How to Build the Perfect Circuit Training Workout

Bored of doing the same old exercise routine? Follow these simple steps to create your own circuit training session for a more exciting workout.

Imagine a hard-hitting workout routine that mixes cardio and strength training, has you in and out of the gym in 30 minutes, and leaves you looking forward to your next workout. Sound too good to be true? It's not — it's called circuit training.

Circuit Training, Explained

Circuit training is a style of workout where you cycle through several exercises (usually five to 10) targeting different muscle groups with minimal rest in between each movement. The result is a workout that taxes your muscular strength and endurance and your cardiorespiratory system. You've likely done circuit training in boot camp-style classes and didn't even realize it.


Benefits of Circuit Training

Circuit training workouts have a ton of benefits. For starters, it's a great boredom buster. If you find yourself constantly watching the clock during your workout and counting down the seconds until it's over, then circuit training is definitely worth a try. It's a surefire way to shake up your workout routine, since moving quickly from one exercise to the next means your mind doesn't have time to wander or zone out. Plus, there are endless ways to customize, modify, and progress your circuit training workout to reach your goals in record time.

You'll also burn calories more efficiently. Your body goes through a post-workout recovery period (called the afterburn effect) that requires more energy when performing circuit training workouts than other methods — such as steady-state, moderate-intensity routines. Because of this, you can expect to burn 8 to 15 percent more calories when opting for high-intensity circuit training, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. And when your circuit training workout combines cardio and strength moves, you'll also increase muscle — basically, you can check off multiple training goals with this one workout.

How to Create a Circuit Training Workout

Figuring out how to set up an effective circuit training workout on your own can be pretty daunting at first. So to give you a hand, here are six easy steps to help you build your perfect routine.

Step 1: Set a Time Limit

Circuit training workouts are based around a set number of "stations" that you repeat until your time runs out, so knowing how much time you have can help you determine how many circuits you'll need to complete and how hard you'll need to work. Anywhere from 10–45 minutes is ideal for circuit training — but the shorter the workout, the harder you should be pushing.

And since you're alternating which body part you're working during each move, there's no need to rest between exercises. Think of it like this: Your arms get a break during squats, and your legs get a break during push-ups.

Example circuit training workout: One minute at five different stations. Repeat that for six rounds and it adds up to a 30-minute workout.

Step 2: Pick an Upper-Body Exercise

The trick with circuit training is to use whatever you have handy. If you're at the gym, you have a wide range of options — but all you really need is your body. (Here's a great at-home HIIT circuit training workout you can steal.) You can choose a different upper-body move each round or simply repeat the same exercise every time if you want to keep things simple. Depending on which style you'd prefer, you can either cycle through all of these exercises or just pick your favorite.

Upper-Body Circuit Training Exercises:

Circuit 1: Shoulder press

Circuit 2: Bent-over row

Circuit 3: Standing dumbbell curl

Circuit 4: Triceps dip

Circuit 5: Push-up

Circuit 6: Russian twist

Step 3: Pick a Lower-Body Exercise

Just like you did with the upper body, choose exercises that will work each part of your lower body. You can change up the moves each round or keep them the same.

Lower-Body Circuit Training Exercises:

Circuit 1: Forward lunge or walking lunge

Circuit 2: Sumo squat

Circuit 3: Calf raise

Circuit 4: Hamstring curl on a Swiss ball

Circuit 5: Deadlift

Circuit 6: Superman

Step 4: Pick a Compound Exercise

Weight training is an excellent workout, but you'll really get your heart rate up by adding in some total-body movements to your circuit training plan. Again, choose one of the below or cycle through all six of these moves.

Compound Circuit Training Exercises:

Circuit 1: Jumping lunge

Circuit 2: Mountain climbers

Circuit 3: Thruster (squat to shoulder press)

Circuit 4: Barbell clean

Circuit 5: Bench hop-over

Circuit 6: Single-arm kettlebell swing

Step 5: Add In One Minute of Max-Effort Cardio

Research shows that engaging in cardio regularly is an effective way to improve cardiorespiratory fitness. Pick your favorite type of cardio to add to your circuit training workout and go all out for one minute.

Cardio Circuit Training Exercises:

Circuit 1: Running

Circuit 2: Jumping rope

Circuit 3: Rowing

Circuit 4: Cycling

Circuit 5: Uphill jogging

Circuit 6: Stair climbing

Step 6: Take a One-Minute Rest

You've earned it. Let your heart rate come down and then go back through your circuit as many times as you'd like for a complete workout.

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