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We all want to get in shape fast – the ultimate in immediate gratification. But there’s really no “free lunch” when it comes to fitness. You have to exercise consistently for 4 to 6 weeks and watch your diet to change how you look and how you feel, although you do get the immediate gratification of feeling fantastic for having done it!
“One workout does not a healthy body make.”
That’s why it’s so important to choose a type of workout you enjoy. One of our favorites is circuit training exercises. If you’re looking for a way to get into shape and have limited time to do it, circuit training might be for you too.
Get in Shape Fast with Circuit Training Exercises
Two of the biggest complaints we hear about exercise is it’s boring and it takes too much time. Sounds familiar? Circuit training addresses both of these problems.
Circuit training is a form of training where you move quickly from one exercise to the next. When you circuit train, you can design your own workout (don’t worry it’s easy) or use a circuit training exercise DVD or YouTube video to guide you through a circuit training session.
If you design your own workout, you can select the length of time you do each exercise. Most people choose 30 seconds because it’s long enough to fatigue your muscles but not so long that it becomes monotonous. Here’s an example of a circuit training workout, I did this morning:
- Push-ups 30 seconds
- Skipping rope 30 seconds
- Crunches 30 seconds
- Jumping Jacks 30 seconds
- Biceps Curls 30 seconds
- Jogging in Place 30 seconds
- Squats 30 seconds
- Planks 30 seconds
I repeated the circuit four times and used weights for the squats and biceps curls. If you’re a beginner, you can start without using weights at all. Until you build up a baseline level of fitness, decrease the time you do each exercise to 15 seconds and repeat the circuit only twice.
That’s the beauty of circuit training. You can choose a sequence of exercises that are appropriate for your fitness level.
Types of Circuit Training
There are really two forms of circuit training – vertical and horizontal.
With vertical circuit training, you complete the exercises on your list in order and then cycle back through and do each again. With horizontal circuit training, you do all the sets of each exercise before moving to the next one.
We prefer vertical circuit training because it’s more mentally stimulating. Plus, it’s hard to do three or four sets of push-ups in a row without resting!
Horizontal circuit training may be more effective for building strength since doing multiple sets of a strength exercise before moving to the next one thoroughly fatigues the muscles you’re working.
Custom Design Your Own Workout
Circuit training is versatile too. If your main goal is to work your cardiovascular system, choose aerobic exercises for some of your intervals like jumping jacks, running in place, squat jumps, jump rope, mountain climbers, burpees etc.
If your main goal is to build strength or muscle endurance, focus on exercises that build strength like push-ups, biceps curls, overhead presses, upright rows, squats, lunges, deadlifts etc. using dumbbells or resistance bands for the majority of your circuits.
For a total conditioning workout, alternate strength exercises with cardiovascular ones. Even if you cycle through the above workout four times, you’ve spent less than 20 minutes working out. It’s a productive 20 minutes because you’ve:
- Increased your heart rate for cardiovascular conditioning benefits
- Burned calories
- Worked on increasing functional strength
- Worked the muscles in your upper body, lower body and abs
If the thought of walking or running on a treadmill or coasting along on an elliptical machine or exercise bike ad nauseum doesn’t excite you, circuit training takes you away from all that. It’s an effective way to get in shape fast without spending an hour doing it. It’s the best way to get a total body workout in the shortest time possible.
Who doesn’t love time-saving exercise?
Benefits of Circuit Training
- Works your entire body
- Doesn’t waste time
- Boredom factor is low because you’re always changing exercises
- Requires minimal equipment. No equipment if you do only bodyweight exercises
- You can do it at home
- You can customize your workout and the amount of resistance you use
Are There Drawbacks to Doing Circuit Training Exercises?
If you design your workout to only include strength-training exercises like squats, curls etc., you’ll still get some cardiovascular benefits because you’re not resting between exercises. Your heart rate is higher than when you do standard strength training.
On the other hand, circuit training without including a few cardio intervals doesn’t get your heart rate up as much as other forms of cardiovascular exercise like running. We recommend adding a few cardio intervals into your circuit routine even if it’s only jogging lightly in place.
Circuit training isn’t the best form of exercise if you’re trying to become muscle bound. It shouldn’t be the only type of workout you do if you’re trying to build significant muscle mass or greatly improve your strength. That’s because you’ use lighter resistance when you circuit train. This limits the amount of strength and bulk you can build, although circuit training is ideal for burning calories and fat, increasing muscle endurance and improving functional strength and general conditioning.
BUT circuit training is probably your best option if you have limited time to work out. A circuit training workout, particularly if you use resistance bands, is a total body workout with multiple benefits.
Circuit Training Exercises: Ideal for All Fitness Levels
Dr. A and I both do circuit training exercises but we also do more focused strength training and cardiovascular exercise including running, the elliptical machine and high-intensity interval training. Circuit training exercises are among the most enjoyable.
When we have limited time to work out, circuit training is what we choose. We set our iPhones to signal when to change exercises. On our wish list is a higher powered Finis Circuit trainer that blasts a horn when it’s time to switch exercises.
If you aren’t exercising because you don’t have time, we challenge you to pick out four or five exercises and do each circuit style for 15 to 30 seconds. If you’re just starting out, do a single round, then gradually increase the number of rounds you do.Change the exercises for variety.
For me, the best time to do a few circuits is in the morning after a cup of coffee. Feel sluggish in the morning? Circuit training exercises will get your blood pumping and get you ready to face the day.
The Bottom Line?
If you’re looking for a time-expedient way to exercise, circuit training workouts are short, sweet and effective. No matter how old you are or your fitness level, you can adapt circuit training exercises to meet your needs. We hope you’ll give it a try!
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 18(4). 760-764.
“New Insights into Circuit Training” Len Kravitz Ph.D.
Clinical Interventions in Aging. “Effects of circuit-based exercise programs on the body composition of elderly obese women”