Fitness How To: Circuit training – for express fitness at home, at the gym or on travel

By Marina Aagaard, MFT

Circuit training is one of the most popular training methods; a series of exercises (almost) without rest-pauses, continuous activity as in a ‘circuit’.
The exercise series is repeated one or more times and the result is an intense workout, which strengthens, tones and burns fat.
However, there are more to circuit training, than meets the eye body.

Today my new American e-book ‘Circuit Training Programs and Posters’ was published and when searching the internet for some circuit information, I found that the Wikipedia page on ‘circuit training’ was a bit lacking. So here is some additional, interesting information on an old, but still trendy way of working out.

What is circuit training?
Circuit training is a series of exercises, at exercise stations, aimed at improving cardiovascular fitness, strength and strength-endurance. The exercise series is repeated one or more times.
The circuit stations is often set up in a circular or rectangular formation.

Circuit traing diagram Circuit training programs and posters Marina Aagaard

The present-day modern form of Circuit training was developed around 1953 by R.E. Morgan and G.T. Anderson, of University of Leeds, England. Their model is based on 9-12 exercise at moderate intensity, 40-60 % of 1RM, in a given timeframe. After eah exercise you procede to the next exercise, station, with no or minimal rest-pause.

This and other circuit training studies has documented the advantages: The main advantage is timeefficient training of muscle-endurance, strength and stamina as well as increased energy consumption; great for fatburning, weight loss and weight maintenance.

The information on the Wikipedia Circuit training page, however, that “Studies at Baylor University and The Cooper Institute show that circuit training is the most time efficient way to enhance cardiovascular fitness and muscle endurance” is imprecise.
There are more effective means of improving cardiovascular fitness. Because; circuit training is not the same as interval training, which focuses on a single capacity, often cardiom at high intensity followed by active rest-pauses.

Circuit training workouts can focus on 1) cardio, 2) strength or strength-endurance or 3) combined cardio and strength training.
The latter is most common option for fitness.

Circuit traing indoor Circuit training programs and posters Marina Aagaard

What equipment is needed?
Circuit training does not require any equipment and bodyweight circuit training yields sufficient strength gains. You can, however, to great advantage use different pieces of equipment, e.g. weights and suspension equipment.

Circuit training can also be performed in traditional fitness machines, even specialized circuit machines such as Pace, Technogym Easyline or Switching special machines.
E.g. the Loop fitness concept is based on circuit training.

Circuit traing Technogym Easyline Circuit training programs and posters Marina Aagaard

How do you train circuit training?
Circuit training is performed just as traditional strength and cardio training; you execute som specific exercise with proper – normal – technique.

The special characteristics of circuit training are:

1) training within a set time-frame, often but not always at high tempo, or:
2) training with a set number of repetitions
2) only 1 set of each exerciselse/station and then on to the next
3) no or short, < 10-15 sec., rest-pause between the exercises

There are numerous ways of designing circuit training programs for all-round fitness; your goal (and fitness status) determines exercise selection and sequence.

Circuit training is often classified as HIT, high-intensity training, and this is the case in e.g. CrossFit. However, just how intense the circuit is depends a lot on exercise selection, circuit format and your own exertion!

A typical program consists of 6-12 exercises with a balanced mix of upper and lower body exercise and cardio (full body) exercises.
Especially full body exercises with bodyweight or weights bring fast results.

Cardio exercises – full body or total body exercises (examples)

  • Jumping jacks
  • Scissor jumps, legs back/forth
  • Jogging, with high knees, or shuttle runs
  • Tuck jump, jump up, knees to chest
  • Burpees, jump down into a push-up and up Again

Strength exercises, lower body (examples)

  • Step-up (strength and cardio)
  • Squat (many variations, e.g. box squat)
  • Squat jump
  • Lunge / side lunge
  • Lunge jumps

Styrkeøvelser overkrop (eksempler)

  • Push-ups
  • Pull-ups / chin-ups
  • Throws, e.g. with medicine ball
  • Bench press / chest press
  • Lat pull / rowing

Strength, core (examples)

  • Back extension
  • Ab curl / sit-up, crunches
  • Hanging leg-raises
  • Planks, side planks (isometric exercies are not optimal)
  • Torso rotation, e.g. cables, wood chops etc.

Coordination and agility (eksempler)

  • Rope jumping (motor skill and cardio)
  • Hurdles and ladder runs and dot drills
  • Touch down (side chassé and floor touch)
  • Boxing drills (e.g. with partner/punching bag)
  • Reaction exercise, onto stomach, jump forward, onto, back, jump up

Note: Risk of injury is high with agility, take precautions.

Super simple circuit program (example)

6 exercises/stations of 20 sec. work (2 min.). No pause (just change).
3 rounds of 2 min.: Approx. 6 min. ex. warm-up and cool-down.

1. Squat jump
2. Push ups
3. Lunge jump
4. Back extension with back fly
5. Push-press; squat with shoulderpress with weights
6. Roll-down, ‘eccentric’ ab curl

How often and how long should you train circuit training?
Typical circuit training frequency is 2-3 times per week.
Total circuit duration is normally 15-30 minutes per workou ex. warm-up (group exercise circuit classes are normally longer, 55 min. total, and intensity may be lower).

Circuit training models (range) (examples):

4-20 stations, exercises, per round.
½-2 minutes per exercise (station), often 8-16 rep. with good technique.
No or short rest-pause < 10-15 seconds.
20-40 minutes total for the circuit rounds.
1-4 rounds depending on number of exercises and training intensity.

Where can you train circuit training?
Many fitness clubs offer group circuit training classes. Alternatively you can train on your own or with a partner in the gym.
You can also train at home, at the job, on a hotel – and train either indoors or outdoors.
As long as you have a little space, 2-3 sq.m., for exercising.

Circuit traing outdoor Circuit training programs and posters Marina Aagaard

Who can train circuit training?
Most exercisers could to advantage do some form of circuit training.
At high intensities, though, a healthy and fit physique and motivation is required.
You can do circuit træning as individual workouts or work in pairs or groups depending on the available equipment. Bodyweight? No, problem.

Special precautions should be taken by those, who are overweight, untrained, injured or ill, or elderly.
People with high blood pressure or any kind of cardiovascular disease should in general avoid isometric exercises such as planks a.o.

Circuit training advantages

+ Circuit training ensures variety in any training program
+ Circuit training is diverse and balanced and improves fitness and
+ Circuit training improves strength and cardiovascular fitness, 2-in-1-exercise
+ Circuit training is time efficient; can lead to increased compliance/adherence
+ Circuit training can increase fatburning compared to traditional fitness workouts

Circuit training disadvantages

÷ Circuit training is mostly for general fitness, not sports specific
÷ Circuit training is not for maximal strength og cardio fitness gains
÷ Circuit training gives no time for learning or perfecting technique
÷ Fast tempo during exercises or station changes may cause injuries

Training effect

♥ ♥  ♥ ♥     Cardiovascular; moderate effect; dep. on exercises + technique
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥     Coordination; limited effect; dep. on exercises (e.g. agility)
♥ ♥ ♥  ♥     Strength; moderate-large effect; demands specific exercises
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥     Flexibility; limited, dep. on exercises (normally not large ROM)

Read more (all about circuit training and 100 posters):

Circuit Training Programs and Posters (2014). Aagaard, Marina Aagaard.

Book Circuit training programs and posters Marina Aagaard

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