Are you looking for a power-packed, serious whole-body workout that you can do anywhere and which takes under an hour? Think it can’t be done? Well, take a look at circuit training, because there are some serious benefits of circuit training that you absolutely need to know.
What is Circuit Training?
‘Circuit Training’ is a high intensity, fast-paced workout based on a series of movements done at an all-out effort for a short time (typically thirty to sixty seconds), repeated several times with a short period of rest in between. With a circuit, you’ll be able to get a seriously hard workout in because as you get tired you move to the next exercise or take a rest.
A comprehensive circuit will have six to twelve movements, repeated three to five times, with short periods of rest interspersed throughout. Circuit exercises can be pretty much anything, and circuits usually include a mix of some intense cardio movements, plyometrics, and strength exercises.
Benefit #1: Burns Calories
The premise of circuit training is based on similar principles to High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). By asking the body for short bursts of extreme effort, then interspersing short periods of rest, it’s possible to get in a lot more work than you might otherwise manage. You expend a short, powerful, high-calorie burn, and just when the lactic acid and the fatigue sets in, you change the exercise or take a short rest period.
For those new to exercise, using short, but high-effort sets means that you can work a lot harder than you could if you had to expend that effort for a longer period - and that means you can get your heart rate higher than for a comparable time of solid endurance exercise with no rest. Plus, if you plan your circuits so you are working different muscle groups, not only does one area rest, but your heart keeps working pumping oxygen-rich blood to the new set of muscles.
Rest periods work in a similar way. You put in the work and get your heart rate up, then let your heart recover - only to ask it to get back to work again. Your heart has to work a lot harder with this ‘on again off again’ approach than a lower level of steady state endurance work and the calorie burn lasts a lot longer even after your workout!
Don't get me wrong, steady state endurance - especially walking - is a great exercise, but you can pack a lot more calorie burn into a very short space of time with a circuit program. Even seasoned athletes benefit from circuit training, for exactly this reason. It packs a big punch in under an hour!
Benefit #2: Keeps Boredom at Bay
Circuit training typically involves several different exercises. While your circuit might focus on a specific type of training, like strength or plyometric, most circuits are designed to have a mix of strength, cardio, and plyometric exercise. Since you won't have to do any of them for more than a minute at a time, you won't get bored! Even if there’s one exercise you dread (in my case it’s burpees), if you know you just have to visit the burpee station for 30 seconds or a minute, it doesn't seem so bad!
It’s not just your mind that can get bored with the same workouts over and over, your body gets bored too. Doing the same exercise or movement all the time can lead to fitness plateaus, where your body has adapted to the movement and does not need to make any more changes. This is why many people see weight loss or fitness gains slow down or even stop.
Circuits use a variety of different movements, and can help you break through a fitness plateau. If you also mix up your exercises within your circuit, you can really get the benefits of ‘muscle confusion’, which is a proven method to get more gains faster.
Benefit #3: Reduces Injury Risk
Now, we’re not saying that you can’t get injured doing circuits, but they can be a great way to manage existing injuries and prevent new ones. If you have been avoiding a workout or fitness program because you have an old injury, then circuits could be a good choice for you. Because you are doing a lot of very different movements in a circuit, you can easily swap a specific movement out that might aggravate your injury, and replace it with a safer or more comfortable movement for you. Even in organized circuit programs at your gym, you can work with the instructor to modify or replace a movement, and still take part in the circuit overall.
Circuit training is intensive, and it does demand good form to prevent getting injured in the high-intensity efforts. Especially if you are watching the time and trying to get lots of reps in, you can get excited, make mistakes and get hurt. However, most training injuries come from overuse, and circuit training is a super way to prevent overuse or repetitive-cause injuries.
Similar to the benefits of cross training, because you are changing your movements - and the target of your effort - frequently, you will put your body at much less strain from an injury perspective than if you were just running for an hour, or lifting the same weight over and over.
For serious athletes and competitors, circuit training is also a good way to mix up your training and put in a serious conditioning session without putting more stress on the muscles, joints or soft tissues that you need for your competitive sport.
Benefit #4: Saves Time
The high intensity interval training approach means that you can get a lot of work into a very short space of time. Including warm up and cool down, with circuits you can get a comprehensive workout into half an hour, sometimes even less. Each movement is short and sharp, and even your rest periods are compressed. All this makes circuits ideal if you are trying to fit your workout into a busy schedule.
