Photo: Uber Images/Shutterstock
You've probably heard the phrase "circuit training" thrown around a lot—and you've probably done a lot of circuit training in group workout classes whether you realize it or not.
To clear up any confusion: Circuit training is when you cycle through a bunch of exercises (usually 5 to 10) that target different muscle groups without resting in between. For example, you might move from squats to push-ups to planks to lunges to supermans, and keep repeating until you're totally toasted. (You're probably also wondering what the difference is between circuit training and interval training.) The resulting workout is part strength training and part cardio, which is what makes it one of the most effective training styles out there.
Here, other circuit training benefits that'll make you a convert for life:
1. Get maximum results in minimum time.
Unless fitness is your job, nobody has hours a day to spend in the gym. Circuit training is the perfect workout for the time-crunched fitness fiend. You can set up as many or as few stations as you like (get a quick tutorial here) and then continue through the circuit until your time runs out. You can fit in an effective, total-body workout whether you have 15 minutes or an hour. (And you can do a circuit workout with zero equipment too!)
2. Challenge your whole body.
Ever found yourself just wandering around the gym floor and winging your workout? (It's ok, we've all done it!) By incorporating individual "stations" as part of a whole-body circuit, you're guaranteed to hit every major—and minor—muscle group. A good rule of thumb: alternate between lower-body, upper-body, and core moves to give each muscle group a solid rest after each exercise.
3. You get the benefits of cardio and strength training.
You love cardio but know you should do weights too (or vice versa), and forcing yourself to do an entire workout you don't enjoy can be tedious (and much easier to skip). Circuit training offers the best of both worlds by allowing you to combine intervals of high-intensity cardio with heavy weight lifting for a comprehensive—and seriously kick-butt—workout.
4. Send your metabolism soaring.
Thanks to the many benefits of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and heavy weight lifting, circuit training kicks your fat-burning furnace into high gear. You'll torch more calories in 20 minutes than you would in an entire hour on the elliptical reading a magazine. Plus, the afterburn effect will have you torching calories for up to 48 hours after your workout ends.
5. Never waste another minute.
Waiting in line for your favorite machine or trying to avoid conversation with the chatty musclehead camped out by the dumbbells are fast ways to kill your motivation. With circuit training, it's easy to swap out one station for a different exercise and still get the same great workout.
6. Try all the latest fitness tools.
Have you ever been curious about a new piece of equipment but weren't sure how to use it well enough for an entire workout? Circuit training allows you to mix in an assortment of moves using gym equipment such as the TRX, Bosu, or kettlebells so you can get comfortable with new equipment without having to commit to an entire workout with the tool.
7. You can beat gym boredom.
Because circuit training is such a flexible format, the options in how you organize your workout are limitless. Whether you like to stick to one routine for a while to measure your progress or prefer mixing it up every time you go to the gym, having a plan will make you more confident and efficient. Need a few ideas to get started? Here's a guide on how to create the perfect circuit training workout.
The Only Downside of Circuit Training
Circuit training can take up a lot of equipment and/or space. It won't be a problem if you're in your basement, but if you're monopolizing half the equipment on the weight floor, just remember to be a good sport and let people work in with you. Who knows, they might even inspire you to try something you've never done before. (And if all else fails, go with a bodyweight circuit workout!)