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4 Unique Ways To Use CIRCUIT TRAINING To Accelerate Your Strength & Fitness

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 15 January 2020
Hits: 8335

One of the oldest and most commonly used training concepts used in many gyms around the world today would be CIRCUIT TRAINING. This is a workout that involves a series of exercises performed in rotation usually with minimal to no resting time producing huge levels of fatigue in a very short time. This is a great way to combine strength and fitness methods within the same workout and for this reason are used by many sporting athletes seeking to improve strength and endurance at the same time. They are also very popular among many gyms and group training classes and are often viewed upon as a very simple way to use strength training, when in reality it is far from simple when you know how to manipulate certain variables with this method. There is many ways you can utilise the circuit method to achieve different types of goals than just the standard strength and fitness approach and in this article we provide you with four different circuit workouts you can use to challenge your body in ways it has never seen.

How Circuit Training Works

It involves setting up a series of exercises starting at a minimum of 4 and as many as 15 exercises and completing one set of each exercise in succession without resting between. One full round of the 4-15 exercises is effectively one round of the circuit. Your goal is to try to make it through 2-4 rounds (sets) of the circuit. A resting period of 3-5 minutes between each round is enough time to allow the body to recover and ensure the intensity does not drop off too much. If you can maintain a good level of intensity it will provide greater returns.

Who is Circuit Training Best Suited To?

As this is an advanced method of exercise this is not suited to the beginner but a person with some experience who can demonstrate perfect technique with the exercises they are about to use. I would say this is the biggest mistake with so many group training concepts in that they take on beginners with poor understanding of movement, yet alone the exercises they need to use. When you combine poor movement with a low level of endurance reserve you have the perfect recipe for injury.

Spending some time to learn the fundamentals should never be skipped over and every person must “earn the right” to train with advanced methods like circuit training. For more information about what happens when you avoid learning good form I suggest to read the article - Why You Should Never Sacrifice Technique

What are these fundamentals you need to learn? There is endless amounts of exercises and each will have its specific skills to master but there is a set of movements that are what we call the foundation patterns and if you are able to master these at their basic level, it is fairly easy to adapt to any other variation you may come across later.

 

There is 7 key foundational movement patterns you need to master and they are:

  1. Squat
  2. Bend
  3. Lunge
  4. Push
  5. Pull
  6. Twist
  7. Gait

Grab a copy of our FREE REPORT below that gives you all the details about these movements and many of the variations used in circuit training. Click here to get your free copy.

You Must Gradually Increase the Volume & Intensity

Allowing some time to build up some baseline reserve with some light cardio for 4-6 weeks before implementing this training is important to allow the body time to adjust to the stress of exercise. This is another big mistake we see with people new to exercise. They are so keen to get results they push their bodies too hard, too soon, and do not allow the body time to cope with the stress of the exercise. This ignorance to gradual progression always leads to eventual pain and injury. To fully prepare your muscles, ligaments and tendons for the stress of circuit training you must gradually increase the volume of training by no more than 10% per week.

For example if you begin doing 3 standard strength and cardio workouts of 30 minutes per week , you could gradually increase to 3 x 35 minutes for week 2, then 3 x 40 minutes for week 3 and so on until you reach the 60 minute mark. Once you reach 60 minutes and you are recovering well between workouts you know that your body will be ready to handle the more intense stress of circuit training.

Beware of over-training!

 

Most of the circuits we are about to share with you will require every joint and every muscle in the body to be taken to their limit. This means that you MUST ensure you have at least 48 hours rest between workouts. As the workout is very destructive it is important to allow enough time to fully recover otherwise the value of the training is compromised. The quality of the workout is of most importance, not how many workouts you do. This is a mistake that many make with this type of training by overdoing it thinking more is better and putting their body through too much fatigue. You must treat the recovery and nutrition as important as the training itself to achieve your full potential.

Good articles to read with more information on this are below.

What Are The Benefits Of Circuit Training?

Assuming now that you have a great reserve and have spent the time to develop sound techniques with all the key movements you are now ready to add this training method to your workouts.

This type of training is commonly known for producing its best results for people who want to increase strength with fitness at the same time. It is a great way to force a huge expenditure of energy in a very short time which is great for people looking to lose some body fat and trim up. The exercises chosen can be weight training based as well as high intensity cardio based. The weight training based exercises will give you the muscle tone and building benefits of the workout, and the high intensity cardio based exercises will produce the increase in endurance and cardiovascular performance. The combination of both methods increase the metabolic rate and as a consequence the ability to burn fat.

The beauty of this workout is that with the minimal rest time between exercises the weight training based exercises begin to feel like a cardio exercise and the entire workout leaves you feeling puffed out and exhausted which is a lot different to the traditional method of strength training.

