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

Your exercise and health: MED – exactly what it takes!

By Marina Aagaard, MFE

Long ago one of my mentors, Yvonne Lin, World Champion of Wushu karate and a tai chi and sports aerobic expert, opened my semi-shot fitness eyes; in dedicated sports training it is all about getting optimal results with minimal time investment in order to have more time for fun; more sports, more party, more travelling …

Since then I have worked to promote time-efficient workouts. And recently I read a text with a thought, which PR-wise nails it … anyway in my head, which is produced by to pharmacists:

Program and train according to the MED principle.

“MED of exercise is the crucial skill set that you need to develop (…)”.
Dr. Phil Cobb, in ‘7 Costly mistakes trainers make and how to avoid them’).

Marina dips oppe USMED, Minimal Effective Dose, is an expression from pharmacology and it is used by doctors and pharmacists about the amount necessary for the medicine to work:

Too little: Does not work.

Right: Works well and you will get better.

Too much: Harmful; you may get ill (injured), sick or die.

Think about exercise as medicine, a medication. Your exercise should – like medicine – be administered in the right dosage, otherwise you will not receive all the expected benefits. On the contrary …

Think about establishing MED, the minimal dose, needed for your workout to be exactly right and work in the intended way.

At present most exercisers are ‘over-medicated’ and work out too much and too hard with too little to show for it. There is room for improvement: Train smarter, not harder …
(harder here meaning the wrong, long, enduring, grinding way).

Fitness training is of course so wonderful, that many of us want to train a lot! However, you could say, that if you train faster (for a shorter time period) and more efficiently, you will have time for extra and maybe more exciting, diverse exercise.

Happy workout!

Read more:

Phil Cobb: 7 Costly Mistakes Trainers Make and How to Avoid Them.

Express Fitness # 3: Superset Training for Travel or Home

By Marina Aagaard, MFE

Keeping fit at home or when travelling may be easier than you think. You can maximize your workout results, including weight loss, while minimizing workout time.

For variation and speedy workouts one of the methods I use, is the body building method super set, which can be employed by exercisers of all levels. Two variations:
You can do compound super sets, which includes two exercises for one muscle group, but if you want to increase strength and burn fat, while keeping the workout short, the agonist-antagonist super set method is the better option.

Strength training on your travel Riga Gym lat pulldown super set photo Henrik ElstrupSuper set training (lat pull down, then shoulder press) at Elefant hotel, Riga, Latvia.

Agonist-antagonist superset
You work opposite muscle groups back to back without pausing, e.g. 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions: First one set for the chest, then one for the upper back, with no rest-pause between the sets, and then the next set for the chest, the next set for the upper back, without a rest-pause. Then the third set for the chest and so on.

After one muscle pair (opposite muscles; agonist and antagonist) you proceed without a rest-pause to the next muscle pair and so forth.
Because you eliminate all rest-pauses – the muscle have a small rest period, when you work the opposite muscle – you turn up the intensity and save time. Excellent.

An example of a basic resistance training program according to the super set principle: After a warm-up work opposite muscle groups alternatingly, 3 x 8-12 of each, e.g.:

  • Leg press (squat) and leg curl
  • Horisontal rowing (wide grip) and chest press
  • Lat pulldown and shoulder press
  • Back extension and abdominal curl

Try this for intensity, fat burning and fast fitness.

Express Fitness # 2: Circuit Training For Travel or Home

Marina Aagaard, MFE

Get fit and healthy in no time; work out smarter, not harder. Whether you are staying at home or travelling, you can get a super workout with bodyweight, beams, bars or furniture or fitness equipment. The most timeefficient way of getting an all-round resistance and cardio workout is:

  • Circuit training (complex or simple, but always fast and fun).

IMG_5656Circuit training (back exercise) at Elefant hotel, Riga, Latvia.

Circuit training can be either 1) pure cardio, 2) pure resistance or 3) a mix. The latter is the preferred method in fitness; after each cardio exercise, there is a resistance exercise.

Station/exercise time: Norm: 30 seconds or 1 minute (or 10-16 repetitions).
Total number of exercises: Typically 8-12 (range e.g. 4-20).
Total number of rounds: 1-5. After one round; repeat circuit 1-4 times. 

In circuit training, as opposed to interval training, you do not pause: Keep moving; this provides additional cardiovascular work. When you finish one exercise, you hurry to the next station/exercise. Perform 1-4 rounds. Do not plan to have 10-15 seconds for changing stations, change as fast as possible.

7 minute HICT bodyweight circuit 

Perform each exercise for 30 seconds and high intensity with good form (HICT article with exercise photos):

1. Jumping Jack
2. Wall sit (wall squat)
3. Push-up
4. Abdominal crunch
5. Step-up, e.g. onto chair
6. Squat
7. Triceps dips on chair
8. Plank
9. High kneelifts,
10. Lunge
11. Push-up with torso rotation
12. Side plank

5 minute basic strength machine circuit (ex warm-up)

Perform 10-12 repetitions of each exercise and immediately proceed to the next station/exercise. Perform 1-3 rounds. (fitness circuit clip)

  • Leg press or squat
  • Chest press or bench press
  • Rowing, horizontal
  • Shoulder press
  • Lat pulldown, vertical
  • Back extension
  • Ab curl

Have a go. It is nice for variation and intensity, isn’t it?

Are You Getting Enough from Your Workout? 3 Tips to Make You a High(er) Responder.

By Marina Aagaard, MFE

Unfair?! Some exercisers are exercising very little and are still getting fantastic results, while others are working out hard and often with almost no results …
During a talk I gave the other weekend, I was asked: In a tv program the other day, I saw, that some people are non-responders; does it pay to exercise then?
The answer is: Yes – always!

