Circuit Training Basics

Looking for a way to infuse your fitness routine with some new energy and excitement? Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or just getting started with physical activity, circuit training is a great way to challenge your body in a variety of ways while boosting the fun factor.

What Is Circuit Training?

A typical circuit training workout includes about 8-10 exercise stations. After completing a station, instead of resting, you move quickly to the next station. A muscular strength and endurance circuit alternates muscle groups, such as upper body, lower body and core, so little or no rest is needed in between stations. This article focuses on another form of circuit training: aerobic + strength. This type of circuit alternates 1-2 sets of resistance exercise (body weight, free weights, dumbbells, kettle bells, bands, etc.), with brief bouts of cardiovascular exercise (jogging in place, stationary cycling, rowing, etc.) lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes. Depending on your goals and the number of circuit stations, you can complete 1 or more circuits in a 30-60 minute session.

Advantages of Circuit Training

Boredom and time constraints are frequently cited reasons for giving up on a fitness routine. Sound familiar? Circuit training offers a practical solution for both. It’s a creative and flexible way to keep exercise interesting and saves time while boosting cardiovascular and muscular fitness. You’ll burn a decent amount of calories too—in a 1-hour circuit training session, a 150-pound person burns about 308 calories at a moderate intensity; and 573 calories at a vigorous intensity. Because the exercises can be performed in any sequence, you can create an endless number of combinations and design every workout to match your mood or specific training goal. Participating in a group circuit-training class is a great way to discover new exercises you might not have tried on your own.

At Home

Set up strength and cardio stations indoors or outdoors. Cardio could include going up and down stairs, marching or jogging in place, running up and down the driveway, using home exercise equipment and jumping rope. For strength stations, do push-ups, planks and lunges, using your own body weight. You can also use dumbbells, bands and Kettlebells. For more ideas, look for a fitness DVD featuring circuit-training workouts.

At the Gym

Check to see, if your gym offers circuit training classes. You’ll need to move quickly from station to station, so it’s tough to do on your own during regular gym hours when others are using equipment. If you’re working with a certified personal trainer, ask for help in building a custom circuit training workout using a variety of equipment.

At the Park

The fitness trail, or parcourse are popular features at many parks across the United States and around the world. This can be considered a form of aerobic + strength circuit training. The parcourse consists of walking trails with exercise stations located along the way. But even if your local park doesn’t have a circuit set-up, you can create your own aerobic + strength circuit by alternating brisk walking, bicycling or running on a trail with push-ups, dips, and squats, incorporating things found in nature, such as a tree, a boulder, or even a park bench.

Turn Up the Heat

If you’ve been doing circuit training for a while and are ready to push harder, try these ideas:

• Shorten your time intervals. If you’re currently doing 2-minute cardio intervals, shorten them by 30 seconds. This will keep you moving faster through the circuit, allowing you to complete more stations in the same amount of time.

• Boost your intensity. If your strength sets are feeling too easy, increase the resistance or choose a different exercise that works the same muscle group. Take your cardio intervals up a notch by accelerating or adding another cardio exercise.

• Do a backward circuit. If you always complete your circuit in the same direction, start at the opposite end to challenge your body and your brain in a new way.

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What is a Circuit Workout?

A circuit workout consists of a series of exercises performed one right after the other with little or no rest in between.

The word circuit refers to the series of 8 to 12 exercises that make up the workout. An entire circuit workout typically consists of 3 to 5 repetitions of the circuit with about one or two minutes rest in between each circuit.

Circuit workouts most commonly consist of high intensity aerobic exercise, but they can be organized in a variety of different ways and can include everything from weight lifting and bodyweight exercises to aerobic moves like box jumps and jumping jacks.

Related: High Intensity Circuit Training Workout

Because less time is spent resting during circuit workouts they are finished quickly and are therefore beneficial for those who have a limited amount of time to devote to a daily workout. One of the best benefits of circuit workouts is that they can effectively increase both cardiovascular and muscular endurance as well as muscular strength all in one exercise session.

The trick with circuit workouts is to alternate between different muscle groups for each exercise so that the muscles worked in one exercise have time to rest while you advance directly to the next move.

For example, a well-designed circuit workout might alternate between upper and lower body exercises or anterior (front of the body) and posterior (back of the body) muscles.

Because circuit workouts can be organized in a number of different ways and can be adapted in order to help meet almost any type of fitness goal they are ideal for all types of exercisers.

Below is an example of a simple total-body weight lifting circuit workout.

