Circuit Training – Features, Benefits and an Example Workout

If you want to switch things up at the gym, want to speed up fat-loss and improve cardiovascular fitness, or just looking for a new challenge, you may want to look into circuit training.

What exactly is circuit training ?

Circuit training is a sequential workout of all major muscle groups of the body in a single training session. It can be combination of eight to ten exercises, both resistance and conditioning, performed with little to no rest between them for either a set number of repetitions or a prescribed amount of time.

It is suitable for both intermediate and more experienced athletes with different fitness goals, looking for a full body workout.

What’s the purpose of circuit training ?

The main purpose of circuit training is to keep you moving by only allowing you to take minimal breaks between exercises. The rest periods that are used are only 10 to 20 second breaks, so the trainee can catch their breath before starting another exercise.

It is a great way to improve both your cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance and burn some fat. It’s ideal for those looking for a quick, effective, full-body workout.

Circuit training benefits

With a circuit workout, you’ll do a lot of work in a short period of time, which will boost your metabolism. Your metabolism will stay increased even 24 hours after you’ve completed the workout.

1. Because you take only small breaks between sets, you’ll work on your aerobic system and increase strength at the same time.

2. You will increase the amount of testosterone released, which, in the long run increases muscle size.

3. You do both cardio and strength training in one session, so you won’t lose hours at the gym.

Circuit training features

– Circuit training uses only compound basic exercises, at least for the major muscle groups,  as they lay the foundation for the future development of strength and mass in the athlete athlete.

– It is best if you can execute these basic exercises at the gym to get the full benefit of them (again we are talking about the big muscle groups like legs, back, chest at least). The gym offers the possibility of precisely regulating the weights as well as safety during exercise.

– All exercises are performed using the high rep “pumping” scheme. This scheme helps in maximizing the formation and development of a network of capillaries inside the muscle, which is a prerequisite for further growth.

muscle pump

– Circuit training is usually done three days a week, and with each of them you have the opportunity to change the exercise as well as the order of worked muscle groups. For example, if we started with the chest on Monday, we can start with the back on Wednesday and with the legs on Friday and so on.

– Each muscle group is trained with only one exercise per workout session. At the initial stage, only one working set is done for this exercise, not including the warm-up sets. As the fitness level increases, the number of working sets can be increased to two, and later on – to three.

Circuit training example

Here is an example circuit training. The workouts are done on Monday, Wednesday and Friday (or Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday if you are more comfortable)

First stage – 8 weeks

Circuit workout 1 – Monday

We are going to divide the muscles of the body in several major muscle groups. We will work each of them in one workout : back, chest, quadriceps, hamstrings, deltoids, triceps, biceps. During this stage, we don’t do any work for the calves and forearms. They will get enough load from working the major muscle groups.

(only the work sets are shown here)

Narrow grip cable row for the back  1 x 15-20
Bench press   1 x 15-20
Leg press  1 x 15-20
Leg curls 1 x 15-20
Seated smith machine shoulder press 1 x 15-20
Barbell biceps curls 1 x 15-20
Triceps cable pushdown 1 x 15-20

Before performing each of the work sets, one to three warm-up sets should be done. The warm ups should be done with significantly lower weights than the work sets and the reps should be in the range of 10-12.

standing barbell shoulder press

Circuit workout 2 – Wednesday

Hammer machine bench press 1 x 15-20
Smith machine squats   1 x 15-20
Hyperextension  1 x 15-20
Pull downs   1 x 15-20
Biceps Dumbbell Curls 1 x 15-20
“Skull crushers” 1 x 15-20
Dumbbell Shoulder press 1 x 15-20

Circuit workout 3 –  Friday

Some exercises can be repeated as we are not using heavy weights for stimulation

Leg extension 1 x 15-20
Stiff leg deadlift (light weight) 1 x 15-20
Side lateral raises 1 x 15-20
Seated dumbbell curls 1 x 15-20
Machine dips (or close grip bench press) 1 x 15-20
Hammer back row 1 x 15 – 20
Incline bench press 1 x 15 – 20

Program notes

All exercises that are included in the program are done in the range of 15-20 reps with moderate weights. This means that the weight is chosen in such a way that you will be able to complete the set about 2-3 reps before muscle failure. The pace of the exercise is also moderate average (about 3 seconds for a whole rep).

Time for rest between sets 1.5-2 minutes. This set of exercises is designed to be performed within 6-8 weeks. After the initial stage the strategy is the same, however, the number of reps is somewhat reduced to 10-12, while the number of work sets is increased to 2-3.

Second phase. Building a base. 6-8 weeks

The purpose of this phase is the development of proper form on free weight exercises, the development of power qualities. The number of workouts stays the same – three times a week. Each workout we work all major muscle groups.

The number of reps will decrease to 10-15, but at the same time the number of work sets will increase. The weights should also be increased for about 10-15%.  The pauses between each one and a half to two minutes. The following is an example program for this stage of the preparation:

Circuit workout 1 – Monday

Barbell row 2 x 10-15
Bench press 2 x 10-15
Leg press  2 x 10-15
Leg curls  2 x 10-15
Barbell shoulder press  2 x 10-15
Standing barbell biceps curls 2 x 10-15
Triceps pushdowns 2 x 10-15

Circuit workout 2 – Wednesday

Dumbbell incline bench press  2 x 10-15
Barbell Squats  2 x 10-15
Hyperextension  2 x 10-15
Dumbbell side raises 2 x 10-15
Dumbbell “Hammer” curls 2 x 10-15
Nnarrow grip bench press 2 x 10-15
Pulldowns  2 x 10-15

Circuit workout 3 – Friday

Leg Extension  2 x 10-15
Straight leg deadlift 2 x 10-15
Upright row (hands shoulder width apart)  2 x 10-15
Scott biceps curl  2 x 10-15
French bench press on a flat bench 2 x 10-15
Cable row  2 x 10-15
Dumbbell bench press 2 x 10-15

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