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Circuit Training Ideas

stew smith

With the weather turning colder, many emails to me this week discussed running in the cold weather, or alternative exercises you can do in the weight room that will also have a cardiovascular effect. Circuit training is one of the best ways to make a resistance and strength training workout that is also challenging for your heart and lungs. It is also an extremely efficient use of time as you tend to "rest" by doing another exercise.

Below you will see several types of circuits that you can do in most weight rooms, hotel weight rooms, or your living room with or without equipment. These are the ones I use the most:

Also - NEW - Circuit Training 101 ebook - All Levels of Fitness

The way I set them up in my gym:

1 - Upper body only - alternating pushing / pulling exercises

2 - Every machine in the studio option - usually gets a full body workout - I like to arrange in Push, Pull upper body, ab / lower back, leg exercises in that order. Good for beginners but should soon upgrade to less machines / more movements for "{real life" benefits. Machines are great for beginners or people needed to isolate muscles / joints due to rehab to an injury.

3 - Rest with abs / plank pose - Every exercise you do - have clients rest with 20 abs of choice or 30 second plank pose as an active rest.

4 - Cardio / leg circuit - pick 3-4 leg exercises like leg press, squats, leg curls, leg ext and follow with 4-5 minutes of cardio (easy or hard)

Reps can vary at 10-20 reps OR time limit of 1 minute each exercise.
The Full-body Push - Pull Circuit: This workout is a 20-minute workout that will take you to your maximum physical effort as well as your maximum heart rate. The object of this workout is not to rest in between exercises. You will see that one minute of a particular exercise will burn out the targeted muscle group as well as increase your heart rate to a fat and sugar burning zone. Try the 20 minute workout below - if it is not challenging enough for you try it for 3-4 cycles, totaling 30-40 minutes of your time in the weight room.

20 Minutes Circuit Workout
(*choose light weights for max reps)

Do every OTHER day

# 1: Bench press 50% bodyweight - max reps 1:00 #2: Max pullups #3: Pushups 1:00
#4: Situps 1:00
Plus 3:00 bike or run

#5: Dips - max reps #6: Pulldowns - max reps in 1:00
Squats max reps 1:00 (weight optional) Lunges 30 seconds / leg Flutterkicks 1:00 plus 3:00 bike or run
Stretch 1:00 of whatever is tight and repeat 1-2 more times!!

Every Exercise Machine Circuit: Many exercise rooms with machine weights for exercise equipment have 10-15 machines to create a circuit with. Simply do every machine in the weight room for 1 minute each. Pick 2-3 upper-body pushing exercises like bench press, shoulder press, and triceps as well as 2-3 pulling exercises like pull-downs, rows, biceps machines. Then find 2-3 leg exercises or add in squats and lunges if you legs are strong enough.

For instance, here is an upper-body, lower-body, core, cardio circuit:

Warm-up with 5 min of cardio option
Continue warm-up with crunches 1-2 minutes

Repeat 3 exercises 2-3 times
Bench Press - 10-15 reps
Pull-downs - 10-15 reps
Leg press - 10-15 reps

Lightweight Shoulder Workout - do only once
Repeat 3 exercises 2-3 times
Overhead press - 10-15 reps
Rows 10-15 reps
Squats or leg extensions 10-15 reps

MJDB#2 - do only once

Repeat 2-3 times
Crunches 25
Reverse Crunches 25
Double Crunches 25
Plank pose 1 minute

I have never been a fan of ONLY doing machine weights as the machines take away balance, stabilizing muscles and isolate muscles groups. There are not many things in life that allows for you to isolate a muscle group. If you are just getting started or nursing an injury, these machines are ideal for building a foundation of strength. But eventually, you should add in more exercises like calisthenics or dumbbells or free weights that will help you create more functional (real-life) workouts.

Rest with Crunches Circuit - Another great way to do a circuit is in between EVERY exercise machine - drop to the floor and do 20-30 abs of your choice. I like to do this two ways. Pick one exercise like bench press and do bench press 10-15 reps / 20-30 crunches and repeat that cycle 2-3 times. Move to the next exercise like pull-downs or pull-ups and do the same thing - "resting with crunches" in between each set of the exercises you choose.

TRX Circuits - If you have a TRX, they are built for circuit training as you can move from one exercise to the next in only seconds. See video link for a few of the options:

TRX Train Like the Pros

Video - Full-body TRX Circuit

Video of challenging AB Exercise to add into ANY circuit

Great Cardio / Leg workouts - Run, row, bike or elliptical glide for 5 minutes to warm up the legs and get the heart pumping. Then stop and do a leg circuit of the following exercises for 1 minute each: Squats, 1/2 squats, lunges, heel raises, and stretch. Repeat the 5 minute cardio and leg PT circuit 3-4 times for a challenging leg workout you will feel the next day.

There is an unlimited number of ways to organize a circuit workout. The above workouts are organized with upper body, lower body and cardiovascular exercises. By simply doing the above upper body and lower body exercises in such a way, you will be able to rest your upper body muscles while you workout your lower body muscles, but you will never rest your heart. This is how you make the circuit workout challenging to your cardiovascular system as well as your major muscle groups. Studies have shown that mixing a resistance training regimen with a cardiovascular element will increase your metabolism, therefore burning fat and building muscle. The result is a decrease in body fat percentage.

Send in your emails to I will answer the question or direct you to the answer. The above workout is from many of the eBooks listed on the Fitness eBook Store.

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