Getting Started With Your Workout

Make sure you complete a 10-15 minute warm up before you begin to ensure your body is fully prepared for the upcoming stress and there is a strong flow of blood through the muscles. This is important for the blood allows the muscles, tendons and ligaments to become more flexible as they warm up, providing you with extra mobility in movements you need to use in your upcoming workout. Another purpose of this initial warm-up is to prepare the mind for the workout ahead and get your head in the game. I like to use this time to focus and concentrate on what I am about to do to maximise every minute that I am about to train. It is important for me to leave all outside distractions and stress from your life out the door.

 

You can find some great ideas on specific warm ups in the article – How to warm up correctly before your strength workout

Now we are ready to begin.

Circuit Workout 1 – Full Body Strength & Interval Training

Objective: Increase strength endurance and cardiovascular fitness to encourage fat loss.

This workout focuses on a mixture of strength and fitness benefits in one hit, a good workout to get results of muscle toning throughout the whole body and at the same time producing huge amount of lactic acid and cardiovascular fatigue into three different areas of the body. The reason this is seen to enhance fat loss is due to the unique metabolic response produced from including interval training. Research has shown that intermittent sprinting produces high levels of chemical compounds called catecholamine’s, which allow more fat to be burned from under your skin and within your muscles. The resulting increase in fat oxidation is thought to drive the increased weight loss. And possibly the best part of this workout is it doesn’t take much time. This is by far the most popular form of circuit training for this reason and beats the long slow cardio every day of the week!

Feel free to mix up the exercises that I have chosen making sure you have at least one of the foundation movement patterns we discussed at the beginning. This workout and the last one that I show you are the most balanced circuit workouts for the reason you can include a lot more movements. 

Circuit Workout 2 – Explosive Power

Objective: Increase explosive power across several exercises and movement patterns in succession to use as a workout during a sporting season.

This type of circuit is a lot different to many other circuits that people use and is not something that many everyday people would see. However, for the person who plays sports this is an excellent way to get the massive benefit of strength exercises during the season but without causing the additional stress and muscle fatigue that prevents them from playing and training.  The reps are often lower in number to ensure explosive speed is not compromised too much by fatigue and that the muscle does not develop too much muscle soreness (DOMS). Lastly, by moving from one exercise to the next that requires different skills and movement the workout begins to replicate the demands of their chosen sport. You will notice many of the exercises in the circuit have a jumping or throwing component.

If you do not play sports and your techniques with these exercises is fine this is an awesome workout to use to really change things up. It is also great fun once you get the hang of it.

Circuit Workout 3 – “Four Minutes from Hell” (Tabata)

Objective: To improve strength endurance in a short amount of time using high levels of volume with a handful of exercises. To do this workout is very simple. I like to complete this with a superset of two exercises. Each pair of exercise becomes a continual superset of 20 seconds intense effort mixed with 10 seconds rest before alternating to the other exercise. For example complete as many push ups as possible for 20 secs, take a 10 sec rest then complete as many jumping lunges as possible for 20 secs, take a 10 sec rest. Push ups 20 secs, etc. Repeat this pairing 4 times to complete the four minutes from hell. To round out the workout I select a total of 6 exercises in 3 pair groupings. In total it is only 24 minutes of work but it seems more like an hour!!

This is the most common type of training used today in many “boot camp” style training classes as it gets you huffing and puffing and your muscles burning in no time. Also due to the exercises are usually very low in intensity and often body-weight in order to complete the high volume required they can easily be performed out in a park or in your home. In this regard it is a great way to get a good workout in if you are limited with time and equipment.

On the negative side it can get boring and quite repetitive which can lead to injury if you do not have good form to begin with. Also due to the intensity being so low it gives the illusion of strength and can leave people missing out on developing exercises like squats and deadlifts to their full potential for they do not apply enough load.

What about Core Strength Circuit Workouts?

I am not a big fan of using a series of abdominal isolation exercises to achieve the goal of “feeling the burn” in your abs. All this type of training does is ruin core stability and corrupt good movement strategies as the body becomes too fatigued to maintain perfect form. It is forced to cheat and find another way which becomes a potential disaster later on. True core stability is not about feeling the abs burn. They are not designed to work like other muscles and as a result should not be trained the same way.

Many people think if we have a strong core using exercises like planks and crunches everything will be fine. We have been taught to treat the core stabiliser muscles in the same we would use a bicep curl to make our arm stronger. Unfortunately, the stabiliser muscles do not respond to this type of training and are not programmed to functions in this manner. Instead, they rely more on TIMING and SEQUENCING and are highly dependent on the MOTOR PROGRAM used by the brain for each movement we make. 

