Circuit Training Fundamentals

In General by Adam Friedman

by Adam Friedman, CSCS

Founder of Advanced Athletics

If you are looking for a way to ignite your metabolism, progress your training, challenge yourself, and have fun doing it, then Circuit Training may be the answer you’re looking for.  For many of us, our common workout regimen is to separate the different components of exercise, like weight training and cardio.  This usually looks like a number of resistance-type exercises, each done with sets, reps, and recovery before moving on.  This is often followed by a mode of cardiovascular training for a specific duration and intensity.  This is an ideal workout, which does produce great results.  However, after a while, the body says “Ho-Hum…z-z-z-z-z-z-z-” because it has adapted pretty well to that flow, and that predictability.  It causes the body to fall into a stagnant state, miniminzing the potential to reach your goal.

We get to change it up, and keep our body on its toes if we want to see results.  Depending on your physical needs, exercise history, and goals, you should be switching up on your routine every two to four weeks.  This will be highly beneficial to the improvement in strength, conditioning, growth of lean tissue, and the reduction of fat.

Adam Pull up back shotTo move into high gear, the method that I like to incorporate into the training of my clients, both athletes and non-athletes, is Circuit Training.  It is a powerful workout that consists of a series of pre-determined exercses done consecutively with only a moment in between to position your self for the next exercise.  The objective is to dynamically challenge the body to handle various modes and intensities.  It may be the x-factor that creates the change in your body’s conditioning and aesthetics.  However, like an automobile, your body can’t maintain operating in high gear for an extended period before it begins to break down.

Circuit Training is a favorite workout of mine for many reasons.  First, it is a guaranteed way to speed up my metabolism, which enhances my body’s ability to burn more body fat.  Second, it is a real effective way to maximize a period of time, by allowing me to incorporate multiple exercises that can improve:

  • Muscular Strength
  • Muscular Endurance
  • Cardiovascular Endurance
  • Athletics Prowess

Third, there are so many exercise/movement possibilities in the design of a circuit workout, it allows for creativity to accomplish a variety of objectives and goals.  This also supports having a solid progression over a period of time.

The constant objective is to have fun challenging the body dynamically, and to stimulate the metabolic system to kick into high gear.  This, overtime, can greatly contribute to attaining a lean and athletic body.

It is important to know that Circuit Training is not meant to be done for more than a couple weeks at at time, because like any like training method, your body adapts and can become stale or can cause breakdown if there is no periodization.  If your goal is to be lean, fit, and athletic, I recommend that every six to eight weeks, incorporate 2 weeks of Circuit Training.  However, if you are more likely to stay consistent with your workouts if you do Circuit Training, then it is important to manipulate the circuit exercises, sets, reps, recovery, and intensity.  This will help to create a different stimulus for your body to progress without the repetitive stress.

What you use for equipment is dependent on your available resources.  Finding a safe place is also a consideration when putting together a circuit workout.  We recommend cross-training shoes especially if any lateral movements are involved.

The circuit is based upon a pre-determined work to rest ratio.  It can be 1:2, 1:3, 1:4, or 1:5 depending on the objective of the workout, and the intensity of the movements.  Each workout should fall into one of these categories:

  • Low Intensity — High Volume — Long Duration (40-50 min)
  • Moderate Intensity — Moderate Volume — Moderate Duration (30-40 min)
  • High Intensity — Low Volume — Short Duration (20-30 min)

How many days each week depends on the goals, volume, and intensity that is done in each circuit workout.  That is why it is important to plan out the volume and intensity of each workout.  Ideally there should not be two of the same volume, and intensity two days in a row.  A beginner may do two circuits per week, intermediate can do 3 days per week, and advanced can do 4 days per week.

The number of exercises can range from 3 up to 15.  Therefore, you can choose to keep it simple or make it more complex.  I prefer to incorporate a number of exercises that are combination/complex movements to engage the body as a whole to maximize the time, body coordination (functional movement), and energy output.  Some combination/complex exercise examples are: cleans, snatches, burpees, biceps curl into a shoulder press, medicine ball throws, etc.  Each exercise has a point of emphasis on a particular area of the body during the combination movement, while the rest of the body gets to be the beneficiary.  It’s a Win-Win!

Each exercise can be performed based on a specific number of reps, or a set amount of time.  The speed of the movements is dependent on the level of intensity of the workout.  After completing the entire sequence of exercises, you can either take a 1-2 minute rest, or start over immediately if your conditioning allows for it.

For this workout example, I have chosen to do a moderate intensity circuit.  I have selected 9 exercises to show you the middle ground of Circuit Training.  Depending on your own level of conditioning you can adapt the progressions I show you.

Important to warm-up for 10 minutes and lightly stretch any restricted range of motion.  Please keep in mind that there is a plethora of exercises for each category, and I have only listed a handful of examples.  Choose exercises per category for the circuit.

  1. Acitve movement: Jog in place, Side-stepping, Jumping Jacks, Jump Rope, Mountain Climbers, Brazilian Dance
  2. Lower Body Strength Emphasis: Squat, Single leg squat, lying hip extensions, mulit-directional lunges.
  3. Upper Body Strength with Pressing Emphasis: Push-ups, Band chest presses, Shoulder Press, Lateral Raise, Triceps Dips.
  4. Upper Body Strength with Pulling Movements: Dumbbell (DB) Rows, DB Pullovers, Band Rows, Biceps Curl.
  5. Active Recovery: Jog in Place, Side Stepping, Jumping Jacks, Jump Rope, Mountain Climbers, Brazilian Dance.
  6. Lower Body Plyometric Movements: Jumping, Hopping, Skipping
  7. Upper Body Plyometric Movements: MB Throws, Plyometric push-ups
  8. Mid Section Movement: Reverse Crunches, Stability Bridge, Medicine Ball Trunk Rotations, Cross Crunches, Wood Chops.
  9. Active Rest: Jog in Place, Side Stepping, Jumping Jacks, Jump Rope, Mountain Climbers, Brazilian Dance.

1-2 Minutes recovery between sets

3-4 sets Total

Where you take your circuit workout is up to you.  Just remember to keep it safe, and have fun!



Advanced Athletics recommended pre-requisites to Circuit Training are:

  • To have consistently trained for at least three to four months developing a strength and conditioning base, which has included competency in the fundamental movements for the strength and plyometric exercises to be used in circuit workouts.
  • Train at least bi-weekly in moderate to high intensity interval cardiovascular exercise.

Circuit Training can be a very high intensity exercise, and can raise your heart rate and blood pressure significantly in the process.  Therefore, Advanced Athletics recommends that you consult with your primary physician and complete a full physical, and receive no medical restrictions or limitations for exericse.