Circuit strength training, alternately known as circuit training, is a style of weight training that involves moving quickly from one exercise to another, performing a single set of all exercises in the circuit before repeating any one exercise. A circuit typically features a predetermined number of exercises — ten, for instance — and is usually intended to be a full-body workout. Circuit strength training may be recommended for a variety of exercisers, from beginners who want to lose weight and tone up, to more advanced individuals who want a departure from their conventional weight lifting routines.
The goal behind circuit training is to turn a traditional strength workout into one that is slightly more aerobic and that burns more calories. As such, it discourages sitting on machines for long periods in favor of getting up and moving quickly from one exercise to the next. Some branded circuit strength training workouts, such as those developed by Curves, a nationwide circuit-training center for women, do rely on machine-based exercises. Similarly, most health clubs arrange their pin-loaded weight machines in a circuit for user-friendliness and to encourage quick turnover, as members can move easily from one machine to the next.
With weight training’s recent trend toward more functional, full-body movements, however, fitness experts are more likely to recommend bodyweight and free-weight movements over machine exercises when circuit strength training. As opposed to machines, which normally require sitting stationary and working a single muscle group, these exercises are more likely to be compound, training several muscles and joints at once. Moreover, they challenge the body in many directions and in multiple planes of movement, which more closely mimics the way we move in daily life and when playing sports. Finally, training with one’s own body weight and other implements such as dumbbells, medicine balls, and bands develops additional skills like balance, coordination, and agility, so athletes and casual exercisers alike can benefit.
There are limitless options when developing a circuit strength training workout, from cycling through traditional strength exercises such as chest presses, squats, rows, and deadlifts, to featuring more high-intensity movements like squat thrusts or vertical jumps. A more advanced athlete would likely include plenty of the latter, but a more novice exerciser can easily put together a basic strength circuit. Recommended exercises for the beginner include bodyweight squats or assisted squats with a stability ball between one’s back and the wall, kneeling push-ups, yoga plank holds, and crunches.
Other exercises one might include are assisted stationary lunges, in which one lunges down and up in place while holding onto the back of a chair, low back extensions performed lying face-down on the floor, and triceps dips, which involve using the arms to lower one’s body weight from a chair or bench, and then pushing back up. General recommendations are to complete the circuit two to three times, spending roughly a minute or 10-15 repetitions on each exercise. For more specific ideas and recommendations, it is advised to consult a fitness professional.