This article brings you our top 11 circuit training exercises. You can use these exercises to create circuits, AMRAPs, EMOMs, or as ideas for your gym workouts.
The circuit training exercises have been selected because they target a wide range of muscle groups and promote whole-body fitness. For example, burpees, plyo box jumps, and skipping are three of the best exercises for improving muscle endurance and aerobic capacity.
To boost strength and posterior chain power we’ve included super-functional exercises such as kettlebell swings and medicine ball slams. By including these exercises in your circuits and workouts you will enjoy a host of fitness benefits.
Related: The Hungry4Fitness Book of Circuits brings you our best workouts
How to use these circuit training exercises
Honestly, there are a million and one ways you could use the 12 best circuit training exercises below. But, because I know you’re eager to try them out, I’ll briefly outline three ways you can use these exercises.
The simplest way to use these exercises is to organise them into a circular circuit. You can mix the exercises up or just leave them as they are. Assign a time for each station (between 20-seconds to 1-minute) and complete as many laps as you have time for.
Of course, you don’t have to use all 12 exercises. This HIIT Circuit is comprised of nine exercises which are organised into a cardio-calisthenics-resistance rotation.
Essential reading: the complete guide to HIIT - High Intensity Interval Training
AMRAP the circuit exercises
Applying the AMRAP training method would work well here. Decide on the duration of your AMRAP (1, 2, 3, 4, or 5-minutes), warm-up well before you start, and see how many reps and metres you can cover in the allotted time.
AMRAPs are a great training method that enables you to get a lot done. To improve performance throughout each AMRAP it is wise to enforce a short rest period.
Related: Check out our complete guide to AMRAP Training
Use the circuit training exercises in your gym workouts
And finally, though they have been called ‘circuit training exercises’, they can be incorporated into your general gym workouts. If you find yourself short on exercises or need to balance out an isolation-heavy workout, the list below will provide you with plenty of replacements and alternatives.
Related: Try these 4 Gym-based Back Workouts
Benefits of these circuit training exercises
As mentioned in the introduction, the exercises that follow have been selected for their superior fitness developing qualities. Including more of these exercises into your routine, whether it’s circuit training, AMRAPs, or general gym workouts, will enable you to build whole-body functional physicality.
Aerobic capacity (cardio fitness)
Best body weight circuit training exercises
Purpose of exercise: the burpee is a whole-body conditioning movement that improves muscle endurance in the legs and upper body. However, when performed in high repetition sets, they also engage the cardiovascular system.
Burpees teaching points
Start in a standing position.
Squat down into a crouch and place your palms on the floor either side of your knees.
In one fluid movement shoot your legs back together.
The halfway position is the start of the press-up.
To complete the burpee, jump the legs back to crouch before standing up.
Conclude the exercise with a plyometric jump.
Purpose of exercise: to develop upper-body muscle endurance primarily in the chest, triceps, and anterior deltoids. Press-ups also activate the core, hip flexors, and, to a lesser extent, the quads.
Press-ups teaching points
The start of the press-up is the same as the high plank: palms placed flat underneath the shoulders, toes dug into the floor, back and legs perfectly straight.
To perform a press-up simply lower the chest to the floor.
The range of movement you transition through is dictated by your current level of upper body strength. Beginners may only dip to 45 degrees at the arm whereas advanced trainers may sink below 90 degrees.
Complete the exercise by pressing equally through both arms until you’re back in the start position.
Remember to breathe consistently throughout the exercise and keep your eyes fixed on the floor about a foot or two to your front.
#3: Air squat
Purpose of exercise: to increase muscular endurance in the quadriceps and glutes.
Air squat teaching points
Get yourself into position: stand with your feet a little over shoulder-width apart, knees bent, arms folded across your chest.
Squat to 90 degrees ensuring to keep your back straight.
To complete the exercise fire evenly through both quads.
If you want to increase the intensity of the air squat, perform a plyometric jump at the top position.
#4: Plyometrics box jump
Purpose of exercise: to develop dynamic power in the quadriceps and glutes. Plyo box jumps also develop muscular endurance in the legs and core. In addition, this exercise engages the cardiovascular system.
Plyo box jump teaching points
The box height you select will be determined by your level of experience and physicality.
It’s wise to place a cushioned mat on either side of the box. Not only will this soften the impact on landing but also soften your fall should you miss time on a jump.
Standing on the cushioned mat, execute a double foot jump onto the box.
Ensure to plant both feet on the box.
Stand up tall before stepping back down.
Remember to change your legs each time you step down from the box.
Best resistance circuit training exercises
#1: Kettlebell Swings
Purpose of exercise: to increase strength in the posterior chain muscles: hamstrings, glutes, lower back and trapezius.
Kettlebell swings teaching points
Hold the kettlebell between your legs, palms facing inwards, feet spaced a little over shoulder-width.
Keeping the back straight, pull the kettlebell between your legs.
When you feel your arms pulled taught against your torso, use your glutes to propel the kettlebell forward.
You need only swing the kettlebell level with your shoulders.
Ensuring to keep your core engaged throughout the movement, allow the kettlebell to return to the start position and repeat.
