Updated: Sep 15
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The health and fitness advantages of circuit training make it an essential exercise methodology. Anyone who wants to improve all-round fitness, burn fat and maintain health needs to regularly participate in circuit training.
In this article, we will take a look at five advantages of circuit training. If after reading the five advantages you feel inspired to start circuit training, you will no doubt want to learn how to create your own.
We have created a Circuit Training How 2 Guide which outlines the different types of circuits. In addition, our How 2 Guide shows you step-by-step how to create and design your own circuit. You can find the link to this article in the conclusion.
Advantages of circuit training #1: Time-sensitive
It’s no exaggeration to say that you could easily condense a ‘typical’ gym session into a 30- or even 20-minute circuit. Because gym sessions are relatively low-intensity, and a lot of time is spent resting and migrating from one piece of equipment to the next (and posing in front of the mirror and posting pics), not much exercise gets done.
I bet that less than 50% of the typical hour-long gym session is utilised in the pursuit of physical improvement. And that’s being conservative.
As well as being an inefficient way to get fit, training like this is also a huge waste of time. If the typical gym session were organised into a circuit format, the same volume of exercise could be completed in a third of the time.
But how does circuit training achieve this time sensitivity?
It’s all in the design
The organisational mechanics of circuits make them very efficient. For example, within a circuit exercise stations are purposely grouped close together to minimise time wastage between transitions. The moment the countdown timer signals a station change participants are at the next exercise in a flash ready to go.
Another time-saving advantage of circuit training is the short rest periods. A circular circuit may feature as many as 12 individual stations (the number of stations is usually dictated by the number of participants). If the duration of each station is specified to last for one minute, the participants will exercise for 12 continuous minutes before they get a rest – which is usually only a minute or two.
Lineal circuits are even more time-efficient. A lineal circuit sees the participant work through a string of exercises without pause. The objective is to complete all the exercise stations in the shortest time possible. An example of a lineal circuit is the Spartan 300 Workout.
For busy always-on-the-go types, circuits offer a time-sensitive training approach that’ll enable you to get your exercise fix without slowing you down.
Advantages of circuit training #2: Weight loss
Another key advantage of circuit training is that it is inherently high-intensity. When you’re about to participate in a circuit you know it’s going to hurt, you know that for the next 30 minutes or so you are going to be giving everything you’ve got.
And at the end of the circuit – if you make it that far! – your heart rate will be through the roof, sweat will be pouring down your face and you’ll be gasping desperately for breath.
In fact, if you’re not in this state by the end of a circuit, you simply haven’t worked hard enough.
High-Intensity Interval Training
Training at high intensities has been shown to be very effective at burning fat. In the BBC documentary The Truth About Exercise researchers demonstrated that short duration ‘maximal’ bursts of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can have as many health benefits as longer endurance training.
Just a 7 minute HIIT workout, for example, is enough to encourage the body to burn fat. What’s more, high-intensity training promotes the metabolisation of fat for up to 30 minutes after exercise.
So, if you can squeeze this 10 minute HIIT Workout into your lunch break, your body will be burning fat when you’re back at your desk.
Advantages of circuit training #3: Versatility
I’ve said it before and here I’ll say it again, circuit training is by far the single most versatile form of exercise. Seriously, once you get the hang of designing circuits, you’ll never again complete the same session twice. Unless that is, you design a circuit that you like.
It is the versatility of circuit training that makes it such an effective weapon against exercise boredom. One of the leading reasons why people give up on keeping fit is because they get bored; bored of following the same routine, bored of performing the same exercises, for the same number of sets and reps . . . week in week out . . . year in year out . . .
Not with circuits though. This is one of the chief advantages of circuit training that Mel Siff brings out attention to. In his incredible book, Supertraining, Siff reminds us that circuit training is one of the most diverse exercise methodologies.
Not getting any fitter?
But following the same routine doesn’t just lead to boredom, it also causes our fitness to stagnate. If you don’t keep pushing yourself, trying new exercise combinations, increasing repetition counts, and breaking through perceived limitations, your fitness levels will flatline. As Bruce Lee said
“If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them," (The Art of Expressing The Human Body).
