By Fabio Comana, M.A., M.S.
Resistance training offers many different benefits to the body than cardiovascular exercise. Most individuals look for the benefits of weight loss in addition to muscle gain as key goals in their exercise programs. Traditional resistance training programs do not burn many calories during the session as we spend a majority of the workout resting between sets. Cardiovascular exercise on the other hand does little to stimulate muscle growth. Hence, the question arises as to the training modality that can optimize gains in both areas and the answer lies with circuit training, a modified type of resistance training offering the key benefits from both areas.
What is circuit training?
Circuit training is a high volume (repetitions), low resistance (weight) workout with short rest intervals and is geared primarily at improving muscle tone and definition, while improving cardiovascular fitness. This workout involves exercising all major muscle groups (stations) in one continuous cycle, alternating between the different areas to allow for muscle recovery and to force your heart to work harder in pumping blood (and oxygen) to these constantly changing areas. Given the nature of your short rest periods, it is strongly recommended you use machines that do not require much time to select your weight (as opposed to free weights) and that the machines are in close proximity to each other.
General Circuit Layout
Objective: Muscular endurance, cardiovascular fitness, orientation to weight training
Duration (weeks): Varies, traditionally 1-12 weeks
Frequency (# times/week): 2-3 times/week
Intensity: 40-70% of your maximal effort
# Repetitions/exercise: Varies, anywhere from 10-25 reps, depending on time and intensity
Rest interval duration between stations: Typically, 15-30 seconds
# Muscles groups (stations) exercised/cycle: Anywhere from 6-15 stations
# Cycles/workout: Start with 1 cycle, progress to 2-3 depending on available time
Prior to designing your own program, complete a needs assessment and give thought to:
- Your objectives with resistance training (are circuits appropriate for you)
- Are you interested in all over body improvement or specific areas?
- How much time do you have per week to commit to resistance training (circuits are ideal for 2-3 times max, 30-40 minutes)
- Does your facility offer a compete selection of machines that are accessible? You may need to ask or walk around the facility to identify the necessary pieces.
15 reps at each station, 30-second rest intervals between each workstation. Begin with one cycle and progress to 2-3 cycles, as you desire.
Chest – Any machine
Leg Squat/Press – Any machine
Back – Any machine
Abdominals – Machine, mat or on a stability ball
Shoulders – Any machine
Leg Curls – Any machine
Triceps – Any machine or cable
Biceps – Any machine, cable or barbell
Calves – Any machine
Low Back – Low-back extension bench, mat or stability ball
Circuit Training Variations
Perhaps you may want to emphasize a specific body part while doing circuits. For example, if you would like to emphasize your shoulders, simply add in additional shoulder exercises at spaced intervals within the cycle (every 3-4 exercises).
Perhaps you may want to emphasize more cardio throughout the circuit. Either adopt shorter rest intervals or include some dynamic activity during the rest interval (e.g., jumping rope or bench stepping during the rest interval).
Circuits are a great way to experience total body training, burn calories and improve aerobic performance. Anyone can benefit from including circuits into their exercise regimen. With circuit training, you are simply limited by your own creativity and imagination. Now, armed with this information, get going with the program—circuit that is.