Repeat the circuit 3 times
Use a weight challenging enough so that the last 2 to 3 reps of each exercise are most difficult to complete

15 x dumbbell bicep curls

20 x squats

15 x dumbbell overhead press

20 x alternating lunges

15 x seated triceps dip

20 x single leg deadlifts (10 repetitions per leg)

20 x alternating renegade rows

15 x dumbbell chest press

What is circuit training? Exercise tips

Benefits of Circuit Training

Circuit training has loads of benefits, ranging all the way from its flexibility, the variety of exercises you get to do, as well as the fact that the social nature of the class makes you more likely to keep coming back.

  • You can work at your own pace: Whatever your fitness level, you can go through the circuit at your own pace, meaning you won’t be left behind
  • Variety of exercises: There’s a huge range of exercises you can enjoy, meaning whatever your targets, you can work towards them
  • Friendly environment: You work in groups every session and so the social nature of the class means you’re more likely to keep coming back, thanks to the motivation you give one another
  • Great for burning calories and fat: Most circuit exercises are fairly high-intensity, so they are absolutely brilliant for burning excess body fat
  • Makes you fitter: As well as helping you lose weight, the intense cardiovascular workout is great for improving your fitness
  • Building muscle: The body weight exercises included in circuit training are also great for helping to build lean muscle mass

Can Anyone Take Part in Circuit Training?

Circuit training is specifically designed to ensure anyone can join in and take advantage of all the benefits. You can take each exercise at your own pace, building up the intensity as you get fitter, while you can vary your commitment to each station, depending on how confident you are with each exercise. If you have any injuries or medical conditions, it’s worthwhile letting your instructor know, just so they can keep an eye on you.

If you’d like to give circuit training a go, book a class now, or find your nearest centre here.

What is the Difference Between CrossFit® and HIIT?

If you’ve been paying attention to fitness trends, you’ve heard plenty about CrossFit®. You’ve heard it can be difficult, it’s a great workout, and it’s offered just about everywhere. However, what you might not be as clear on is whether CrossFit® is right for you, and how it differs from your HIIT workouts at FIT36.

CrossFit® is, by definition, designed to help you be better at what you may or may not encounter on a daily basis. CrossFit® is a core-strengthening program, and strives to make you bigger and better in ten specific fitness domains including: power, strength, flexibility, stamina, speed, coordination, balance, and accuracy. Expect to see a few fitness props in CrossFit® classes such as kettlebells and battle ropes.

How HIIT and CrossFit® are the same:

  • They both offer cycles of exercises. Lest anyone get bored in a class, both of these exercise styles keep it fresh and exciting by moving quickly between activities.
  • They’re overachievers. They pack a LOT in to an exercise session. Lots o’ muscle groups, lots o’ cardio, lots o’ results.
  • They’re not for wimps. While both CrossFit® and HIIT can arguably be scaled to benefit anyone at any fitness level, they both provide a really, really good workout. If you want a lot of bang for your exercise buck, these classes are the way to go.
  • Both types of exercise are best done under the instruction and supervision of a trained coach.

Although they share a few features, they are not identical. Here’s why:

  • CrossFit® often adds in more “exotic” features such as gymnastics, throwing, and Olympic weight lifting.
  • With CrossFit®, you’re encouraged to complete a set of exercises in as little time as possible. Because of this, less attention is paid to actual body form or positioning, leading to a greater potential for injury.
  • HIIT focuses more on timed intervals, with periods of high aerobic activity followed by very brief periods of rest. Because of the intensity of the intervals, you can get a complete workout done in a shorter amount of time.
  • HIIT prides itself on MAJOR calorie burn and muscle development in the shortest amount of time. You’re hard-pressed to find an exercise that yields a higher rate of calorie burn per session.
  • CrossFit® contains an element of competition that’s not necessarily present in HIIT classes. This is a big draw for some, and a deterrent for others.

Clearly, both of these exercise types have some real benefits. Both CrossFit® and high intensity interval training are fast-paced and challenging, and can help you develop the prowess, stamina, and muscle tone you want. At FIT36, we pride ourselves on a community atmosphere where everyone is welcomed, and everyone will be challenged.

If you’re still unsure about which exercise program is best for you, we recommend that you try out both. Because, when it comes down to it, the very best exercise for you is the one you’ll actually do.

CrossFit® is a registered trademark of CrossFit, Inc. in the US and other countries.

You’ve heard the hype about both HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and CrossFit. You’re wondering what are the differences between the two or which is best? I can’t tell you which is best but I can highlight the differences and the similarities so you can make your own mind up.

Remember that one training method is not necessarily better than the other. They both serve multiple purposes and have been successful at improving the fitness levels of millions of people.