As soon as your stabiliser muscles like the TVA and multifidus become fatigued, the larger dominating abdominal muscles (the rectus abdominis and obliques) will begin to take over the movement. The exercise then loses its status as a true core stability movement not because it was a bad exercise, but because of the way you used it. You will have greater success with these exercises completing them as normal sets with the emphasis on quality of movement and maintaining perfect posture throughout instead of trying to make your stomach burn. The minute your form is lost the exercise is over.

I have seen many people complete an abdominal muscle circuit at the end of their intense workout training trying to squeeze every last bit of fatigue out of their abs in the belief that it will give them a six pack. When really all it is likely to is give them postural problems that lead to injury and pain. I have seen many people for help with a bulging disc that was caused mainly by their core workout! If you are really after a six pack it will have much more to do with your food than what type of circuit workout you do. The quote below sums this up perfectly.

 

You can read more about core training in the articles below.

Now, if I really want to work my core the way it was intended to be used I would use this workout.

Circuit 4 – Ultimate Functional Core Workout

Objective: To enhance overall strength with functional movements and demand high levels of activity with postural muscles in the frontal plane.

Late last year I wrote an entire article about this as I labelled it my favourite workout of all time! It is not a true circuit workout as such but a series of supersets with a mixture of two key exercises completed between sets of each of the main exercises.

These two key movements are the Turkish Get-up and the Farmers Walk. After each of the supersets in each workout I would add one rep of the Turkish Get-up with one 60 metre walk of the Farmers walk or suitcase walk. Over the course of the workout it would equate to 18 reps of the Turkish get up and 18 sets of the farmers walk.

The reason I chose the Turkish Get-up is that it demanded mobility in the two areas I really suck, the hips and the thoracic region. I had used this exercise extensively after my shoulder injury in 2017 to help restore the stability of the shoulder joint but maintain my thoracic mobility. I struggled for a long time to gain the stability and strength needed to do this correctly and knew it was a key component of my rehab success.

The reason I chose the Farmers walk and more specifically the suitcase walk is that it exposed my problems with the hip and especially in the bending and gait pattern. I found this exercise to be critical in teaching my body how to effectively stabilize effectively in both of these patterns

This is still my favourite workout of all time and the strength gains from this are incredible. Although I do not get as puffed and sweaty as some of the other circuit workouts the intensity of this is much greater and requires complete focus with every movement. Check out the video below of this in action.

Want More Workout Ideas?

And if you want even more circuit workouts, strength programs and even cardio and sporting workouts, make sure you get a copy of the Little Black Book of Training Secrets where I share 101 amazing programs just like the ones shown in this article. Click here to see more about what is inside this special report and download your digital copy instantly.

Summary

There is no doubting circuit training is great fun and a fantastic way to achieve your fitness goals in a very short amount of time. As you can see from this article there is many ways you can use this advanced training method to focus on specific needs and I believe many people make the mistake of doing the same thing over and over. Always remember these important points with circuit workouts.

  1. You MUST have a solid training base before attempting this type of training
  2. You MUST have a great understanding of the technique of the exercises you are about to use. Ignorance to this will come back to bite you at a later stage.
  3. Beware of over-training and always allow time for recovery between workouts. More does not mean better.

If you adhere to these principles you will reach your full potential and have great fun along the way.

For more ideas and information on specific topics I may not have covered in detail be sure to check out our INDEX PAGE on the website that has over 300 of our best articles. These are all sorted into categories for quick reference so you can find what you are after more easily. You can also subscribe to our FREE fortnightly newsletter by clicking here.

If you do need specific help with your exercise program please feel free to reach out to me for help and we can set you up with your individualised program.

About The Author

Nick Jack is owner of No Regrets Personal Training and has over 15 years’ experience as a qualified Personal Trainer, Level 2 Rehabilitation trainer, CHEK practitioner, and Level 2 Sports conditioning Coach. Based in Melbourne Australia he specialises in providing solutions to injury and health problems for people of all ages using the latest methods of assessing movement and corrective exercise.

References:

  • Movement - By Gray Cook
  • Functional Training for Sports - By Mike Boyle
  • Corrective Exercise Solutions - by Evan Osar
  • Athletic Body Balance by Gray Cook
  • Low Back Disorders - by Stuart McGill
  • Back Pain Mechanic - by Stuart McGill
  • Anatomy Trains - by Thomas Meyers
  • Motor Learning and Performance - By Richard A Schmidt and Timothy D Lee
  • How To Eat, Move & Be Healthy by Paul Chek
  • Scientific Core Conditioning Correspondence Course - By Paul Chek
  • Advanced Program Design - By Paul Chek
  • Twist Conditioning Sports Strength - By Peter Twist
  • Twist Conditioning Sports Movement - By Peter Twist
  • Twist Conditioning Sports Balance - By Peter Twist