Circuit training — age old solution to fitness

Circuit training has been around the fitness industry longer than I have been — and that’s saying something!

Circuit training started around 1953 and has endured as a popular method of training because of its many benefits. In the beginning, the machines or stations were arranged in a circle — thus the name circuit training. It was first proposed as a method of obtaining general fitness, but now is used as an off-season training for athletes and as a quick and effective way for people of all fitness levels to obtain a full body workout including cardio and resistance training. And interestingly, more and more gyms are now promoting circuit training as one of the best ways to train because of its many benefits. What is new in the fitness industry is often what’s old and tried and true.

Circuits are usually sequenced in a way to alternate between muscle groups, in order to allow for adequate recovery. The rest interval can be very short (15 seconds up to a maximum of 30 seconds) in order to improve the cardiovascular fitness level as well. Unless fitness is your full-time job (lucky me) most people don’t have the time or the interest to spend all day in the gym to facilitate an exhaustive workout. Circuit training gets all the major groups done and is perfect if you are really time crunched because you can set up as few or as many stations as you like.

If you have ever felt yourself wandering around in a gym wondering what to do next, or frustrated because someone was on the next piece of equipment that you needed and they didn’t appear to be getting off anytime soon, then circuit training is for you. You can also try out new pieces of equipment such as a bosu ball or kettlebells or TRX as alternatives to what you might usually do and therefore expand your repertoire.

The benefits of circuit is that by moving quickly from exercise to exercise and using major muscle groups you truly tap into strength and cardio at the same time. Because you can use a variety of equipment such as surgical tubing, jump ropes, body weight dumbbells, medicine balls or exercise machines you can really mix the workout up and keep it interesting as well as challenging.

Generally, circuits are comprised of nine to 12 weight-training stations arranged to target all major muscle groups, and at each station you perform eight to 20 repetitions of each exercise with only 30 seconds rest (maximum) in between stations. The weight loads are usually at 40 to 60 percent of your maximum ability so that you can complete the number of reps with proper form. Depending on your fitness level and your time constraints, you can run through the circuit once up to three times.

The re-emergence of circuit training is primarily because it is a one-stop exercise session that keeps the pulse rate up while increasing strength. You can alter the circuit by varying the number of times you go through the circuit, increase or decrease the length of time in between intervals, or vary the speed and intensity of each exercise.

Other benefits are that if you are training with someone who is not quite at your fitness level, you can do multiples of circuits while they just complete one and yet you are still working together. Circuit training can also effectively reduce your body percent fat because of the cardio aspect of the training.

As well, because you get through the workout faster, your body will not have time to release cortisol (typically released after 60 minutes of training) and therefore you will increase muscle mass rather than tear it down. I train many of my clients on a circuit or modified circuit because of the many benefits of this style of workout. Maximum workout in minimum time!


Jane Riley is a certified nutritional adviser and can be reached at, (808) 212-1451,


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