The CrossFit and HIIT protocols have many similarities that are worth examining. There are claims that CrossFit is based on HIIT, a workout protocol developed in the 70s (CrossFit is a younger sport) and it’s easy to see why. But there are enough differences to keep proponents of each training regime in their respective camps.

Table of Contents

HIIT: What is it and what does it involve?

HIIT is one of the most popular forms of interval training. It involves bursts of intense exercise that increase the heart rate to around 90% of heart rate maximum, followed by longer periods of low-intensity exercise which help bring the heart rate down and engage the anaerobic energy system.

The history Interval training goes all the way back to the early 1900s (or even before that) but HIIT in its present form developed in the 1970s.

The goal of HIIT is to improve your aerobic and anaerobic fitness, two of the components of a complete fitness regime. The other components (depending on who you ask) include power, flexibility, coordination and balance.

Typical HIIT workout

HIIT workouts always involve interval exercises.

HITT workouts might involve nothing more than a treadmill. A sample HIT workout might involve 45 seconds of jump squats, burpees, mountain climbers, flutter kicks, planks, Russian twists and lateral lunges with a 30-second rest in between each. Repeated for 30 minutes.

It’s easy to see that this type of high intensity interval training workout can be done at home. No need for a gym. But if motivation is an issue and you want the best results, join a HIIT class.

CrossFit uses Olympic weight lifting exercises and gymnastics as part of the class. The WOD (Workout Of the Day) is the part that’s most similar to HIIT or interval training workout. The WOD can also include Olympic weightlifting techniques and gymnastics, which are not as common in HIIT.

Who can do HIIT?

Absolute beginners to fitness might want to start off with some regular running, swimming, or biking to build up a level of tolerance to training. Intensive training can be a shock to the system. And the goal is not only to achieve a good level of fitness but to continue training on a long-term basis.

HIIT is also known by other names:
HIIE – High Intensity Intermittent Exercise
SIT – Sprint Interval Training

Regardless of the name, each training uses the same convention of short intense workouts. Interval training of this type has significant benefits for athletes wanting to improve their Vo2 Max.

How many times a week?

In contrast with medium-intensity style training, HIIT training gives the best return on investment when you take at least 24 hours off between workouts. 48 hours will give you even more time to recover. Take your age and physical conditioning into considering.

Older and less fit people (or those that work at higher intensity) need longer recovery times. Don’t train twice a day or within the 24-hour period. That might lead to over-training and fatigue.

It’s not bad to do HIIT every day but make sure you pay close attention to your energy levels, sleep, and nutrition.

CROSSFIT: What is it and what does it involve?

The goal of CrossFit is improved fitness.

That’s the official line from CrossFit HQ. Greg Glassman, an ex-gymnast started the fitness regime in the early 2000s. CrossFit involves plyometrics, Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, callisthenics, and mobility training. It’s a sport ideally suited to the all-rounder.

Whereas typically, HIIT workouts last less than 40 minutes and can be as short as 4 minutes. The CrossFit WOD can be anywhere from 6 to 60 minutes, but they are usually under 20 minutes.

A study from 2018 found that there were no health benefits for overweight adults using the HIIT protocol compared to moderate-intensity exercise.
The study mentioned that adherence to the HIIT regime was low. This probably impacted the results. High intensity forms of exercise are harder for overweight individuals to stick with. When the goal is weight loss, there are less painful ways of doing it. It might take longer (or in this case, the same time) but it’s a gentler way to get fit and lose weight.

Typical CrossFit Workout

Remember that CrossFit classes begin with a strength or gymnastic component. The larger the workload in the first part of the class, the smaller the workload in the WOD (these are rough rules – every gym is different). Total gym time is 1 hour.

There is also a stretching and mobility component which typically takes place at the start and end of class.

CrossFit workouts tend to focus on one or two movements through the entire time. An example is the workout called Grace (a CrossFit standard workout). It’s easy to remember as the entire workout comprises 30 clean and jerks for time. That’s it.

Grace ends when you complete 30 reps of one exercise. However, it’s not as easy as it sounds. The Rx (prescription) weight is 135 lb (60 kg) for men and 95 lb (45 kg) for women. Try that for 30 reps.

Here’s another CrossFit sample workout:

  • 2 legless rope climbs, 15-ft. Rope
  • 20 air squats
  • Repeat for 5 rounds.

Short CrossFit workouts (WODs) are more common because of the 1 hour time limit.

Who can do CrossFit?

Anyone with a drive to improve their fitness can do CrossFit. Workouts always have a scaled option (meaning there’s an easier option for beginners or less advanced athletes) so any level of fitness is acceptable.

