You can program your own highly effective circuit-training workouts for your living room, backyard patio, or gym. Here’s what you need.
You can do a fantastic exercise session anywhere, especially after you learn the fundamental concepts of the circuit-training workout.
Circuit-training workouts are time-efficient and an excellent way to improve cardiovascular fitness, mobility, and muscular strength endurance. Also, they burn more calories compared to other types of workouts.
Circuit-training workouts are for men or women, and can be easily modified to match any level of fitness or age.
However, sometimes – because of weather – I do my circuit-training indoors.
Below this article, I’ve included a video of me doing a sample circuit-training workout. You can use this video as inspiration and as a jumping-off point to create your own exciting and results-effective workouts.
Understand the Basic Ideas Behind Circuit-Training Workouts
A “circuit” is a collection of exercises done consecutively.
My typical circuit-training workout will involve:
- 4 completely different circuits
- (each circuit containing approximately 5 exercises)
- At the end of the fifth exercise, I take a 3-minute rest, before repeating the same circuit again
- I do the same circuit 3 times before moving on to a completely new circuit.
A simple way to approach circuit training is to have a workout emphasize either upper body or lower body – this way you can do two circuit-training workouts each week and cover all the major muscle groups adequately.
Which Muscle Group Is Lagging Behind the Others?
Almost everyone has one muscle group that is a bit under-conditioned compared to the others. You can decide which muscle group is weakest in your body and train that body part at least twice a week.
For example, I typically do two circuit-training sessions each week – one for my torso and one for my legs – however, since I’ve identified my legs as “laggers,” I make certain to include some thigh exercises in my upper-body circuit day as well.
A symmetrically developed physique is not only more aesthetically pleasing, it’s also healthier for your joints and posture. Many of the tenderness and stickiness people experience in their shoulders, lower back, hips, and knees is from muscular and mobility imbalances.
What Equipment Do I Need for Circuit-Training Workouts?
Technically, you need no equipment whatsoever for a good circuit-training workout. You can do bodyweight exercises only.
However, I must admit that it’s easier to program the circuit – and more fun while doing the workout – if you bring a few toys along. I have one of those inexpensive canvas boxes in which I keep:
- a kettlebell
- 2 resistance bands (one looped, one open)
- a magic circle
- a “hot yoga” towel
- a jump rope
- suspension straps (such as TRX)
- cleaning wipes
- spray sunscreen
- a clear folder with my written workout plan for the day (and past workouts, too).
I can come up with over hundred exercises to do with only these above items. Additionally, it helps to have some sort of high bar available – such as a doorway chin-up bar or – if you’re at the park – playground monkeybars.
Avoid the Common Pitfalls
I’ve done several hundred workouts in parks, so over the years I’ve been able to identify some patterns.
Usually, during the 90 minutes that I’m training, a few individuals will drop in and mess around on the equipment. They’re usually there for a few minutes before leaving. Most of them aren’t sure what to do.
A common mistake I see is people trying to workout at the park like they do at the gym (do a “set,” rest a few minutes, do another set, etc.).
That usually doesn’t work.
Firstly, there are no machines to tell you what to do. Secondly, because there are no heavy stacks of weights at the park, you have to increase effort in other areas in order to have a highly effective workout. Try circuit-training instead! I encourage you to experiment with:
- decreasing rest periods
- being more focused
- increasing your range of motion
- focusing on the quality of muscular contraction
- changing your tempo during a rep (from what you would do normally)
- doing more reps
- having a plan before you arrive.
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Choosing Muscle Groups to Train
Choose which muscle groups you want to include in your circuit exercises; however, do keep symmetry in mind:
- Don’t neglect your hamstrings and glutes (the quads will hog all the leg work if you let them).
- If you’re going to train shoulders, remember to hit the posterior deltoids as well.
- Prioritize your core – include exercises for your lower abdominals, obliques, and lower back.
Your first circuit should include the easiest exercises and some mobility maneuvers to gradually ease you into more strenuous circuits to come.
If you want individual exercise ideas to place within your circuits, visit the links included within this article or visit my Evidence-Based Fitness category on this site – it’s loaded with ideas. The video below has exercise ideas, too.
Circuit-Training Exercise Ideas – Examples
- reverse kettlebell lunge
- jump rope
- decline push-up (for upper chest)
- supine mid-back row
- jump squat
- hanging knee raise (for lower abdominals)
- squat thrust
- wide-grip pull-ups
- parallel bar push-up (or regular push-up)
- kettlebell step-up
- sit-up (or crunch)
- single-leg heel raise
- chin-up tricep
- kettlebell hip thrust
- banded face pull
- kettlebell lateral raise
- pec-dec variation with magic circle
- lateral stationary kettlebell lunge
- jumping jack (optional finisher)
In Circuit A, when doing jump rope, strive to keep your pelvis centered (no sway back) and your abdominals slightly active. This will keep your bladder from bouncing around and help protect the sensitive vertebrae of your lower back.
In Circuit B, when doing the hanging knee raise, try to engage the lower abdominals (above your pubic bone but below your navel), instead of letting your hip flexors do all the work.
In Circuit C, when doing the sit up, the trick is to draw your navel in fiercely and initiate the movement from an abdominal contraction – instead of pulling on your neck.
In Circuit D, when doing the pec dec variation, you can use a ball if you don’t have a magic circle. Keep your spine tall and your chest open – and try to squeeze from the pectoral muscles and not just from the front of your shoulder caps.
Earbuds, or No Earbuds?
Most of the time I workout, I do what everyone else does: listen to motivating music on my earbuds.
However, every now and then, I’ll workout without music or podcasts.
The reason I do that is because exercising without wearing earbuds is a different experience.
Without earbuds, you focus differently, you make different choices, and it teaches you to rely on something internal for motivation instead of external.
It’s also a good thing to be able to hear your surroundings. Though I will sometimes use earbuds when running on trails, I never use them when I’m running on the side of the road with cars. (Ask anyone who has gone to a grief group and they will likely report that a surprising number of widows and widowers in the support group had spouses who were hit by cars while running or biking.)
Also, let’s face it, earbuds are kind of anti-social.
I’ve had some great laughs and conversations with people I don’t know, because I wasn’t wearing earbuds. And if you’re working out with a buddy, as I often do, I find it’s more fun without ear buds.
TIP: sterilize your ear buds every now and then, so that you don’t get ear infections.
Earbud Perils – https://abcnews.go.com/Health/w_DietAndFitnessNews/deaf-danger-perils-earbuds-exercising/story?id=13925714
Research: High-Intensity Circuit Training Improves Body Composition – https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2017.00172/full
Most Men Neglect Leg and Back Muscles – https://www.hfe.co.uk/blog/men-neglecting-lower-body-in-workouts/
Women Neglecting Core, Hamstring, and Pec Muscles – https://dailyburn.com/life/fitness/strength-training-for-women-neglected-muscles/