Circuit training is a method of physical training in which a series of exercises are performed continuously (preferably without rest) in a "circuit" fashion. It is usually a whole body exercise programme, meaning that a series of different exercises are selected and which target all the different muscle groups of the human body. The exercises are spread out over the entire body and each muscle group is exercised only once in quick (albeit good form) succession in a circuit style. Circuit training can be performed using one's own bodyweight as the resistance or with hand-held weights such as barbells, dumbells or machines.
Why is it that the exercises should be performed continuously without rest during circuit training?
The answer is this: "The purpose of circuit training is to improve not only our muscular endurance and stamina but also our cardio-respiratory fitness."
What is cardio-respiratory fitness?
The word "cardio" comes from the word "cardiac" which means "heart" and the word "respiratory" comes from the word "respiration" which means "breathing" or "lungs". Thus cardio-respiratory fitness can simply be defined as the ability of the heart and lungs to supply blood and oxygen efficiently to skeletal muscles during prolonged physical exercise without undue stress or exhaustion. So while you are in the midst of a circuit training session, you should be panting for breath and your heart should be beating vigorously pumping blood and oxygen throughout the whole body. You are not doing your circuit training correctly if you do not experience this. The benefits of circuit training are increased muscular endurance and stamina, faster fat loss and stronger and more efficient heart and lungs.
A simple test of your cardio-respiratory fitness can be this:
Climb up a flight of stairs. If you feel unduly tired and out of breath when you reach the top of the stairs, this means that your heart and lungs are not in superb working condition.
A wholebody bodyweight circuit training programme:
- Push ups - 12 repetitions (for the pectoral and tricep muscles)
- Chin ups - 12 repetitions (for the latissimmus dorsi and bicep muscles)
- Squat jumps - 12 repetitions (for the thigh and calf muscles)
- Handstand Push ups - 12 repetitions (for the deltoid and tricep muscles)
- Sit ups and leg raises - 12 repetitions each (for the upper and lower abdominal muscles)
This is how the above bodyweight circuit is done:
First do 12 repetitions of push ups. Without pause, do 12 repetitions of chin ups. Without pause again, do 12 repetitions of squat jumps followed by 12 repetitions of handstand push ups and lastly 12 repetitions each of sit ups and leg raises. Notice that in this circuit you are doing a fixed number of repetitions per exercise, namely 12. There is another method of circuit training which is based on a fixed amount of time spent on doing each exercise. Below is an example of this other method.
A timed bodyweight circuit training programme:
- Push ups - 2 minutes (do as many repetitions as possible within this 2 minutes)
- Chin ups - 2 minutes (do as many repetitions as possible within this 2 minutes)
- Squat jumps - 2 minutes (do as many repetitions as possible within this 2 minutes)
- Handstand Push ups - 2 minutes (do as many repetitions as possible within this 2 minutes)
- Sit ups and leg raises - 2 minutes each (do as many repetitions as possible within this 4 minutes)
Total time required for this circuit = 12 minutes
A wholebody barbell or dumbell circuit training programme:
- Bench press (for the pectoral and tricep muscles)
- Bent over row (for the latissimmus dorsi and bicep muscles).
- Squat (for the thigh muscles)
- Military press or Press behind neck (for the deltoid and tricep muscles)
- Leg curls (for the hamstring muscles)
- French press (for the tricep muscles)
- Bicep curls (for the bicep muscles)
- Calf raises (for the calf muscles)
- Inclined sit ups and hanging leg raises (for the upper and lower abdominal muscles)
Here again you can either do a fixed repetition circuit or a timed circuit.
How many circuits should you do in a training session? This is up to the individual but for best results, 2 bodyweight and 2 hand-held weight circuits should be sufficient. Can muscular strength be achieved from circuit training? Yes it can and this is how it is achieved:
1. When doing bodyweight circuit training, alter the exercises slightly so that they become harder to perform. For example, instead of doing two-armed push ups, try doing one-arm or two fingers push ups.
2. To increase your strength when circuit training with weights all you have to do is to increase the poundage used.
Circuit Training is suitable for all sports that are of long duration such as soccer, basketball, wrestling, judo, taekwondo, MMA (mixed martial arts), jiu jitsu and tennis.