Around here, I throw the term “circuit training” around a lot. You’ll find it on most pages of my website and I’ve got a crew of strong women in classes devoted to it. I even post circuit training videos on Instagram. The vast majority of my personal training clients do this style of workout, too.
So what exactly is circuit training, and why should you be doing it?
Circuit training is a workout style where you use different muscle groups in succession with little rest between exercises. If you’ve ever done High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), it’s most similar to that.
Here’s how it goes:
You start out with an exercise that works your arms, then do one that works your legs, then do one that’s focused on your back or abs, continuing in this rhythm for 6-9 exercises. During each exercise, your goal is to do as many repetitions as you can in a given time (less than a minute), then switch to another exercise. Some of the exercises are more strength based, like squats, but since you’re doing them fast, you get both the strength and cardio benefits, all rolled into one.
The rest periods are short, but since you’re not working the same muscle group back-to-back, your body is able to handle the workload in a way it wouldn’t otherwise be able to.
So what would a simple circuit training workout like?
Alternate 45 seconds on (doing the exercise) / 15 seconds off (to switch to the next exercise). Do 3 rounds of this with two minutes rest between rounds.
- Arms: Tricep dips
- Legs: Squats
- Back: Supermans
- Arms: Dumbbell jumping jacks
- Legs: Lunges
- Core: Plank
You (or your trainer) can get infinitely creative with this style of workout by switching up the exercises, changing the on/off time, creating teams that work together, using a deck of cards, adding cardio challenges, and so, so much more.
I specialize in helping women lose weight and get stronger and circuit training is ideal for achieving both of those. The workouts are efficient, work your whole body, and burn more calories than cardio or lifting.
I know you work out to see results, so let’s get into all the ways this benefits you. Here we go!
1. It’s a Full Body Workout
If designed correctly, circuit training works all areas of your body. Unlike the same old cardio routine, circuit training hits your core, legs, back, shoulders, and arms every single time. Since there are endless ways to mix up a circuit, it curbs the boredom factor as well.
2. Weight Loss
During circuits, your body is working at a much higher intensity than everyday life. When you get your heart rate high, you push your body out of homeostasis and burn way more calories than a cardio session. You also increase your metabolism. Once you go home, your body keeps burning calories for 3-5 hours as it comes back to homeostasis. Your weight loss just got a supercharge.
3. Faster Results
Our bodies improve by being challenged in different ways. If you keep doing the same thing all the time, you’ll stop seeing progress - and sometimes even see regression. Circuit training challenges your body in multiple planes of motion (side to side, front to back, up and down, rotations) with multiple different exercise equipment (TRX, stability balls, medicine balls, free weights, ViPR, etc) so it’s constantly challenged in new ways.
4. It Lowers your Risk for Diabetes and Heart Disease
According to studies done on heart health and diabetes (this one, too), circuit training helps your body respond better to insulin, improves the way it uses blood sugar, and lowers your risk for both diseases.
5. You’ll Build Stronger Bones
Did you know that you lose 1% of your bone density per year every year after age 35? In order to keep bones strong, you need to put your muscles and bones under more strain than you would in everyday life. Any time you do resistance exercises like weight lifting or jumping, your bones flex just a little bit. Over time, this builds their density and makes them less likely to break. Stronger bones also help you ward off osteoporosis.
6. It’s Cheap Health Insurance
Ever wonder how much you’d save on health care costs if you exercised regularly? A study by the Journal of the American Heart Association wanted to find out. They found that people who exercised regularly paid $2,500 less in annual health care expenses. No question about it: investing in your fitness and wellness saves you in the long run.
7. Maximum Results in Minimum Time
Everyone is busy. The good news is you don’t have to go to the gym for multiple hours to see results. Circuit training challenges your body at a high intensity for a minimal amount of time, making it far more efficient. My circuit training class members are in and out in an hour!
8. It Helps You Take on Life’s Challenges
In a hard workout, there will be moments when you don’t think you can keep going. By practicing meeting those moments and proving you can push through them, you’re equipping yourself to deal with challenges outside of the gym in a whole new way. This is one of the biggest unexpected benefits my clients gain from their sessions.
9. It’s Great for your Brain
By increasing your serotonin and releasing endorphins, exercise helps you feel happier, more confident, and more in control of your life. Studies have shown that it has a hugely positive effect on anxiety and depression and helps you learn more quickly.
10. It Improves Sleep and Productivity
You know those days when you check everything off your to-do list? You get to the end of it feeling like a productivity master. Circuit training tires out your body in a massive way, which means you’ll sleep better and function at a higher level the next day. Say hello to more productivity and better time management.
11. Supercharge Your Health
A study by the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found a linear relationship between exercise and fruit/vegetable consumption. If you stick to your regular workout routine, you’ll start craving and eating healthier foods, which snowballs your health and lets you see changes even sooner.
12. It’s More Effective With a Team
A study by the International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology found that exercising in a group where there was social bonding, sharing of ideas, and a shared experience (i.e. the workout) gave better results than a standard exercise class or working out on your own. This is why my circuit training classes have grown so popular; team members feel connected to each other, part of something bigger, and supported in their goals.
The next time you head out for a workout, try some circuit training, even if it’s just in your driveway!