Circuit Training – The Benefits – How 2 Guide

Updated: Feb 23

In this article we will discuss the benefits of circuit training and I'll show you how to create your own.

four people exercising in a circuit training session
Circuit training is . . . 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.

A. W. S. Watson

Physical Fitness & Athletic Performance


Circuit training is one of the best forms of physical exercise for maintaining and increasing overall fitness. A well designed circuit will provide a great cardiovascular workout, strengthening the heart and lungs in the process, whilst also improving muscle endurance and building functional strength.


This unique combination of fat burning and muscle building, which single exercises, such as running, cycling, swimming or weights cannot give, will help to sculpt a lean and defined physique.


The versatility of circuits is such that they can be constructed so as to place emphasis on a specific component of fitness – strength, muscular endurance, coordination, agility – but also a 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.


Circuits can be solitary or social. Because of the adaptable quality of circuits they can accommodate multiple trainers of varying physical abilities. In a circuit you could quite literally 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.


Solitary circuits are a great way to get a lot done in a short space of time. You can throw together a mixture of exercises – best to do this with as little thought as possible – and for 20 to 30 minutes try to get as much done as your physicality will permit. High intensity circuit training such that I’ve crudely outlined will ‘overload the cardiovascular system and result in an increase in aerobic capacity,’ (Watson 1995).


Some benefits 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 used for competition amongst multiple trainers.
They are bewilderingly versatile; the amount 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 into a small space of time, making them perfect for the person who is busy.
And finally, as already stated, circuits are excellent at burning fat and sculpting lean, defined muscle.


So what is a circuit?

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.


The classical conception of the circuit is that of a loop or circle of exercises that an individual or group carriers out in rotation. However, this is an outdated and quite parochial perception of what constitutes as a circuit. They can take on a number of different forms and the exercises from which the circuit is comprised do not have to be merely callisthenics 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 Vol. 1 you will see a right 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 a cardiovascular 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 competition sports: not static and oscillating erratically between components of fitness.


So when designing a circuit really you should dispense with all 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.

four people exercising in a circuit training session

How to design a circuit

Though the exercises and their organisation in the circuit can take on any form you dare concoct in the kitchen of your Frankensteinian imagination, there are a couple of – I’m loath to say rules but – RULES that you should faithfully follow.



For example, if after designing a kick-ass circuit full of brutish exercises you failed to observe the rule of minimal rest, and instead updated your Insta story between stations, you simply wouldn’t be circuit training . . . just wasting your life.


So, when designing your circuit ensure to keep rest periods to a minimum or, better still, dispense of rest altogether.


Perhaps the only other ‘rule’ to adhere to when creating your circuit is the number of exercises it includes. I’m not sure how many trees constitute as a forest, or how few hairs on a man's head constitute as boldness, but a circuit ain’t a circuit unless there are at least four exercises present. One exercise and we’re looking at an AMRAP (as many reps as possible). Two exercises overload. Three exercises is just weird. But four, now we’ve created a circuit.


Check out this 21 station circuit. If you dare have a go be warned, it's a bit of a bad ass.



How do you design a circuit then? Simple, select some exercises, number them 1 to 4 (could be more than 4 of course – see example above), decide on reps/distances, set a time – 20+ minutes – and, after a warm-up, go for it with all your might. That’s all there is to it!


However, if you were a bit more conscientious you could, of course, get technical with your circuit design. Below I have outlined three approaches you could use when it comes to creating your own circuit.


1: Circular Circuit

The CC (for brevity) is the simplest format and perhaps most ubiquitously used. To create a CC you would firstly determine the number of stations then assign each station an exercise.



The next step is to decide if you are going for time or specific number of repetitions. By this I mean you could, on the first lap, work for, say, 30 seconds on each station. And after completing one full lap either keep the time the same or increase it by 10/15 seconds. Alternatively you could start at 10 repetitions and after one full lap increase the reps by 5 or 10.


Either/or is fine if you're solo circuiting. However, repetitions tend not to work so well when multiple trainers are participating. Why? Because some people will complete their set of 10 quicker than others and thus will be waiting around for others to finish.


Try this circular circuit out for size


2: Lineal Circuit

The lineal style circuit is by far my favourite, for the simple fact that psychologically it seems to finish a lot quicker than the other formats – a circular circuit can sometimes make you feel as though you are stuck in an infinite loop.



