Hi again! In this episode Im going to ramble on about circuit training! In my opinion this is a really solid training method for anyone who want to workout to lose fat and tone up, it’s great for people who want to use minimum equipment, it’s great for people who want a quick intense training session, it’s also good if you want to spice up your regular routine and can be used as a stand-alone training method or just thrown in now and again, the list goes on
What is circuit training?
So What is circuit training and how is it different from any other form of training? Well Circuit training is focused on intensity and stamina. Let’s imagine that you go to the gym or start your home workout session- after your warm up, you start your first exercise set. For the porpous of this podcast let’s say that this is pushups. You get into position and knock out twelve reps in textbook form. You then stand up, have a short break whilst stretching those pecs off. After this short break, you then assume the starting position and knock out another 10 to 12 reps before another short break.
You do this for maybe 3 times and complete 3 sets of pushups before moving on to your next exercise, this might be bodyweight squats. You do 3 sets of bodyweight squats and then move onto another exercise where you also do 3 sets and this continues until you have done maybe 7 – 10 exercises.
With circuit training you will only typically do 3 – 4 sets in the entire workout so it’s a real cake walk because it’ll take you less than half the time to train than your regular session does…
This is true but I was being a bit flippant! That’s the theoretical way of looking at it anyway. The practical way of looking at it is that a circuit is one set but that set includes multiple exercises without rest between so a simple bodyweight circuit for home workouts might look like this –
1 set –
- 12 X pushups
- 12 X Chins/ assisted chins
- 12 X squats
- 12 X dips
- 12 burpees
- 12 crunches
So there should be no rest between sets and by the time you have finished one set, you will have done a total of 72 reps. Once you have finished your last crunch, you can then have a short break. A short break means around 1 – 2 minutes. Its handy to have a stop watch if you attempt this as these breaks can fly by especially when you are on your 3rd or 4th set. During the rest period, you should stretch out keep moving about, I don’t mean go for a run or something, just don’t lay on the floor and close your eyes, staying active is good because your body doesn’t cool down, blood keeps flowing, your heart rate stays in training zones. So keep it moving!
As you can see, each set or “each circuit” only lasts for around 2 minutes. If you do 4 sets or 4 “circuits” in your exercise session you will only be working for about 8 minutes!
Misconceptions about circuit training
There are a lot of misconceptions about circuit training. I’ve heard all sorts. But the most common that seem to be – It’s most beneficial to females, its only used for burning fat and you can’t build muscle from training this way, Circuit training isn’t for beginners.
So circuit training is most beneficial to females, er no! Anyone can benefit from circuit training. The bottom line here is that everyone can find use in their training for some kind of circuit at some point no matter what gender you happen to be. Building muscle, burning fat or working to a specific sporting goal is based on individual abilities and aspirations rather than gender. Granted, there are different hormones that present different challenges in fitness but … I’m not a biologist and for the purpose of this podcast and at the level that I want to talk about I think the differences between gender is negligible when it comes to the circuit training that I’m talking about.
Moving on to the next argument – You can’t build muscle with circuit training. There is an element of truth to this statement. But in my opinion, it’s not strictly true. I would say that it’s not optimal for building “bodybuilder” standard muscle but it is still possible to build muscle.
When it comes to building muscle mass there is a lot to consider but at the very basic level when it comes to the training side of it you have to lift as heavy as you can for a small amount of reps while trying to minimise on sustained exertion in your training sessions.
So circuit training goes right against this. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t build muscle. By doing any resistance training, you are working your muscles. By doing circuit training, you are developing muscle function and stamina, this means that if you train with circuits regularly and consistently, you will develop your muscle tone and function. Aesthetically you will be defined and athletic rather than pumped up but you will still be building muscle.
This all depends on how you train and eat obviously. But circuit training is very versatile as we’ll talk about later but for now I hope this servers as a good, general overview of the difference between “building bodybuilder muscle” and developing muscle and tone.
The next misconception – Circuit training is not for the beginner. This is how I see it – Circuit training is simply a form of training and its nature makes it very adaptable. Personally I could use circuit training to good effect with someone who has never even seen a dumbbell and for someone who is an ultra-marathon runner. When it comes to your personal abilities there are plenty of variables to change and tweak so that you can really tailor a workout to challenge you based on your specific goals.
So no, circuit training can absolutely used by the beginner J
It’s probably apparent that I’m a big advocate of home workouts and I always encourage the beginner to start here before moving on to gym memberships and personal trainers etc. Some of the reasons behind this is that home workouts are really accessible, less daunting than starting off in a gym and they can really help to establish training routines.
