Pete McCall by Pete McCall

Lack of time and not knowing what type of exercise they should be doing are two of the most frequently cited reasons for why many people don’t exercise. As health and fitness professionals, it’s our job to help our clients overcome these roadblocks to exercising consistently. Circuit training with selectorized resistance-training machines, which is incredibly time-efficient and can be easy to follow, can be a great solution to both of these common concerns.

In this era of demanding, high-intensity group fitness classes and technically complex free-weight training programs, the idea of returning to machine-based circuit training, which was popular in the early ‘80s, may seem like a return to the dark ages. This thinking, however, is short-sighted and overlooks some of the non-exercise benefits that machines provide, particularly for exercise newcomers. Imagine being a newbie and walking into a fitness facility and watching a group of really fit people perform really hard exercises—would you feel welcome or believe that this was a place where you belonged? Be honest. For those of us making a living in fitness, we have to remember that not everyone is as comfortable in a fitness facility as we are, and not everyone will want to participate in a class that is physically demanding. Machine-based circuit training can be an important resource for a facility, while also helping new members develop the base level of strength necessary to participate in other club programs. If you’re still unconvinced, here are a few more benefits of machine-based circuit training:

1. Weight loss, improved muscle definition and appearance are all potential benefits of circuit training.

So is enhanced cardiorespiratory efficiency, better health, reduced stress and improved glucose metabolism. Machine-based circuit training is a time-efficient way to help individuals receive these and other important benefits. Current industry recommendations suggest that, for best results, healthy adults should participate in resistance training at least two (non-consecutive) days per week. These workouts should include at least eight to 12 reps of eight to 10 exercises targeting the large muscle groups in the body. A health club that has its machines organized in a circuit that alternates between upper- and lower-body muscles or pushing and pulling movements makes it possible for club members to learn how to set up the machines for their needs and then come in for a full-body, resistance-training workout in a relatively short period of time.

2. Adding an instructor-led machine circuit in your club is a great way to provide customer service, while also creating training opportunities for the staff.

Scheduling a trainer to assist members during busy times can provide a higher level of service to members who are attempting to use the circuit. A trainer can push members to work a little harder on the circuit, which can be an important component for achieving results. In addition, coaching club members through an established machine circuit provides a way for trainers to meet a number of members during each shift. As the trainers help the members, they can learn names and establish rapport, both of which are essential for long-term success.

3. Following a machine-based exercise circuit may be an excellent way to help new club members learn how to make exercise a regular habit by using a mode that is challenging (and thus effective), but not too difficult for someone who is new to exercise.

Weight rooms can be intimidating, which can keep members from doing strength training. A machine-based circuit that is set up away from the free-weight area can provide a non-intimidating environment for club members to obtain the many benefits of strength training, while also establishing the base level of strength required to progress to more challenging forms of resistance training.

4. Strength-training circuits, which alternate between muscle groups or movement patterns and challenge one set of muscles to work while others rest, is a great way to combine cardio with strength training.

For people who are interested in losing weight, adding a few extra reps to each exercise, reducing the rest time between exercises or increasing the number of times through the complete circuit are all effective ways to increase the cardiorespiratory work-load of circuit training.

5. Machine-based circuits are ideal for clients who want to exercise on their own, but aren’t sure what to do.

If you are a good trainer or instructor, you know how to effectively coach people to successfully perform a number of complicated exercises. But what happens when you aren’t there? Are you clients able to work out on their own? One benefit of machine circuit training is that an instructor or trainer does not need to be hovering over the individual to ensure that he or she is having a successful workout. For trainers, it can be liberating to know that your client is doing a machine-based workout. After all, clients who perform a machine-based circuit on their own are going to get better results than the clients who are NOT performing that killer kettlebell workout you designed because they are scared of using the kettlebells on their own without a trainer there to make sure they’re doing it correctly.

6. There are different ways to coach an individual through a circuit; for example, you can assign a specific number of repetitions for each exercise or have them perform the exercises for a set amount of time.

For best results, each set should be performed to a point of mild fatigue, which means they aren’t able to perform another repetition. If all the exercises hit this point of intensity, participants will undoubtedly experience the results they are looking to achieve.

When I was a full-time personal trainer, the health club company I worked for had an eight-machine circuit that was staffed by a trainer during peak times. I loved this because at the very least I knew I had a way to assign my clients homework, which, for most people, was five to 10 minutes on a cardio machine at an easy-to-moderate intensity (4-6/10) and two to three times through the circuit (performing drop-sets to fatigue in the last round). If time allowed, I encouraged my clients to do another five to 10 minutes of cardio at a harder pace. While this wasn’t the equivalent of doing a full-body free-weight workout, it was better than doing nothing. And for many clients, I knew it was something they would feel comfortable doing on their own.

Here’s what you need to remember: When you design workouts, it’s for the needs of your clients, not yourself. You may be strong and love working out with all kinds of cool strength training equipment, but being successful as a health and fitness professional is about helping your clients feel successful. Relying on the tried-and-true benefits of machine training can help you stand out from other trainers because you know how to put your clients needs first and are helping them learn how to master an exercise format that is both comfortable and relevant to their specific needs.

Deliver the individualized programs people need to adopt long-term, healthy behaviors with ACE’s Personal Trainer Certification.