The versatility of circuits also allows for surgical specificity. By that I mean, circuits can be tailored to suit a specific component of fitness – strength, muscular endurance, coordination, agility – or sport.
For example, if you enjoyed boxing and wanted to improve your pugilism as well as your fitness, you could tailor a circuit to incorporate boxing-specific movements or include the punch bag as a station.
In short, the number of circuit combinations probably exceeds the number of atoms in the known universe. And if you use our circuit design guide, you’ll never again be stuck for workout ideas.
Related: Try Bruce Lee's Total-Fitness Circuit >
Advantages of circuit training #4: Prosocial
One of the least discussed advantages of circuit training is the positive social impact they have. Because of the adaptable quality of circuits, they can accommodate multiple trainers of varying physical abilities.
In the same circuit, you could have the fittest person in the world exercising next to a complete beginner and they would both still be able to maximise their respective abilities – neither impeding the other.
Circuits cultivate community spirit
This is one of the defining advantages of circuit training. When people participate in a circuits class something magical often happens. What starts as a gathering of individuals quickly forms into a cohesive group where members work together, supporting and motivating each other.
I don’t know what secret source it is in circuit training that causes this community spirit, but I’ve personally witnessed it manifest many times. Perhaps it has something to do with our innate predisposition to work together to overcome adversity – that is, the physical challenge of the circuit itself.
But whatever the reason, circuit training promotes social cohesion while fostering fitness friendships.
Advantages of circuit training #5: Complete fitness
In his book Physical Fitness & Athletic Performance, A. Watson tells us that ‘circuit training’ is an effective exercise method for ‘developing all-round fitness.’ Here Watson is bringing our attention to one of the key advantages of circuit training.
Whereas conventional forms of exercise, such as weight training, or bodybuilding, cause fitness imbalances, circuit training improves whole-body fitness. And it does it in a way that is both natural and doesn’t incline to imbalances.
But what’s a fitness imbalance?
This is where a person focuses on one form of fitness training while neglecting others. Think of the excessively muscled bodybuilder who couldn’t chase down a bus or ascend a flight of stairs without getting out of puff. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s the stick-thin racing snake who can barely perform a single push-up. These are fitness imbalances.
Because circuit training integrates the major components of fitness, it builds balanced physicality. In one circuit you could include strength, muscular endurance, and cardiovascular exercises.
By doing so you will have created an exercise session that promotes several coveted fitness outcomes. These outcomes include strength development, improved muscular endurance, and muscle tonality, fat burning, and overloading the ‘cardiovascular system’ resulting in ‘an increase in aerobic capacity’ (Physical Fitness & Athletic Performance).
It’s this unique combination of fat burning and muscle building, which single exercises – such as running, cycling, swimming, or weights – do not possess, that will help to sculpt a lean defined physique while building balanced physical fitness.
Recap of the advantages of circuit training
They can be tailored to a specific sport, increasing the individual’s fitness and skill at the same time.
Circuits can provide a good means of testing fitness or be used for competition among multiple trainers.
They are bewilderingly versatile; the number of layouts and exercises that can be included should ensure that the trainer has a new and different session every week for life.
Circuits allow the trainer to cram a lot of exercise into a short space of time. This attribute makes circuit training perfect for people who have a busy schedule.
They break down and right fitness imbalances thus enabling you to develop all-round physicality.
And finally, as already stated, circuits are excellent at burning fat and sculpting lean, defined musculature.
Advantages of circuit training FAQ
Now that we've reviewed the five advantages of circuit training, it's time to answer a few frequently asked questions. But this is more than a FAQ. Interspersed throughout the questions, you'll find loads of links to circuits, resources, how 2 guides, and books.
Circuit training definition (what is circuit training?)
A circuit could be defined simply as a physical training session that incorporates multiple exercises where the trainer performs as many repetitions or loops as possible in the time allotted.
In his book Physical Fitness & Athletic Performance, Watson defines circuit training as 'a way of developing all-round fitness. Decreases in body fat and increases in strength, as assessed by the one repetition maximum effort, and maximum oxygen uptake have been reported as a result of circuit training.’