Now I always advise that you should find a progressive routine to follow and I would say that a routine that focuses on sets and reps using single sets of 10 – 15 reps per exercise is a good start for a beginner as you will be able to focus on perfecting the movement a bit better. But this does not mean that if you want to give circuit training a go from the beginning that you can’t.
If you are a beginner and are focused on fat loss and muscle toning as your main goal there’s no reason that you can’t get stuck in to some form of circuit training right off the bat and Ill cover a beginners circuit training session that you can easily do from home later but first I want to talk about the benefits of circuit training for fat loss.
Why circuit training for fat loss?
A lot of people look at circuit training as a form of cardio training and that’s all it good for but it’s actually really good for endurance, muscle function and tone too. As mentioned earlier.
So training in this way is generally pretty intense; during a circuit session you can decide to focus on specific muscle groups and throw in big compound movements like shoulder press, rows, squats and dips to hit your big muscle groups and by performing these exercises in the form of a circuit you will be expending a lot of energy each set. Because these are all compound exercises and more muscles are used per rep, this means more energy used which means more calories used which also means more fat burned. This all adds up to circuit training in this way being a really solid all round workout for fat burning and muscle toning.
Also one thing to consider is that if this type of exercise is done regularly, you will be boosting your metabolism, changing your body composition and as I’ve said many times before (and will say many times in the future) – More lean muscle means more fat burned even when you are at rest.
Variables of circuit training
Let’s talk about the variables of circuit training now because I’ve mentioned cardio, targeting specific muscle groups and given an example of a simple circuit and this might get confusing.
Circuit training is mega versatile! You can be really creative when it comes to designing your own and it can be good fun to challenge yourself with new ideas. Here are some of the ways that you can approach it-
You could stick to an all over body workout by using big compound movements so you hit every muscle group a bit like the example used at the beginning where you do a chest press, then squats, shoulder press etc. That’s all good and will be challenging but the rabbit hole is pretty deep with circuit training options.
You could set up a circuit that only targets one muscle group. For example, this could be a “legs” circuit where you just do a whole bunch of different leg exercises hitting hamstrings calfs and quads or you could just set it up so it hits quads! … Ouch! You would be a real sicko then though J
You could move away from counting reps per exercise and use time slots instead so you perform an exercise for say 20 seconds and then move right to the next exercise for 20 seconds. This works well if you are more cardio focused. For example, you could use a step and to step ups for a time slot, then move on to burpies or even have sprint slots or knees to chest jumps.
You could even mix big compound movements with a set number of reps with timed slots of other exercises in the same circuit if you wanted to or even add aspects of sports specific training to the mix like throwing in a bit of punch bag training. There really is a whole world of options out there for you to try, test and tailor to your specific training needs.
Before you start out, I would do exactly that; Id decide what my goal was and create my own circuit plan around that.
So as you can see circuit training doesn’t have to be a simple boring routine that you have to get to, it can be fun and challenging too.
A good beginner circuit training routine?
If you want to try circuit training and you are a beginner, I would suggests picking compound exercises to target your big muscle groups. This way you will get to know your body, it will help you identify your strengths and weaknesses (for example – if you find pushups hard but squats easy, you know that you have strong legs but could do with focusing on your upper body, in this case, your chest and triceps). Bodyweight exercises are great but if you havnt done them before they can be pretty tough this is why I would also advise that you grab an exercise band kit. Now this is another pandoras box of awesomeness so all Ill say here is that exercise bands are very good for everyone, if you are into exercise, you should have a set of these, they are pretty inexpensive and offer a lot for all levels of fitness.
So this is a circuit training routine that I would suggest for beginners –
- Pushups/ Pushups on knees
- Rows with exercise band
- Bodyweight squats
- Bicep curls
- Shoulder press
This is a good start as there are only 5 exercises and they are all big movements so it’s a nice all-rounder. Remember to keep your abs tight throughout and this will also help your core. You could also throw in some crunches at the end to make this a 6 movement circuit
I would also aim for 10 to 15 reps per exercise and have around 2 minutes between circuits.
If you are a more advanced trainer and want to try circuit training, you might want to do the same routine but add a few isolation exercises in between the compound exercises or add a timed stepping session in between resistance movements. See how easy this is to adapt and progress?
Ok hopefully you have found this useful and I’ll bring it to a close but if you feel like this might be for you I’ve written a book on circuit training which goes into a lot more depth and gives examples of a full six week workout using circuit training exclusively. So Id love it if you checked that out, its part of the home workout series and is quit aptly named “home workout circuit training”. All of the exercise descriptions are demonstrated by myself and mrs jimshealth and muscle and we also made it on the front cover too….. Yup I had long hair back then and I still maintain that it made me look way cool so yeah check that out and as always Im happy to answer any questions.
Thanks for listening to me again and I hope to speak again real soo!
All the best, take it easy