To enhance the intensity swing the kettlebell above your head.
Perfect the kettlebell swing with this complete guide.
Related: Check the best Competition Kettlebells
#2: Kettlebell Thruster
Purpose of exercise: to enhance muscle endurance in the legs, core, and upper body – chest, deltoids, and arms.
Kettlebell thruster teaching points
Standing over the kettlebell, take a reverse grip of the handle. In one clean movement upturn the kettlebell and hold it in front of your chest. In this position the base of the kettlebell should be facing the ceiling.
Keeping your back straight squat until your knees are at 90 degrees.
Power out of the squat ensuring to push the kettlebell high above your head.
Though two movements the transition between squat and press should be seamless.
From the outstretched position lower the kettlebell back to your chest while simultaneously sinking into the next squat.
Related: Master these 10 Killer Kettlebell Exercises
#3: Resistance band bent over row
Purpose of exercise: to increase strength and muscle endurance in the back and arms.
Bent over row teaching points
Stand on the band with a double fold ensuring that your feet are spaced shoulder-width.
The feet should be positioned equally across the band. Also, ensure that your full foot is on the band.
Adopt the same position on the band as you would when performing barbell bent rows.
To perform the movement contract through the lats and pull the band up level with the lower part of the chest.
Hold the contraction for a count of two seconds
Release under control
Related: Need a resistance band?
#4: Medicine ball slams
Purpose of exercise: to build explosive power in the upper body while also engaging the aerobic system.
Medicine ball slams teaching points
Centre your mass directly over a medicine ball
Your feet are spaced slightly over shoulder-width and there is a bend in the knees.
To initiate the exercise, perform a perfect squat – almost a sumo squat.
Grasp the ball and, like a strongman wrestling an Atlas stone, hoist the ball high above your head.
With all your might smash the medicine ball into the floor.
To maintain exercise efficiency, follow the ball so that you can immediately initiate the next rep.
Best cardio circuit training exercises
Purpose of exercise: to improve cardiovascular conditioning, muscle endurance, coordination, and timing.
Skipping key techniques
Step 1: WARM-UP!
Step 2: While holding the rope in your hands, practice double-footed jumping – you are not jumping rope yet. Spend 1 to 2 minutes doing this.
Step 3: Holding the handles loosely, the rope at rest behind you, turn it over and jump the rope –JUST ONCE!
Step 4: Congratulate yourself
Step 5: Repeat Step 3
Step 6: Again, a bit of self-praise
Step 7: Now that you’ve had a little go at getting over that wily rope it’s time to start racking up personal bests: try to count as many un-broken double-footed skips as possible. Every time you clip the rope or whip your arse, stop, take a 3-second count, then back into it trying each time to better your previous PB
Related: Get your hands on the best skipping rope in the business
Purpose of exercise: to develop aerobic capacity and muscular endurance in the major muscle groups – specifically the legs and back.
Rowing key techniques
First, you should set up the rower: adjust the dampener (wind resistance) and foot plate position.
Fasten yourself into the rower.
In the catch position (the start of the stroke where the knees are bent and the paddle is closest to the dampener), initiate the stroke by driving through both quads.
During the initial stage, the arms remain straight.
As the legs begin to uncoil engage the back.
When the paddle is level with your knees it’s time to conclude the strike by pulling with the arms.
For beginners, it is helpful to break the rowing stroke into three distinct phases: legs, back, and arms. Practice each stage individually before piecing them back together.
The rowing stroke should be performed as one smooth, fluid movement.
Related: Best indoor rowing machine for the home gym
#3: Shuttle sprints
Purpose of exercise: to promote aerobic conditioning and develop stamina in all the muscles of the legs.
Shuttle sprint key techniques
To get the most out of shuttle sprinting, the distance should be short – 15 to 50-metres.
The track – or runway – should be clearly marked out with colourful cones.
Because shuttle sprints are a high-octane exercise, typically performed at maximum intensity, you should warm up well.
Also, due to the force exerted during the direction change, it is prudent to perform a series of plyometric jumps during the warm-up. This will prepare the calves and Achilles tendon for the rigours of sprinting.
Related: Try this Hill Sprint Workout
Circuit training exercises in action
Right, now that we’ve covered a comprehensive range of great circuit training exercises, it’s time to put them into practice. Below you’ll find a generic circular circuit template. Use the template to create your own circuits. Here’s how to do it.
Simply plot the circuit training exercises in the empty circles provided. There is a maximum of nine stations; however, you can use fewer.
Once you’ve decided on which exercises will feature in your circuit, you now need to apply a formula. You have two options to choose from.
1) Set a time for each station. Timings can range from as few as 10-seconds up to two minutes. However, the timings selected should be decided by your current level of fitness and the intensity at which you plan to work.
2) Set a rep range for each exercise. Reps and rather like timings: they can vary in range from as little as 10 reps up to 50. Also, the rep range that you apply should be reflective of your fitness levels and ability.
Need more circuit training ideas?
Then get your hands on 70 more with the Hungry4Fitness Book of Circuits & Workouts Volume 2.