You might ask why I have gone for such an intense title for this article. You may even wonder why I believe circuits to be hard at all. If you are wondering these things then it is likely that you have never properly done circuit training or at the very least not put your all into a truly tough circuit.
To me, circuits are without doubt the most physically exhausting form of training. They require maximal effort for prolonged periods. Its like telling someone to sprint the 100m as fast as they can 10 times, rather than running 1km at their normal jogging pace. A circuit can condense a full 1 hour weight training session into 20 minutes. The best types of circuits in my opinion are ones based on speed and power. All out explosive movements performed repeatedly is the hardest training possible as it requires the most energy possible.
To me the beauty of a circuit is that you can make countless different circuits from just about any exercises. In this article I will show you how to plan effective circuits for just about any goal.
The benefits of circuits:
1) Circuits can be adapted to fit any goal. You can work on CV fitness by doing cardio circuits. You can improve muscular endurance and sport performance. You can improve strength by doing heavy, low rep circuits.
2) They will work every type of energy system, hit both types of muscle fibres and create a massive hormone release.
3) They are very convenient and time saving. You can be very productive with a workout and do a massive volume of work in a relatively short space of time.
So how do you plan an effective circuit? There are a number of factors affecting the way in which you should choose the exercises, rep ranges and equipment you use in your circuit. The things you should consider are:
1) Your goals. You will need to be aware of what you are trying to achieve. If your goal is strength then you will need to pick more bodybuilding and powerlifting type exercises, use heavy weights and keep the reps relatively low. If your goal is improved fitness then you will need to pick slightly different exercises and keep the rep ranges higher to make the circuit last longer.
2) The equipment you have available to you. There are circuits you can do with just 1 kettlebell, or a medicine ball, or a pair of dumbbells. You don’t need a full gym to do a circuit. Look at what equipment you have and find some good exercises that combine together effectively.
3) Remember what muscles you want to train. In my opinion the more muscles you wish to hit with the circuit, the better the circuit will be. Doing full body exercises will help you burn far more fat and improve fitness far more effectively than doing a bicep and tricep circuit for example.
4) One of the most important things to consider is the exercise selection. You will need to make sure they fit together well so that you don’t fatigue a muscle so far that you cant perform the full circuit. For example you wouldn’t do flyes, followed by press ups, followed by bench press. Your chest would be too fatigued to perform the circuit. It is best to order the exercises so that muscles get a rest. For example you could do press ups, then squats, then chin ups, then bench dips. All of these exercises hit muscles that have no involvement on the other exercises so the muscles get a good rest in between and you are more likely to be able to finish the circuit whilst still using decent weights and do it in a reasonable time frame. You musty also choose exercises that you can access quickly, one after another. For example its pointless doing loads of machines in a circuit in a busy gym where there is a 2 minute wait to get on each machine. Pick exercises where you can definitely go from one to the other with no waiting time.
So now you know how to plan a circuit and the benefits of doing so. I guess its time for me to give you a couple of example circuits for you to have a go at.
The first circuit is a cardiovascular circuit. This will help improve fitness and is fantastic for dropping body fat.
500m row on rowing machine
50 jumping lunges
50 kettlebell swings
500m uphill treadmill run (12 degree incline)
Time yourself and see how fast you can complete this circuit. Perform this 3 times in a workout and I guarantee you will be totally wiped out.
This circuit is also fantastic for dropping body fat, but is a little more weight orientated than the cardio circuit. You will be using much heavier weights but still keeping the reps really high.
25 pull ups
50 deadlifts (30% 1RM)
50 Press ups
50 box jumps
50 leg raises
50 dumbbell clean and press (30% 1RM)
25 pull ups
You may have seen this workout before. It is a version of the 300 workout.
A strength circuit is a favourite of crossfit athletes. They will test themselves on near maximum force exertion over a prolonged period of time. It is in my opinion probably the most physically demanding circuit.
Bench press x 5 reps (80% 1RM)
Deadlift x 5 reps (80% 1RM)
Box jumps x 5 (as high as you can)
Farmers walk – 20m with 60% of deadlift max (use dumbbells)
Clean and jerk x 5 reps (70% 1RM)
Once again perform this as fast as you can. Perform this full circuit 5 times in a workout. I guarantee you will not have done anything this hard in a long time.
So if you are daring enough give these circuits a try. Remember they are supposed to hurt!!