Many of the Olympic lifting and gymnastic elements require a good level of flexibility and strength. Older populations, very young people, or anyone with an injury or disability should make small and gradual steps before attempting the more complex movements.

Which is better for weight loss?

Both types of exercise protocol will help you lose weight. The HIIT protocol is more focused on weight loss than CrossFit. If “fat reduction” is your primary goal, HIIT is a better choice.

How CrossFit and HIIT are similar

  • Removing boredom from workouts is important in both protocols. CrossFit’s mantra of “constantly varied” is also present in HIIT. Workouts change daily and participants must learn to adapt. This helps improve general fitness levels.
  • To get the most benefit, participants should follow a coach or trainer in both regimes.
  • Both types of workout require a level of dedication and motivation that the ordinary gym-goer might not have or care to possess. The ease of regular self-administered workouts is tempting for people that look for the easy option.
  • Both CrossFit and HIIT are for people that want to achieve something. Whether that be overall fitness, better muscle tone, improvements in strength, or otherwise, just turning up and going through the motions will not cut it at a CrossFit or HIIT workout.

How CrossFit and HIIT are different

  • CrossFit introduces a more competitive edge to training. Many athletes take part in the CrossFit Open and the CrossFit Games every year. Even in daily classes, trainers post scores on the in-house boards. There is always an aspect of not only self-comparison, but comparison with your peers.
  • HIIT focusses more on timed intervals of intensity followed by short rests. CrossFit workouts follow a set timeframe or a specific set of reps. Rest frequency is up to the individual to decide.
  • CrossFit sets workout goals such as the number of reps to complete in a set timeframe. When the workout has a weight lifting component (a common feature of CrossFit training), the potential for injury is ever-present, especially among the more competitive types in the class.
  • HIIT focusses more on “burning calories” than CrossFit. As a weight loss and body composition workout, HIIT is more suitable for overweight and out of shape individuals. CrossFit workouts are not designed to maximise weight loss. Body composition is also not a priority. Athletes who perform weight-lifting workouts, mobility exercises and WODs every day tend to develop exceptional bodies and maintain their ideal weight. But the focus is on strength and fitness rather than weight loss and body composition.

Why do HIIT or CrossFit and not regular weight training and endurance training?

One of the most important aspects of interval training is what’s sometimes called the Afterburn. Afterburn refers to the calorie-burning effect of interval training long after the workout has ended. The fat-burning component of regular low-mid intensity endurance training ends once the sessions finish.

The Afterburn effect is when your body continues to burn calories after working out thanks to Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC).

A study published in the Journal of Obesity discussed how “effect of regular aerobic exercise on body fat is negligible” and how other forms of exercise, such as interval training, were more effective for changing body composition.

Although the results of the tests were inconclusive, the study found that HIIT-type protocols appeal to most individuals interested in fat reduction because of the brevity of workouts (easier to self-motivate). “effects of HIIE on subcutaneous and abdominal fat loss are promising”.

A study from 2017 found that HIIT training (which would also include CrossFit-style workouts) has a higher impact on energy expenditure and EPOC than moderate-intensity workouts.

Fitness Primer: The Difference between Aerobic and Anaerobic Fitness

Aerobic fitness is measured using the VO2 Max scale (how much oxygen your body can take in and use) and is associated with stamina or endurance. Running and swimming at low to medium intensities are aerobic exercises.

Anaerobic fitness refers to the non-endurance sports that promote strength and power. Weightlifting typically fits into this category.

CrossFit fan. Ex-personal trainer, triathlete, and cross-country mountain biker. Masters Competitive CrossFit athlete. Writer and blogger.

Big, small, smart, dumb, better or worse.

We have a tendency to compare everything. Prices, brands, companies, etc. And we all want the best. This holds true even in the fitness world. Naturally, the best fitness program will yield the best results, right?

For those of you looking to put on pack on muscle and get rid of fat, you’ve probably done your research and found that packing on muscle and getting rid of fat is HARD. And after doing your due diligence, you’ve also discovered that the best way to accomplish both goals at once is to involve programs that are high in intensity, namely, CrossFit and HIIT. Now the only issue is – which one is better?

We’ll get back to that in a minute.

In order to get you the answer you’re looking for; let’s take a look at what these programs actually entail first. Then, we can take some history 101 on both of these methodologies and finally get to the answer that I know you’re waiting for.

Here is a description of the two types of training methodologies:

CrossFit – a strength and condition system built on constantly varied, if not randomized, functional movements executed at high intensity (Crossfit Journal,

HIIT – also known as “High Intensity Interval Training” or “High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise”. This type of training involves short bursts of high intensity exercises followed by low to medium intensity recovery periods. (

Now that we know what we’re talking about, let’s take a quick fitness history 101 to get an idea of where these methodologies had their bearings.