Træningsrespons træningseffekt og responder type

Within medicine a nonresponder is:
A person or cell, which does not respond to a treatment or substance.

Within exercise these terms are used (there are no exact definitions):
(High) responders and non responders (or low responders); persons, who respond either well or poorly to (cardiovascular) exercise.

In a group of people following the same exercise protocol, there will be both responders, those who get excellent results and non-responders, those who get very limited or insignificant improvements.

Personally I think the expression ‘non responder’ is misleading: low or slow responder is more precise, because as soon as you start to exercise – from day one – you will get an effect, minor or major, in more areas, e.g. motor skill, muscular and metabolic improvements.
So yes, it is always of benefit to start exercising.

Note, that the term non-responder has been used in connection with cardiovascular exercise studies, in which maximal oxygen consumption was not improved significantly, while other health-related areas improved significantly …

Research has found, that the genes do determine how a person responds to exercise; e.g. the Heritage Family Study shows that both maximal and submaximal cardiovascular fitness are related to the genetic makeup.

However, before you blame your genes for less than optimal exercise results and call yourself a ‘non-responder’, the message from some of the leading sports coaches in the world is, that your training effort can lead to incredible results.

My own observations are, that many exercisers ‘undertrain’; train too little, exercise with too little weight or too low resistance, use too small movements, use inefficient exercise techniques and exercise with no or little focus.

Most exercisers – beginners and advanced – could get much more out of their genetic potential with a just a few improvements.

3 Tips to Make You a ‘Higher’ Responder:

  • More goal-oriented with a specific program with more effective exercises
  • More focus; 100 % concentration during exercising and short (timed) breaks
  • More intensity, higher load – with good exercise technique

Enjoy your new improved workout!


Bouchard C, Shephard RJ, Stephens T, Sutton JR and McPherson BD (Eds.), Exercise Fitness and Health (pp. 147-153). 1990. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

Couzens, A. What Type of Athlte Are You? 17.3.2013.

Feitosa, MF et al. Major gene effects on exercise ventilatory threshold: the HERITAGE Family Study. J Appl Physiol. 2002. vol 93 no 3 1000-1006.

Green HJ, Jones S, Ball-Burnett M, Farrance B, Ranney D. Adaptations in muscle metabolism to prolonged voluntary exercise and training. J Appl Physiol. 1995 Jan;78(1):138-45

Saltin B, Nazar K, Costill DL, Stein E, Jansson E, Essen B, Gollnick D. The nature of the training response; peripheral and central adaptations of one-legged exercise. Acta Physiol Scand. 1976 Mar; 96(3):289-305

Fit for Ski or Just Fit? Slide and Glide, It’s a Hit!

By Marina Aagaard, MFE

Skiing and skiing holidays – as well as every day and leisure time activities –
are much more fun, when you have strength and stamina and don’t get tired or sore.
 Get fit by doing basic training for skiing, ski fitness.

Traditional basic training and fitness, e.g. running, cycling and leg press, primarily involves backward-forward movement in the sagittal plane, while many sports movements including skiing involves lateral, frontal plane movement.

Include lateral movement training, frontal plane training, a.o. slide training and gliding, in your fitness program, then you will have a more all-round training and be better prepared for e.g. skiing.
At the same time you work your core muscles and become more stable, so you reduce the risk of back ache and knee injury.

Here is a video, 1:01 minute, with examples of lateral movement training with three different pieces of equipment: Fitter, slideboard and Flowin. It looks easy, but you work against resistance, so it is a great workout for your muscles and cardiovascular system.
You will work up a sweat! Try one or more of these pieces of fitness equipment in your (ski) training program.

Contract your muscles well to control the movement: Feet and knees must be aligned to avoid inappropriate stress to the knees.
Start with only 5-10 minutes and progress gradually, so you build strength-endurance and improve the technique without hurting the knees during the lateral movements.
Progress to 20-30 minutes over time (weeks/month depending on form and fitness level).


Lost Your Fitness Motivation? It Is Right Here!

Fitness workout motivation

By Marina Aagaard, MFE

Today I was reminded by a new blog friend, that some (many?) think of the fitness center as ‘a modern centre for physical torture’!

It is true, that occasionally (for some most of the time) it can be hard to find fitness motivation, when you would rather do something/anything else.

Then it is time to remind yourself, that you do fitness, because
1) your body loves to move in all sorts of ways, 2) it is an easy uncomplicated method of getting into shape, 3) your mind, body and spirit benefit from it, 4) you are together with other exercisers and meet new people/friends/boy- or girlfriends and 5) when fitness becomes a habit and you know the ropes, fitness center workouts are exciting and diverse; the fitness centre becomes a motivating ‘playground for adults’.

Here is a list of some of the advantages for days, when you consider ‘should-I-workout-or-not-at-the-fitness-center-today-as-really-I-feel-I-am-too-busy (reads: not all that motivated)’:

F a n t a s t i c   F e e l – g o o d   F i t n e s s   

Fitter and Firmer

  • You tone your muscles.
  • You strengthen your muscles and improve your posture.
  • You improve your metabolism; it is easier to maintain your weight.
  • You reduce your fat mass and your waistline.
  • You increase energy consumption during and after workouts.
  • You improve mobility.
  • You improve agility and function for the everyday and sports.
  • You become and look more energetic.

Healthier and happier

  • You improve general fitness and wellness.
  • You slow down age-related muscle fiber loss and maintain strength.
  • You prevent or reduce neck- and backproblems.
  • You prevent or reduce osteoarthritis and other joint problems.
  • You strengthen your bones and prevent osteoporosis.
  • You slow down aging of the brain and prevent dementia.
  • You may lower your blood pressure.
  • You reduce the risk of diabetes.

Inspiration for your fitness training workouts:
10 Super Tips: Get Much More Out Of Your Fitness Training