Whereas the same exercise might be performed again and again over the course of the circular circuit, this is not the case for the lineal circuit, as once the exercise has been completed you move on to the next.


When designing a lineal circuit you must firstly decide on the number of exercises – usually the number of exercises and assigned repetitions is greater than a circular circuit – then organise them in a shopping list-like format. Once you’ve warmed up proceed through the list of exercises as quickly as possible.


Let's get lineal . . . lineal!


3: Pyramid

When I design a pyramid circuit I usually select 10 exercises (plus/minus 2) – numbering them 1 to 10. Starting at the first exercise I’ll complete 1 repetition (or one step up the pyramid) then move to the next exercise . . . and so on.



On completion of all 10 I’ll go back to exercise 1 but now perform 2 repetitions. This process is to be be followed for the set time duration.



It’s good practice to note how many steps up the pyramid you successfully achieved before the time elapsed as this will give you a marker to compete against at a later date.



Say hello to my mate Amenhotep

Quick FAQ - here I'll have a bash at answering three frequently asked questions about circuit training



Is circuit training good for weight loss?

You damn right it is! In fact, of all exercise modalities - HIIT, strength, steady state/continuous, etc. - circuit training is probably one of the best ways to burn body fat. As I discussed above, because circuit training stimulates the cardiovascular system, as well as the major muscle groups, it is one of the most effective ways of decreasing body fat whilst building strength and developing muscular endurance (Watson 1995).



Who is circuit training good for?

Well pretty much anyone and everyone. Of course, if you are currently suffering with a medical condition or have a disability you may well be prevented from actively participating in a circuit. However, over the years I have delivered circuits to young people with special needs (some of whom were severely physically disabled) and groups of GP referrals. Yet as long as the circuit was designed in accordance with the group's needs and abilities most anyone can take part.



Will circuit training build muscle?

The answer to this question is contingent on a number of factors. For example, if the circuits that you regularly engage in consisted primarily of cardiovascular exercises and light weights, though you would certainly develop improved aerobic fitness and augmented muscular endurance, it is doubtful that you would build muscle. To pack on the mass and make those gains we need to be the pushing poundage. In saying that, though, you could include heavy weights into your circuit to cover all bases: cardio, endurance and strength. See circuit below for an example.



50 Ton Challenge


Product review

Below I have sourced a range of at-home exercise equipment that will make an excellent addition to any circuit.


Kettlebell

The Suprfit Econ kettlebells are created in the image of the Girevoy competition standard design – an absolute must. They is one well-made bell which has made a lot of customers happy. With over 50 reviews the Suprfit Econ Kettlebell retains a cast iron five stars.



Want to learn about the health & fitness benefits of kettlebell training?
Want to learn three awesome kettlebell techniques?


Prices start range from £50 to £150 depending on weight

Product Overview (click image for more information)

  • Multi-talent: the pro competition kettlebell is perfect for effective full body workouts.

  • Unlimited: cast in one piece of cast iron, the Superfit Econ kettlebell is easy to use for intense training sessions and can withstand all weather conditions. Its flat base ensures a secure stand at all times.

  • Features: material: cast iron - cast in one piece and painted black. Diameter (handle): 38 mm. Size depends on the weight.

  • Outstanding quality: this kettlebell is of superb quality.



Skipping Rope

The TechRise rope is excellent for beginners. Because it is made from lightweight materials it is not as physically taxing as heavier ropes thus enabling the beginner to focus more on technique as opposed to fighting fatigue. Also, a finer rope is more forgiving when you miss-time a jump and whip the side of your leg.



Do you want to learn how to skip?


Product Overview (click image for more information)

  • Anti-Slip Soft Skin-friendly Handle: Equipped with anti-slip and light weight ergonomically shaped handles coated with custom memory foam grips for extra comfort.

  • Easily Adjustable Soft Stainless Steel Wire Inside Rope: The rope length adjuster inside each handle let the rope could be quickly and easily adjustable from 9.8ft down to your desired length within minutes.

  • Premium Speed Ball Bearing: Featuring high quality premium ball bearing to ensure a smooth and effortless spin.

  • Lightweight & Protable: Being feather-light makes it easily and conveniently portable so that you can achieve maximum fat burn, tone your muscles and reach peak fitness anywhere.