Believe it or not – both of these types of training have roots going back to the 1930’s. So yea, this stuff isn’t anything new.

Here’s a brief timeline:

1937: Fartlek, also known as “speed play” in Swedish, was founded by Gosta Holmer. Long story short, the Fin’s were kicking Swedish ass in cross country competition since the 1920’s – so instead practicing running with the Swedish team, Holmer tried something completely different. The training methodology that Holmer implemented was based on having his runners run steady for brief amounts of time followed by a slowed pace, and then continuing to a more intense pace. That process would continue for at least 45 minutes.

Sound familiar?

Oh, and the Swedes ended up coming out victorious after training on Fartlek. (

1980’s: Greg Glassman decides to put together a workout regimen focusing on fitness competencies such as cardiovascular endurance, power, flexibility, speed, agility, and balance. It gained a lot of popularity amongst military and police personnel. This type of training was not yet dubbed as CrossFit, but sure was the beginning.

1995: The first CrossFit gym opens in Santa Cruz, California.

1996: Dr. Izumi Tabata performs a study which involves subjects performing in 20 seconds of intense activity followed by 10 seconds of rest periods. The high intensity period was performed at 170% of VO2 max and the results were dramatic. Aerobic performance increased by 14% and anaerobic performance by 28%. Dr. Tabata is credited with the studies that lead to HIIT. (

2000 – Crossfit, Inc is founded by Greg Glassman. At the end of 2005, over 1700 CrossFit affiliate gyms are now located throughout the nation.

Now that we know what is what, let’s get into the good stuff.

Which is better, CrossFit or HIIT?

Well when looking at both methodologies, I can’t see the difference, can you?

Both HIIT training and CrossFit can train with Olympic weights and sprints. You want to throw a tire? Climb a rope? Well you can do both with HIIT and CrossFit. If you need some motivation, both encourage partners or groups of people pushing each other to complete workouts and give it your all. HIIT is specifically incorporated into CrossFit WOD’s for crying out loud. Ever heard of tabata’s?

Now, I’d be going out on a limb saying that both Tabata and Glassman had actually used Fartlek as a premise for their training methodologies. Honestly, I couldn’t find anything to support that. But considering that both of these guys know their shit, it would be naïve to say that they hadn’t heard of it at all.

So what is the difference? And which is better?

There is no difference. And neither is better.

The only difference between the two methodologies is that as an affiliate of CrossFit, you need to pony up more cash. If you own a gym you need to pay to become an affiliate of CrossFit. And if you’re a member of that gym, well you’re probably paying more too.

CrossFit looks like it’s more of a good marketing campaign (thanks Reebok) with a sound fitness philosophy more than anything. It’s simply branded nicer than most workout routines. You can work out just as hard, with as just as many people, and with just as many exercises in HIIT as you can with CrossFit.

Just because you don’t have “CrossFit” in front of the name of your workout doesn’t mean you can’t bust your ass, partake in friendly competition, or enjoy the company of other people suffering just as much as you are . . .

That’s what it’s all about anyways. Isn’t it?

What is circuit training?

Circuit training is a combination of six or more exercises performed with short rest periods between them for either a set number of repetitions or a prescribed amount of time. One circuit is when all of the chosen exercises have been completed. Multiple circuits can be performed in one training session.

Circuit training will usually involve 6-12 exercises and should be structured in a way that enables you to keep performing the exercises with good technique and very short rest intervals.

What is circuit training good for?

Circuit training is very time efficient which makes it a popular method of training. It is an excellent way to improve cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength endurance.

Circuit training will elevate your heart rate and keep it high through the entire circuit due to the short rest periods, large muscles being worked together and a combination of upper, lower and whole body exercises.

An appropriate exercise selection and structure to the circuit will mean that you can move from one exercise to the next without undue fatigue. Circuit training has some of the benefits of cardiovascular training and weight training but will not replicate either one specifically.

When should circuit training be used?

Circuit training is best used by intermediate trainees who have already established good technique with a wide variety of exercises and a baseline level of strength and fitness.

Due to the short recovery periods and variety involved beginners may be overwhelmed, but a good personal trainer or instructor should be able to adapt exercise choices and weight selections to suit all ability levels if you do wish to participate in a circuit training class.

Circuit training is a great choice if you get easily bored, are short on time or don’t like to train alone. It can involve as much or little equipment as you like which makes it ideal for group training and those with limited space.

