raises with biceps curls - While doing a calf raise, so a biceps curl with hand weights. This move takes balance.
Increasing the Routine
As you get stronger and your endurance grows, you can increase the amount of time spent at each exercise. Keep the rest periods the same and don't shorten them as you grow stronger. Your muscles will still need the time to recover between sets regardless of how strong they are getting. Perform each circuit two to three times a week for maximum results, or try fitting in a 25-minute circuit training workout the next time you only have a short amount of time to spend at the gym.