What is circuit training?
With its origin tracing back to 1950’s, circuit training programs have come a long way and are now considered an effective way for athletes and fitness enthusiasts to enhance their strength, stamina and mobility. Circuit training simply refers to a section of the workout plan that incorporates strength training, endurance exercises, cardiovascular training and weight training exercises in succession without rest. In other words, it is a high intensity work-out program that could involve the use of both aerobic and anaerobic exercises. The main idea behind circuit training is to make sure that your heart rate is staying elevated.
Resting between circuits
A circuit typically represents a completion of all prearranged exercises in the program, and upon its completion, an athlete repeats the same exercises to finish another circuit. Usually there will be a short resting period to divide exercises within each circuit.
An example of a rest time is usually around 1-2 minutes. This time can vary depending on your goals (see chart A below). A heart rate monitor is ideal for monitoring circuits.
Heart rate monitors
Monitoring your heart rate is essential towards attaining your cardiovascular goals during a circuit. Strong hearts recover quickly and when you are out of shape your heart will take longer to return to a normal heart beat.
If you are just starting out with circuit training you can make sure that you are not over training (depending on your goal). You can monitor this with any available strap-on type heart rates monitors. There are many brands to choose from and they are very reliable and useful.
Measuring your pulse without a monitor and determining the percentage of your maximum heart rate
With two fingers (index and middle) place the pads of your fingers with light pressure on the opposing supine (palm up) facing wrist just below the base of your thumb. You should feel a pulse. You may need to feel around a bit until you find it.
- Count the number of beats in a 15 second time period. Multiply this by 4. This will give you your current heart rate.
- Subtract your age from 220. This is your maximum theoretical heart rate (MHR).
- Divide your heart rate by your MHR and multiply by 100% to get your percentage
During circuit training your heart rate should measure this percentage of your maximum heart rate.
Maximum Heart Rate Goal During Circuit Training Goals (Chart A)
|Goal Type||Percent of MHR|
Different types of circuit training programs are:
Including only weight training exercises is an example of a strength circuit. The circuit above only consists of two exercises and jumps back and forth between them without rest. These circuits focus on doing weight training exercises only.
Cardio circuits are great for athletes looking to improve their V02 Max and increase sport performance. These circuits will include only cardio exercises.
These circuits are ideal for weight loss programs are they are a combination and are ideal for weight loss. This is the most common type of circuit.
Examples of cardio exercises to perform during this type of circuit include: mountain climbers, step-ups and burpees.
Circuit Training Design
A circuit program can also be designed based on the muscle group you are targeting. Here are some examples of circuits that target a specific area:
1. Upper body
This is an example of a beginner upper body circuit:
- Dumbell Press
- Pull ups
- Arnold press
You could also include ball crunches for improving core muscles for a complete attack of the major muscle groups of your upper body. The more advanced the circuit workout is the high the number of circuits in it.
You could also do an at home circuit by changing the dumbbell press to push-ups which would look like this:
2. Lower Body Circuit
This is an example of a lower body circuit
- Jump Squats
- Side Lunges
- Calf Raises
Great on the spot exercises to add
Good circuit design ensures the user’s heart rate remains elevated during the entire circuit. You may wish to add these exercises which challenge your anaerobic endurance as well as your aerobic endurance. These exercises are:
- Jump Squats
- Jump Lunges (more advanced exercises)
Benefits of Circuit Training
- A great way to boost cardiovascular endurance and fitness level.
- Cuts down on workout time (most 30 minutes women’s fitness centres use this type of principle to lose weight).
- No equipment necessary.
- Easy to adapt to your goals and fitness level.
Research Studies and Circuit Training
A number of studies have been conducted on circuit training and a majority of them conclude that circuit training is an effective way to improve muscle stamina and cardiovascular fitness and increase lean body mass. Studies carried out at Baylor University and The Cooper Institute demonstrate that circuit training is an extremely beneficial way for women to achieve their fitness goals as well as maintain them for extended period. It also been found that a properly structured diet the addition of a circuit training program are helpful to elevate cardio-respiratory health.
Sample Circuit Training with a 6 Week Workout Log
Here is a sample five-day circuit training workout plan, which can be customized to suit your unique fitness goal. You can also create your own workout circuit using an iPhone by going here and downloading our app.