Example of a bodyweight circuit

30 seconds work with 30 seconds rest between each exercise. Perform the circuit three times with three minutes rest between each circuit.

  • Jumping squat
  • Push up
  • Skydivers
  • V sits
  • High knees
  • Jumping lunge
  • Plank to push up
  • YTW
  • Side plank rotations
  • Lateral skaters

Last updated Thursday 19 September 2019

(Last Updated On: April 3, 2019)

Circuit workouts are a time-expedient and fun way to get fit. If you’re not familiar with them, circuit training workouts consist of a series of resistance exercises, usually 6 to 9, that you do in sequence with little or no rest between each exercise. You pause only long enough to set up for the next exercise, in most cases, although some people rest as long as 60 seconds between exercises, especially when doing high-intensity moves. An average rest period is usually around 30 seconds.

For the resistance exercises in a circuit workout, you might use resistance bands, barbells, dumbbells, your own body weight or a combination of any of the above. You can also include cardio intervals in a circuit workout to keep your heart rate up and burn more calories. For example, you might do 10 burpees, 30 seconds of high knees, butt kickers, jumping jacks or other cardio exercises after every 3rd or 4th resistance exercise. The beauty of circuits is you can customize each workout to meet your objectives and change the exercises you do for variety.

You’re doing resistance exercises when you do a circuit workout, so you might wonder whether circuit training offers enough of a stimulus to promote muscle growth and strength gains. Can it be a substitute for conventional weight training?

Can You Build Muscle with Circuit Training?

The best formula for promoting muscle hypertrophy is to use moderate resistance, a weight that you can lift between 8 to 12 times (70%-80% of one-rep max) before exhausting the muscle. According to research, using greater volume, 3 sets or more of each exercise, is best for stimulating muscle growth. However, some research shows a single set to failure or near-failure can also increase muscle size, although it’s not necessarily ideal.

With circuit training, it’s customary to use a lighter weight for each circuit, usually around 50% to 60% of one-rep max and to do a higher number of reps. In some cases, you do AMRAP, or as many reps as possible for a specific time. For example, you might designate 30 seconds for each exercise and you do as many reps as you can in that time-period before moving to the next exercise. This type of low resistance, high-rep training is optimal for increasing muscle endurance rather than size. Still, you will likely get some hypertrophy if you use a weight heavy enough to reach near failure when you complete the last rep. Because you’re not resting for long between sets, it’s best to alternate between upper and lower body exercises so one set of muscles can recover while you work the other.

Also, unless you repeat the circuit several times, you’re only doing a single set of each exercise, which isn’t ideal for building muscle size. If hypertrophy is your goal, cycle back through the same exercises 2 or 3 times to increase the volume of work you place on each muscle group.

Circuit Training for Hypertrophy: What Does Research Show?

Can you make gains in strength and muscle size through circuit training alone? In 2011, researchers asked a group of healthy, resistance-trained men to do a resistance workout in a circuit fashion with minimal rest between exercises for 8 weeks. The men did 6 repetitions of each exercise using a weight representative of their 6-rep max and rested 35 seconds between exercises. The second group of guys did a similar number of sets but rested 3 minutes between each one, similar to traditional weight training for strength and hypertrophy. Both groups worked out three times per week.

Was one approach more effective than the other? Both groups experienced similar increases in strength, lean body mass, and power. Plus, the guys who did the sets circuit-style lost more body fat. So, it seems that circuit training CAN increase muscle size, strength, and power, based on this study. A circuit approach also may be more effective for fat loss. That’s not surprising the short rest periods increase the rate at which you burn fat.

Tweaking Circuit Training to Meet Your Goals

Circuit training is highly customizable. Not only can you customize the exercises you do during each circuit but you can tweak the resistance and volume to make it more conducive to gains in strength, hypertrophy, muscle endurance or fat burning. For the former, use a greater resistance, about 75% of your one-rep max and include at least 30 seconds of rest between exercises. For more aerobic and fat-burning benefits and to focus more on muscle endurance, use lighter weights (50% to 60% of one-rep max), more reps, and little or no rest between exercises.

As mentioned, you can also increase the number of sets you do for each exercise (to increase volume and favor hypertrophy) by choosing fewer exercises and cycling through the same circuit three times.

Do You Still Need to Do Standard Weight Training?

Although you can gain muscle size with circuit training, if you’re using a relatively heavy resistance, you’ll make more gains by varying the stimulus you place on your muscles. The longer recovery periods between sets that you use with traditional strength training (1 to 5 minutes), gives your muscles more recovery time. This helps you do more volume on the next set. Circuit training is ideal for overall fitness and for days when you have limited time to train. Its biggest strength is that it gets your heart rate up more than traditional strength training and you get more done during the time that you have due to the short rest periods. It’s a condensed workout for days that you’re short on time.