How does circuit training work
The classical conception of the circuit is that of a loop or circle of exercises that an individual or group carries out in rotation. However, this is an outdated and quite parochial perception of what constitutes a circuit. They can take on many different forms and the exercises from which the circuit is comprised do not have to be merely calisthenics and/or light resistance.
The exercises that can be included within a circuit are entirely limited by the imagination of the trainer. In some of the circuits throughout the Hungry4Fitness Book of Circuits and Workouts Vol. 3 you will see a random assortment of exercises that present the appearance of having been put together by chance. But this is not the case.
As far as I am aware there is no law prohibiting a strength exercise following hot on the heels of, say, a cardio blast on the running machine, or a row sprint into a series of kettlebell snatches. If anything, a circuit designed in this way is more realistic and reflective of most all competitive sports.
Circuits can be designed to target a specific component of fitness. For example, you could design a circuit that emphasises strength or agility. But you don’t have to stop there. If you participate in a sport or martial art you could include elements for your discipline into the circuit. A mixed martial artist could create an MMA circuit training session that integrated boxing, Muay Thai, and grappling.
So, when designing a circuit, you should dispense with conventional wisdom about mixing apparently contradictory components of fitness or pairing together exercises that stimulate the same muscle groups. Truly, circuit training is the ultimate no-holds-barred exercise arena where anything goes.
Related: This Boxing Circuit pulls no punches
Will circuit training help lose weight
Yes, absolutely. Circuit training is one of the best exercise methods for losing weight. The reason why circuits are so effective at burning fat is because they typically include cardiovascular exercises and you would train at a high intensity.
For more on the weight loss benefits of circuit training see Advantage #2: Circuit training helps with weight loss.
What’s a circuit training workout
A circuit training workout, for it to qualify as such, must adhere to three key principles. Firstly, the exercises that comprise the workout should be organised in close proximity. This enables you to transition quickly between exercises which reduces time-wasting while also enabling you to satisfy principle two.
The second principle of circuit training requires that you maintain a high-intensity output throughout the workout. The third principle is that of minimal rest periods. Unlike conventional gym sessions, where exercisers take long breaks between sets, only short rests are permitted during a circuit.
A simple circuit session plan to try
Below is an example of a traditional circular circuit comprised of body exercises. Of course, you could include resistance equipment such as dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, resistance bands – you name it you can use it in a circuit.
The mechanics of this circuit are very simple. After organising the exercise stations (in the circles) a time duration is specified for each exercise (the time could be as little as 30 seconds or as much as 2 minutes – though the optimal time is 1 minute).
Once warmed up the participants will take their stations. A one-minute repeat countdown timer will be set. When the participants have completed one full lap of the circuit, which in the example below would take 8 minutes, they would enjoy a short rest. After the rest, the participants would be back at their stations ready to go again.
Can circuit training increase strength and muscle
Yes, indeed it can. As discussed above, circuits can be tailored to a specific component of fitness. If you wanted to increase overall body strength and muscle definition, you would include relevant exercises – such as big compound movements like deadlifts, cleans, and overhead presses. But you could also include strongman-style exercises into your circuits, such as Farmers’ walk, barrel carries, and sandbag lifts.
Related: Ready to take on this 30-Minute Kettlebell Circuit?
What are some of the best circuit training exercises
Have you got all day? Seriously, you could incorporate pretty much any exercise into a circuit. CrossFit workouts, which are kind of like circuits, include very complex Olympic powerlifting movements such as snatches and clean and jerks. However, I wouldn’t recommend incorporating complex exercises into your circuit until you have reached a high level of technical proficiency.
Below we have created a list of some of the best circuit training exercises. The list isn’t exhaustive and more could be included.
Related: Start creating your own circuits with this Complete Guide to Circuit Training >
Advantages of circuit training with Hungry4Fitness
About Adam Priest –
A former Royal Marines Commando, Adam Priest is a content writer, college lecturer, and health and wellbeing practitioner. He is also a fitness author and contributor to other websites. Connect with Adam via LinkedIn or firstname.lastname@example.org.