The science behind High Intensity Interval Training means you can begin to see the health and fitness benefits from as little as a thirty minutes a week of circuits. That's right, ten minutes, three times a week (plus a warm up and cool down) is enough to get results. Of course, as you get fitter, adding tougher circuits for more total minutes will get you even more, but you don't need a lot of time to get started and make progress.
However, the effectiveness of circuits depends on the effort you put in. Those thirty minutes need to be all out effort, and should leave you feeling like you have nothing left in the tank!
Benefit #5: Can Help with Disease Prevention
Circuit training is an ideal balance between strength and cardio conditioning, as such it’s a powerful weapon in your general health arsenal. Because circuits are short, varied, but intense, they can help those new to training, or those coming back from illness or injury improve their fitness and overall health quickly.
Circuits can also easily be adjusted or adapted for different fitness levels, making them a perfect entry-level exercise program, or they can be ramped up to challenge serious athletes. We've already talked about how circuit training really burns calories, and getting to - and maintaining - a healthy weight is one of the most important factors in long-term health.
There’s another side to circuit training that helps with disease prevention. Because circuits change the muscle groups worked, and the type of exercise throughout the circuit, they are one of the most effective cardio workouts. Circuits are far better for whole-body cardiovascular health than steady state workouts like running because they force the heart to move the blood around the body, which has impressive impacts on circulation. If you’ve ever noticed your hands getting numb when you are out for a jog, you’ll see what I mean. That doesn't happen in circuits! This makes circuit training a very effective tool in combating conditions like diabetes, which can have serious complications for circulation. The short, high-intensity efforts can help condition cardiopulmonary health, especially for people living with asthma.
If you are living with a chronic disease or condition, then you should talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program, including circuits. However, circuits do have a lot of benefits as an exercise program choice. You can easily adjust your circuits and exercises to suit your condition and your personal needs. Circuits can be done at home or in a gym, meaning you can stay close to friends and family while you work out, and stay safe if you need help.
Benefit #6: Gets You Lean and Toned
No matter whether your circuits are general, all around exercises, or focused more on strength, cardio, or agility, you’re going to get a perfect combination to get you a lean, toned physique. The combination of intense strength components, which build lean muscle, and calorie burning cardio can’t be beat when it comes to developing a toned and lean body.
Unlike a focused strength workout, or going for a run, with a circuit training session you are going to work your whole body, inside and out. Your upper body, core, lower body, as well as your heart and lungs will get hit hard by your circuits. With a good circuit program, there won't be any corner that gets away untouched. If you are looking to build all around fitness, circuits are a perfect choice.
If you are just starting out, circuits a couple times a week will make sure you get a good overall workout, and build strength, fitness and balance over your whole body. As you get fitter and stronger and think about trying new sports, circuit training will help you keep a solid base that will help you learn your new sport, and prevent injuries.
For specialist athletes, circuits help to balance out more targeted skills training for specific sports. Endurance and strength athletes alike can benefit from regular circuits to help with muscle control, plyometric power, good form and injury prevention, no matter what sport you do.
Benefit #7: It Doesn’t Need Equipment
Circuit training is one of the most versatile and flexible workouts. Sure, you can do circuits at the gym, with mats, weights, plyo boxes and more, but you can also do circuits solely with your own bodyweight and still get a really tough workout!
Circuits might be set up in a gym with lots of stations, especially for the circuit class that is pretty busy, but you can also fit a circuit workout into your living room or garage. You can do a circuit session at home, in a corner of the gym, or you can take it outside. Once you get comfortable with your circuit routine, you can even take it with you and workout in a hotel room or on vacation.
If you like to workout at home, you can always start with a bodyweight circuit, and over time add more equipment to add variety. With a few kettlebells or barbells, a weight bench, and a step board you can add hundreds of exercises to your circuit program. You don't need to spend a lot of money, and you don't need a lot of space. All you really need is a good pair of training shoes, a towel, and a water bottle and you are ready to go - oh, and don’t forget your timer!
So, you can see that the benefits of circuit training make it a great way to pack an intense, all-around workout into a short space of time. You can tailor your circuits to exactly what you want, and for when and where you need to work out.
Have you got a favorite circuit exercise or routine? We’d love to hear about it!