Can circuit training replace traditional strength training? It depends on what your objectives are. If you’re not trying to build significant muscle size but just want to get fitter in general, circuit training might be all you need. However, if you’re trying to get significantly stronger and more defined, stick with traditional strength training. That doesn’t mean you can’t circuit train but don’t make it your only form of training.

J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Sep;25(9):2519-27. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182023a51.

ACE Fitness. “Circuit Training Basics”

Exercise Biology. “Can Circuit Training Increase Strength and Muscle?” October 2011.

Related Articles By Cathe:

The Best Ways to Build Muscle Endurance & Why You Should

Why You Can Benefit from High-Rep Resistance Training

Interval training vs. circuit training for outdoor athletes

Personal trainer Trent Johnson.
Special to the Daily |

What’s the difference?

Interval Training

Workouts are based on cardio and body-weight movements, with a combination of both exercises.

Sample exercises: Running 400 meters on a track four times with 5-10 seconds rest, pushups, pull-ups

Circuit Training

Workouts are based on using weighted movements, with a balance between a high number of sets and a high number of repetitions simultaneously.

Sample exercises: Power cleans, back squats, clean and jerk, squat thrusters, bench press

Just about every new client has two major questions for a personal trainer: How is circuit training different than interval training, and why are both important?

Both are valid questions. Many people hear these terms, but they don’t really know the difference between circuit training and interval training. This makes it difficult to incorporate them into a workout. But, it helps to begin with a basic breakdown of the movements and exercises that are common to both (see sidebar). From there, we can get into the benefits and how they can improve any exercise program.

Benefits of interval and circuit training

Interval training helps increase cardiovascular endurance (aerobic), as well as builds slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscles, depending on the intensity and duration of a workout.

Interval training workouts are designed to burn off glucose and fat cells. They also slowly build muscle over time.

These workouts are designed to increase strength for outdoor activities like rock climbing and snowboarding — the sort Summit County locals live for. On the flip side, an interval workout can also be used for increasing aerobic muscular capacity for exercises like wind sprints and plyometrics.

In contrast, circuit training increases strength and stability in the joints while also boosting cardiovascular strength (anaerobic). Circuit training builds fast-twitch muscle, and each movement is designed to burn more fat than simply lifting weights normally.

Here’s the difference: Circuit training involves full-body movements that work major muscle groups, while weight lifting focuses primarily on specific muscles with long rest periods between sets. Circuit training also increases muscle mass and muscular definition as a result of training.

The cross-training effect

Circuit training and interval training workouts are customized to fit your specific needs and goals. By looking at your body composition and your current fitness level, a trainer can customize a workout to best fit your fitness level and end goals.

When cross-training, daily workouts vary between circuit and interval training. That’s important: If you focus only on circuit training or only on interval training, you will only burn between 100-250 calories an hour. But, if you incorporate both into your training routine, then you will burn upwards of 400-700 calories an hour, depending on the intensity of the workout. The key to burning more calories is to complete as many reps as possible, with little to no stopping during your routine.

When you increase the total time of a workout and decrease the transition time between reps to just 5-10 seconds, your body is working harder to cool down. When this happens, your body burns twice as many calories compared to a normal workout.

So long, plateaus

The key to incorporating both circuit and interval training into a workout is to understand that these workouts need to be done with a small amount of rest, similar to the popular Tabata-style workout.

The difference between Tabata and circuit/interval training is that the workouts are longer and the rests are shorter than normal. You burn more calories through a combination of neuromuscular stabilization and muscle confusion, spurred by incorporating heavy weights with quick (but controlled) movements.

Why does cross-training boost neuromuscular control? It’s because we need to keep ourselves balanced and standing during the workout. Muscle confusion is defined as a movement that your muscles in your body have no memory of doing, and, so, your body is trying its hardest to learn how to do it correctly. As a result, you burn twice as many calories helping the muscle learn the movement.

When you combine heavy movements with many repetitions in a workout, you tend to use three or more major muscle groups during each exercise. When you have simultaneous muscle movements, more energy is rushed to the activated muscle groups to successfully complete the movements.

Of course, just about every athlete worries about hitting a training plateau. Don’t fret too much — it’s common for anyone to hit a plateau, even in the same month. Yet, with a cross-training style of workout, your body won’t be able to fully adapt to the workout because the workouts are constantly changing in strength and endurance.

Circuits vs Cardio

Yesterday I was interviewed by Men’s Health magazine, and they were looking for workouts that could replace cardio. In my opinion, doing bodyweight or kettlebell circuits is a much better replacement for cardio.

