Not all workout routines are created equal, and circuit training is one of them.
The key to getting the most out of your circuit training routine is to understand the exercises to include and exclude.
Circuit training workout is a type of workout where you perform different sets of exercises, back-to-back for a specified time.
There are so many benefits of circuit training workouts.
And until you master the right combinations of workouts, like a chef at a five-star Michelin restaurant, you will not be able to get all of the benefits.
In this article, we will take a look at the core fundamentals of how to build a circuit training routine so that you’re getting all the benefits.
1. Choose the right intensity
The intensity of your circuit training refers to the type, time or reps you allot to each workout.
If you’re just starting, you don’t want to add 30 burpees in one set followed by a fifty-pound dumbbell squat.
No. I know you’re determined but it’s always helpful to start small. Fitness goals must begin with baby steps.
The right intensity of the workout will still challenge you (i.e. not too easy) and not make you complacent (i.e. too hard). That right balance will always depend on your fitness level.
One important component of intensity is the rest time. The right intensity will make your transition easy so you have rest time.
Studies have shown that a high-intensity circuit training routine can provide several benefits. Intensity is the key to improving your heart rate if that’s your goal.
2. Choose exercises that recruit all large muscle groups
One of the key benefits of circuit training is that it helps you to build lean muscle and strength.
Not just strength in isolated muscles (like the gym bros who spend all their time trying to build their biceps). No. Strength across your whole body.
This is only possible if you mix the exercises in your circuit. There should be a blend of:
- Full-body workouts (e.g. Thrusts, Burpees, kickboxing)
- Upper body workout (e.g. shoulder press, pushups)
- Lower body workout (e.g. Dumbbell squats, box step-ups )
- Core workouts (e.g. planks)
- Cardio workouts (e.g. machine row, air bikes, ropes)
As you may notice, these different blocks of exercises engage all of your large muscle groups. This, in turn, adds the right amount of resistance.
3. Choose exercises that provide joint and strength balance
Circuit training exercises are intense and hard. A good routine does not overburden a particular set of joints in one circuit.
Here’s an example of a circuit training workout that can put your knee joints at risk:
- 15 Dumbbell squats
- 15 Barbell lunges
- Box steps (90 seconds)
- Airbike (90 seconds)
- 15 High knee jumps
All these exercises are actively using your knee joint and can easily lead to nagging knee pain injury as the intensity goes over time.
Spread it out. Don’t focus on only one joint.
Here’s an example of a circuit that can help create that ideal balance so you have an effective circuit workout:
- Dumbbell shoulder press (shoulder joint)
- Dumbell squats (knee joint)
- Planks (core)
- Machine row (full body)
- Dumbbell deadlifts
4. Choose a training space and time that supports your circuit
If you’ve been to a New York gym (shout out to my fellow New Yorkers) at 5 pm, you probably know how packed it can be.
A packed gym or training space is not conducive to an effective workout.
The problem with a crowded space is that you might not have some of the tools you need available when you need it.
And that can affect the performance by breaking the circuit.
The other problem is safety-related. A kettlebell swing, for example, will require you to have enough room to, well, swing it.
And when there are too many people around, you might unintentionally hit something or someone.
Speaking of safety, it’s important to highlight that you need to feel safe in the space too. I’ll explain.
You need to be very comfortable especially when you’re starting so you don’t feel judged or ridiculed when you’re not able to complete a set.
Group workouts are great for their camaraderie and it might be helpful to find one if that’s your style.
5. Choose to be flexible
I’m a big advocate for staying committed to a healthy lifestyle for the long term. This almost always means you need to be flexible.
When your circuit training is too hard, be flexible enough to modify the intensity. If it’s hurting a certain joint, modify the sets.
If you’re feeling nauseous at some point in your circuit, don’t have a do-or-die mentality. No. Stop.
Take a break and continue when you feel right. Don’t exercise too much. Rest.
Here are a few things you can modify if you want to be flexible with your circuit workout:
- Number of reps
- Time to complete set
- Rest time (usually circuit training requires very little or no rest)
- Balance of workouts
Most of the time, we put unnecessary pressure on ourselves as fitness seekers to have everything perfect.
But the reality is that sustainable health and fitness habits will require us to remove this pressure by being flexible.
6. Choose to interact with your space
This is important if you cannot go to the gym. One of the benefits of circuit training is that you can do it from anywhere, especially at home.
And the way to make it work is to build your exercise using the things around you.
For example, use your stairwell for step-ups. Or use your leg couch to support an elevated plank. Use your walls to support a stretch. You get the point.
Find creative (and safe of course) ways to add elements in your space to help create the workout intensity you want.