Working out is all about choices. Many athletes tailor their programs to for optimum strength at the expense of cardiovascular endurance. Others train for mobility, often for the goal of pure explosive power.
Circuit training routines allow you to improve your strength, endurance, flexibility, and more using a single workout routine. This versatility has made circuit training the core focus of many athletic training routines since the early 1950s.
In this blog post, you’ll learn about the best warm-ups and exercises to include in your circuit training routine. If you’re new to working out, try our No Bull Fitness Course to learn more about what goes into a great training routine.
What is circuit training?
Circuit training is a form of athletic training built around high-intensity exercise. In a circuit routine, several different exercises are performed in a circuit, allowing you to target multiple areas of your body in a single workout.
For example, a circuit training routine could involve ten different exercises, ranging from push-ups to squats, each performed in a circuit. Unlike a conventional training routine, circuit training often involves performing one exercise at a fast pace before moving onto the next.
Circuit training was pioneered by R.E. Morgan and G.T. Anderson of the University of Leeds in 1953. It’s since become one of the most popular forms of exercise for gym goers and professional athletes alike.
The benefits of circuit training
Since circuit training routines target your entire body, they’re far more efficient than a standard gym routine. Instead of spending your entire workout targeting one part of your body, you can work out all of your major muscle groups with one workout.
As well as targeting several of your body’s muscle groups, circuit training routines also improve multiple aspect of your fitness at once. While a traditional resistance training routine might only offer increased strength, most circuit routines improve your strength, your endurance and your cardiovascular fitness at the same time.
If you don’t have the time to perform resistance training and cardiovascular exercise separately, doing a circuit workout several times per week can offer the same great benefits in just a fraction of the time.
Cardio vs. strength: finding the right balance
A good circuit workout combines resistance training and cardio. Resistance training is any form of exercise strengthens your muscles. This includes bodyweight training like push-ups and crunches and weightlifting using a barbell, dumbbells, or cables.
Cardiovascular training is any type of activity that trains your heart and respiratory system as well as your muscles. Running, cycling, swimming, and other exercises are all different types of cardiovascular training.
In some circuit training routines, resistance training is performed at a fast pace with light weights to improve your body’s muscular strength and cardiovascular fitness at the same time.
Want to learn more about the science behind circuit training? Enroll in our course, Fit for Life: The Science of Exercise, to learn more about how the type of exercise you perform improves your strength, endurance, and health.
Warming up before a circuit workout
Before you start your circuit routine, you’ll need to warm up. Since circuit training targets your major muscle groups and your cardiovascular system, you’ll want to warm up your muscles as well as your heart and lungs.
Warming up is an essential part of working out. Skipping a five-minute warm-up to start your workout early might seem like a good idea, but you’ll definitely regret it once you pull a muscle and have to skip an entire week of exercise.
Our previous blog post, Jogging for Beginners, includes some great warm-ups you can carry out before your routine begins. Another great way to warm up before a circuit routine is by performing yoga stretching and breathing exercise, which you can learn about in our Yin Yoga course.
Do you feel especially sore after your workout? While circuit training will almost always leave you feeling sore the next day, extreme soreness can often mean you aren’t warming up enough.
To prevent soreness after your workout, warm up your body’s main muscle groups by performing your circuit exercises at a slow pace using a lower weight before you start your workout.
Still feel sore? If warming up doesn’t prevent you from feeling sore after a workout, the techniques in our Learn the Proper Techniques of Foam Rolling course are sure to help.
Effective circuit training exercises
Ready to start? Great circuit training routines use a variety of different exercises to target every part of your body at once. Combine the exercises listed below to build your own circuit workout that you can perform at the gym or at home.
Remember, you don’t need a gym membership to perform a circuit workout. Enroll in our No Equipment, No Excuses Home Workout course to learn how to train your body and improve your health at home.
Upper body circuit exercises
Push-ups are a classic upper body exercise used by everyone from bodybuilders and fitness models to the military. Performing short sets of push-ups targets the muscles in your chest (pectorals) and upper arms (triceps) to improve your strength.
If you’re a beginner, try performing push-ups with your knees on the ground to give yourself some additional support. Sets of 10 to 20 push-ups are great additions to an upper body circuit training routine.
Pull-ups, also known as chin-ups, are a simple exercise that targets the muscles that make up your upper back (latissimus dorsi) and arms (biceps). If you can’t perform a full pull-up, perform negative pull-ups to target the same muscle groups.
Military press is a simple exercise that targets your shoulders. Stand with your feet at shoulder width and lift two dumbbells upwards until your arms are extended. A set of 10 to 20 military presses is a great addition to your circuit training routine.
Bicep curls are easy upper body exercises that target your upper arms. Add a set of 10 to 12 bicep curls to your upper body circuit routine for stronger, more toned or muscular arms.
Dips target your chest and upper arm muscles. If you’re working out in a gym, you can perform dips using a weight bench or dip bars. At home, you can perform dips using two chairs or any raised surface that can support your bodyweight.
Lower body circuit exercises
Squats are a well-known exercise that target your glutes, upper thighs, hamstrings, and lower back muscles. You can perform squats with your bodyweight or using a set of dumbbells for additional resistance.
If you’re a beginner, you’ll want to use sets of bodyweight squats in your training routine before you begin using any additional weight. Focus on maintaining good form and carry out sets of 10 to 20 squats as part of your circuit program.
Lunges are another great exercise for your lower body. Lunges target the same leg and back muscles as squats, but train them from a different angle for even better results.
Start by performing lunges using your bodyweight. Once you get stronger, you can hold dumbbells while doing lunges for additional resistance. Sets of 8 to 12 lunges are a great addition to your lower body circuit routine.
Jumping jacks are a great lower body exercise that also improves your endurance. A set of 10 to 20 jumping jacks is a great choice for warming up your core and lower body before you start performing squats and lunges.
When you’re training your lower body, it’s essential that you maintain good form to prevent injuries. Speak to a trainer at your gym or view our course, How to Deadlift, to learn more about maintaining proper form while you work out using weights.
Core circuit exercises
The muscles around your abdomen are known as your core. These muscles are vital for keeping your upper body upright and rigid when you’re performing other circuit exercises like squats, lunges, and military presses.
Although your core is worked out indirectly during other exercises, you should give it a direct workout at some point in your circuit. Choose one or two of the exercises listed below to target, strengthen and tone your core.
Sit-ups target your abdominals (the muscles that make up your ‘six pack’) and give you better, healthier posture. Make sure you keep your hips and lower body still as you perform sit-ups to maximize the load placed on your stomach muscles.
Don’t like sit-ups? Perform crunches instead. This classic exercise targets your abs and massively improves your core strength. Sets of 10 to 20 crunches are great for firming up your stomach and improving your posture.
Develop static strength using planks. These static holds train your core muscles to hold your body in challenging, awkward positions. Add a 30-second plank to your circuit workout for a challenging burn at the end of each session.
Responsible and safe circuit training
Injuring yourself is never a fun experience. Although circuit workouts are less likely to result in injuries than heavy strength training routines, overworking your body is still a possibility.
Take at least one day off between each workout to allow your muscles to recover in time for your next session. You can also alternate between upper and lower body or push and pull exercises to let your body recover even if you work out every day.
Circuit training is simple, effective, and fun! Using the exercises in this guide, you’ll be able to create several circuit training routines that challenge and train your body as you take charge of your health and fitness.