I think bodyweight circuits or kettlebell-bodyweight circuits are the best replacement for cardio.

Now of course you’re not going to run a sub 3-hour marathon just by doing these circuits, but I guarantee you’ll sculpt a better body and burn fat with circuit training than you ever will by just doing cardio. Plus, these circuits, even if done up to 5 times, will still be a shorter workout than doing an hour of cardio.

Take it easy the first time through each circuit and use that as a warmup, and then go through another 2-4 times for your workout.

Here are some sample circuit training workouts:

Crazy-8 Bodyweight Circuit
1) 60 Jumping Jacks: Done as fast as possible, but make sure you do full jumping jacks.
2) 20 Spiderman Pushups or regular pushups:
3) Walking Lunges: 30 steps total
4) Spiderman Climb: 10 per side
5) Bodyweight Squat – 20 reps
6) Mountain Climbers – 20 reps
7) Burpees – 5 reps
8] High Knees: Done as fast as possible. Do 50 total.

With that program, you can literally do that circuit anytime, anywhere, without having to rely on a single piece of equipment. After all, that’s the biggest concern of most people these days…they need to workout in a hotel room, or at home, or in a park where they don’t have kettlebells, or dumbbells, etc. So that’s the workout you can use.

Next up is a circuit that you can do in a tiny amount of space in your home. And frankly, you can do it anywhere that you have access to a kettlebell and stability ball, so YES, you can do this one in a park, too.

If that’s not hard enough for you, you can add more kettlebell swings or snatches. And if its too hard for you, then you can do this circuit instead (make sure to move through it as fast as possible)…

Beginner Bodyweight Exercise and Kettlebell Circuit Workout
1) KB Squats or 2-Arm Swings – 10 reps
2) Beginner Pushups – 10 reps
3) Stability Ball Leg Curls – 10 reps
4) KB Squats or 2-Arm Swing – 10 reps
5) KB Rows – 10 reps per side
6) Bodyweight Split Squats – 10 reps per side
7) Beginner Close-Grip Pushups – 10 reps
8] 20-second run

Those are bodyweight exercise and kettlebell circuit workouts that you can do with little equipment, and you should be able to do them at home. The equipment might cost you 50 bucks (or more if you need a heavy kettlebell).

Helping you burn fat without cardio,

Craig Ballantyne, CSCS, MS
Author, Turbulence Training

PS – Check out all of the Turbulence Training Circuit Programs here.

Craig Ballantyne

If you want to double your income, work less, and become the ambitious millionaire you’ve always wanted to be… Craig Ballantyne is the coach who will help you do it. With more than 20-years of experience as an entrepreneur and five 7-figure businesses under his belt, he specializes in helping “struckling” entrepreneurs get out of the mud and build the business of their dreams. To see if you qualify for Craig’s “Millionaire Coaching Program” send an email to [email protected] with the subject line “Millionaire”.

What Dr. Michael Smith Says:

If you’re looking for a full-body workout in 30 minutes or less, circuit training does the trick. You get the benefits of muscle building and toning along with an intense cardio workout.

If you get bored trotting along on a treadmill or elliptical, circuit training can fix that, too. The exercises options are endless. Switch up the exercises frequently to tame the exercise doldrums and keep improving your body.

Work at your own pace. Start with a trainer one-on-one or in a small group setting to make sure you’re doing the exercises correctly and working within your limits.

Is It Good for Me If I Have a Health Condition?

Circuit training is an excellent option to help you lose weight along with a healthy diet. So if you need to lose weight because you have a condition like diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, this may be a good choice for you.

It’s intense, so check with your doctor first. You might be better off starting with something easier, especially if you have any heart problems.

If you have diabetes, make sure you know what to do if your blood sugar goes too low when exercising.

If you have arthritis, choose low-impact exercises. Don’t do any moves that put pounding pressure on painful joints, like jumping jacks.

If you have a knee or back injury, circuit training isn’t for you. Once you’re recovered, it could be an option. Ask your doctor if you’re ready for it. You may want to work with a physical therapist or certified trainer who can help you get the benefits while minimizing the risk of reinjury. If you’re taking a class, let your instructor know about your injuries.

If you have other physical limitations, you can likely find something that works for you. An instructor or trainer can work with you to find moves that will still get your heart pumping and tone your muscles.

If you’re pregnant and you did circuit training before getting pregnant, you can keep doing it if your doctor says it’s OK. Drink water while you exercise, and don’t do any exercises that could make you fall or get overheated.

What is circuit training and how can it be aerobic?

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