How people usually do Resistance/Weight Training:
The traditional method of resistance or ‘weight training‘ that people do in the gym is called ‘Station Training.‘ In this method, the exercises are arranged in such a way that you have to finish all the sets in one exercise first before proceeding to the next. This is good and reasonable because you can focus on developing one muscle group by doing a specific exercise. Below is an example of a traditional resistance training workout:
1. Leg exercise: Barbell Squats- 8 reps x 3 sets
2. Chest exercise: Bench Press- 8 reps x 3 sets
3. Arms: Biceps Curl- 8 reps x 3 sets
4. Triceps Extension- 8 reps x 3 sets
5. Lat Pull Down- 8 reps x 3 sets
What is Circuit Training?
Circuit Training is a method of doing exercises in sequence so that two or more sets of an exercise are not done in a row. It is another type of High Intensity Training that works both muscular strength and cardiovascular endurance. Instead of completing all of the sets of a specific exercise first before doing the next exercise, circuit training allows for continuous movement by doing consecutive exercises that targets different muscle groups. Circuit Training is different from High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) because each exercise have the same number of repetitions throughout the whole circuit. Below is an example of a circuit training:
1. Squats: 12 reps x 1 set
2. Bench Press: 12 reps x 1 set
3. Biceps Curl: 12 reps x 1 set
4. Triceps Extension: 12 reps x 1 set
5. Lat Pull Down: 12 reps x 1 set
6. Squats: 12 reps x 1 set
7. Bench Press: 12 reps x 1 set
8. Biceps Curl: 12 reps x 1 set
9. Triceps Extension: 12 reps x 1 set
10. Lat Pull Down: 12 reps x 1 set
What are the advantages of Circuit Training over the traditional Station Training?
Compared to the traditional method of resistance training, Circuit Training allows for faster transition in between exercises. In the traditional resistance training method, rest periods are done for every set of every exercise. This is unfavorable if you are pressed for time in the gym. Circuit training also allows for greater energy system benefits because your body is working continuously as a different muscle group will be working while previously worked muscle groups will be ‘resting.’ Compared to traditional strength training, there is an improvement in cardiovascular capacity when doing circuit training and may lead to greater fat loss.
What are the disadvantages of Circuit Training?
Because exercises are done continuously one after another, the load should be lighter than usual to maintain quality and safety when doing the exercises. Also, even if it does improve cardiovascular capacity, it won’t beat endurance training with regards to benefits.
Let’s get to the workout! How can I program my own circuit training at home?
Here are some tips on how to design a good Circuit Training workout:
1. Opposing muscle groups (agonist and antagonist) should be alternated between resting and exercising. For example, after doing bicep curls, your next exercise can be tricep extensions.
2. Upper body and Lower body exercises can also be alternated between resting and exercising. For example, after doing push ups, you can do squats after. This allows for the ‘push up muscles’ (pectoralis major and minor, latissimus dorsi, triceps, abdominals) to recover while you target different muscle groups and you’ll be able to perform push ups with proper form and technique at the next circuit set.
3. You can adjust the volume of training by doing a specific number of reps, or you do the most repetitions in a specific time duration. For example, you can either program your circuit to require 10 repetitions for every exercise, or you can set 30 seconds for each exercise and do the most number of repetitions as you can for each exercise.
4. In circuit training, your body will be working continuously, so putting heavy loads is not advisable. Lift lighter weights or do exercises that uses only your body weight.
5. If you are doing circuit training with weights, it is better to stick with the least number of equipment or station that you will use. For example, you can use free weights or just dumbbells for all exercises instead of going from one machine to another.
6. The original protocol for circuit training has 9 to 12 exercise stations. There is no ideal number but for a general program, it is important to keep in mind that you want to work all muscles at appropriate intensities during the whole exercise session. Personally, I recommend having at least 8 exercise stations which I think would be enough for all muscle groups to be worked on. Also, it is better to do exercises that work on muscle groups compared to doing single-joint exercises (bicep curls, tricep extension, lateral raises, etc).
7. If you are using light weights or just your body weight, you can do 15 to 20 repetitions per exercise. If you are adding additional load to each exercise, try doing less repetitions. Remember that quality and safety is still more important than the total volume of your exercise.
8. How long should you rest in between exercises in circuit training? If rest intervals are too long, it diminishes the effect of circuit training to overall cardiovascular capacity. To maximize the benefit of circuit training, rest for 30 seconds or less in between circuit sets. In between individual exercises, I recommend resting for 10 to 15 seconds max for time efficiency and maintain appropriate overall exercise intensity.
Let’s really get on with the workout!
Here’s a sample Circuit Training workout using only bodyweight which means that you can do it at home, in your office and even in your hotel room if you are travelling.
1. Jumping Jacks- 15 reps
2. Alternating Lunges- 15 reps
3. Push ups- 15 reps
4. Oblique crunches- 15 reps per side
5. Hip bridge- 15 reps
6. Bulgarian squats- 15 reps per leg
7. Single leg superman- 15 reps per leg
8. Pike to plank- 15 reps
Circuit Training is an efficient way to decrease body fat, improve VO2 max (respiratory capacity), and even minimize risk for diabetes. As people today have less and less time for the gym, exercise methods such as circuit training may be the best option for busier individuals.
If you think you have no time for exercise, then you can now exchange total exercise time (doing the traditional station method) for total exercise effort (High Intensity Circuit Training) and get the same, or even better, health and fitness benefits.
If you are only starting your journey into fitness, check out this mini-circuit sequence called “April wings” for the arms.
For a more elaborate article about Circuit Training, check out this ACSM Health and Fitness journal: HIGH INTENSITY CIRCUIT TRAINING USING BODYWEIGHT- Maximum Results with Minimum Investment.