Circuit training is one of the best ways to build muscle and burn fat at the same time, creating the perfect metabolic environment. If you’ve never circuit trained before, get ready for a killer workout that will leave your muscles burning and your heart pumping.
What is Circuit Training?
Circuit training is a method of working out that combines strength training reps with short bursts of cardio. You quickly move from exercise to exercise, with little to no rest in between. There are a thousand different ways to do a circuit training workout, and this method is just one way that I have personally found success with.
The Blueprint for a Great Circuit Training Workout
You can break up the circuit training to do upper body only on one day, lower body the next, or do full body all in one session (just make sure you fully rest your muscles between workouts so they can recover-read more here about why recovery is so important).
Here is my formula for my full body circuit training workout:
- upper body movement – 12 reps
- upper body movement, same muscle group– 12 reps
- 2 min cardio
- lower body movement – 12 reps
- lower body movement, same muscle group– 12 reps
- 2 min cardio
- upper body movement, different muscle group from set 1 – 12 reps
- upper body movement, same muscle group – 12 reps
- 2 min cardio
2 minute rest, then repeat entire routine 2-3x.
How to Choose Your Exercises
The possibilities are endless. I like to use compound exercises to be more efficient with my time and to keep my heart rate up (read all about compound exercises here). Examples are pushups, pullups, squats, bench press, rows, overhead press, lunges, good mornings, deadlifts, and dips-exercises that use multiple muscle groups at once. You can incorporate weight training, or you can use bodyweight exercises only. A GREAT tool for choosing exercises can be found here at Bodybuilding.com. Click on the muscle group you are working on, then filter your results based on your needs.
- For set 1, choose your upper body muscle group – Chest/Shoulders/Triceps/Biceps/Back. Find two exercises that work this muscle group.
- Choose your cardio. This can be the same cardio after each set, or you can vary it. I like jump rope because it is convenient, but I would also sometimes run down my alley and back, perform burpees, box jumps, step ups, any sort of steady state cardio. If you are circuit training at a gym, you can hop on any of their cardio machines like the elliptical, stationary bike, etc.
- For set 2, choose your lower body muscle group – Quads/Hamstrings/Glutes/Calves/Core. Again, find two exercises that work the muscle group you choose.
- For set 3, choose a DIFFERENT upper body muscle group from set 1. If you did chest, you might choose shoulders for this one. Again, 2 exercises of the same muscle group.
- Choose your weights if you are using them. Make sure the weight is challenging enough to make your heart pump but will allow you to perform the exercise all the way through. You’ll have to experiment with what works for you.
Important note: Alternate your workouts so that next time, you hit the muscle groups that you missed this time. This will allow your muscles to recover while you get in another workout, and ensure that you stay balanced in your strength training.
Because you’ll be moving immediately from exercise to exercise, set up your area ahead of time. Get the free weights you need, load the bar, and have any other equipment (like a jump rope) near you. It is absolutely essential to your success that you write down what you do, both before and after the workout. Write down the plan, and keep it next to you as you exercise. Make notes when you finish – was the weight too easy or too hard? Are you ready to add a third circuit? How long did it take to complete?
So you’ve chosen your movements, cardio, weights, and your plan is written down, equipment is ready. Time to workout! Make note of your starting time, have a 2 minute timer ready to hit “start” for your cardio, and begin set 1. Remember, do not rest until you have completed all three sets-this will be like a supercharge to your metabolic furnace. Take a 2 minute rest after you complete all three sets, get some water, and start the next round. Each circuit (3 sets) should take about 15-20 minutes each, so 2-3 times through should be plenty. Record your finish time. If it took too long, the weights or movements may have been a bit too challenging. If you flew through it, they may not have been challenging enough.
And that’s it! Have fun with it and watch your body become the sculpted god/goddess of your dreams!