Circuit Training Workouts – Everything You Need to Know

Circuit Training, Workout Classes

Looking to shake up your workout routine? Check out some of our circuit training workouts and try something new next time you hit the gym!

 

What is Circuit Training?

Circuit training is a type of training that involves combining multiple exercises and performing them in succession with minimal rest in between. 

Circuit exercises might target the same muscle group, for example combining shoulder-based movements for a total trapezius torching set, or might target different muscle groups to create a full body circuit.

When done properly, circuit training workouts are highly effective, offering incredible benefits to both your cardio and muscular strength. Circuit training will help get you fit, and fast!

 

Benefits of Circuit Training

There are a variety of benefits associated with circuit training.

For one, the constant variation keeps things fresh, so there’s never a lull in the action. Once you start on a set, it’s meant to be completed with minimal rest, so you are always moving and grooving through the fitness circuit.

Taking minimal rest helps keep your heart rate in that sweet spot as well, so you are burning calories constantly while you are getting through your circuit training exercises.

According to a 2021 meta-analysis published in Biology (Basel), “resistance circuit-based training does result in significant reduction in fat mass (average of 4.3%), and it greatly increases muscle mass (average of 1.9%) and upper and lower strength (average 20.0 and 23.0%, respectively)…greatly improves cardiorespiratory fitness (i.e., VO2max (average 6.3%), aerobic performance (average 2.6%), and maximum aerobic speed or power.”

Put simply, you’ll burn fat, build muscle, gain strength, improve heart and lung function, enhance sport performance, and build speed and power by engaging in circuit training.

 

Downside to Circuit Training

Circuit training is an excellent way to get great results fast, but it’s not all upside.

The first and most obvious downside to circuit training– it’s hard! Beginners often will find the breakneck speed of transitioning from exercise to exercise to be simply exhausting, and spending less time moving and working will commensurately provide less results.

For beginners, you can still reap the benefits of circuit training by moving a little slower or choosing weights, if you are doing circuit weight training, that are manageable at high reps. The goal is to keep moving fluidly from beginning to end, so it’s better to take it light and slow rather than risk burning out before the work is through.

Combining cardio and strength training in one fast-paced workout works wonders for your metabolism, but it may not have as much effect on your overall cardio endurance or muscular strength. 

A marathon runner who must run for lengthy periods of time won’t reap as much reward from the quick bouts of exercise than they would from performing a slow-burning 15k jog, while weightlifters will be better suited to lift lower reps at heavier weights to inspire hypertrophy and overall strength gain.

 

Circuit Training for Weight Loss

Circuit training works wonders for weight loss. Keeping the body moving seamlessly through each exercise ensures your heart rate remains elevated, which encourages calorie burning throughout the circuit training workout.

According to a 2014 article published by the American College of Sports Medicine, performing high-intensity exercise like circuit training helps you burn between 8% and 15% more calories than steady state or moderate intensity routines.

That calorie-burning effect continues even after the workout. Known as “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption” or EPOC, your body kicks into high gear to recover and, in doing so, expends even more energy. All of this translates to a fat-burning, calorie-burning effect that continues on long after your workout is already in the books.

How long? A study conducted by Colorado State University in 2013 found the effect to continue up to 24 hours after the exercise was finished. Not bad for a single workout!

 

Upper Body Circuit Workouts

An upper body circuit hits all of the essential upper body muscle groups, including your shoulders, chest, back, arms, and even your abs. Combining movements and exercises that target these muscle groups results in a comprehensive upper body blaster that will get you chiseled in no time.

Here are a few sample upper body circuit workouts to get you started.

 

Upper Body Dumbbell Circuit

When working with dumbbells, remember to select a weight you can reliably move through the circuit with minimal rest. Remember– it’s not really a circuit training workout if you’re stopping to rest for a few minutes between each exercise.

Here’s the set:

  • 10-15 reps: Front Raises
  • 10-15 reps: Bent-over Reverse Flys
  • 10-15 reps: Standing Bicep Curls
  • 10-15 reps: Standing Overhead Tricep Extensions
  • 10-15 reps: Renegade Rows
  • 10-15 reps: Russian Twists

For your overhead tricep extensions and Russian twists, we recommend switching from using two dumbbells to one dumbbell, as the movements are easier to perform when you’re holding only one dumbbell. It also allows you to focus on each arm individually, which promotes the mind-to-muscle connection. 

For added challenge on the renegade rows, add a push-up between each rep of the rows. This one simple tweak will provide incredible benefits to your chest and overall muscular endurance.

 

Upper Body HIIT Circuit

Many people assume circuit training and HIIT are the same, but this is not the case. Circuit training is often performed at high intensity and a fast pace, but it’s still less intense than HIIT. HIIT, when performed correctly, should have you working in sprint intervals, pushing yourself to give 100% for the full duration of the interval, while circuit training might demand more like 75% to 80% for the duration.

Here’s an upper body HIIT circuit that’ll help get you shredded:

  • 20 seconds of Push-ups / 10 seconds rest
  • 20 seconds of Tricep Dips / 10 seconds rest
  • 20 seconds of Pull-ups / 10 seconds rest
  • 20 seconds of Dit-ups / 10 seconds rest

If you’re familiar with the structure, you might’ve noticed immediately that this one is essentially a Tabata circuit. If you want to do it true to Tabata, repeat it twice so you’re running through the movements for a total of four minutes. Just be sure to truly give it your all on each round.

 

Upper Body Kettlebell Circuit

Kettlebells are the unsung free weight hero in the gym. Not only do you get great strength benefits from kettlebells, but the trademark kettlebell staples like Russian and American kettlebell swings provide excellent cardio benefits as well. Something about using kettlebells is just fun too!

Here’s an upper body kettlebell circuit you can swing into your next session:

  • 12-18 Russian Kettlebell Swings
  • 12-18 Upright Rows
  • 12-18 Lateral Raises
  • 12-18 Hammer Curls

The Russian kettlebell swings will keep that heart rate elevated while you take your time to work through the other exercises. Be sure to keep moving to keep the spirit of circuit training, but always ensure each exercise is completed with proper form to reduce your risk of injury.

 

Lower Body Circuit Workouts

Just as an upper body circuit training workout provides great benefits for your torso and arms, a lower body circuit workout will target your legs, including your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves.

From bodyweight circuits to those that use free weights and other forms of resistance, there are many ways to incorporate circuit training workouts into your leg day.

 

Lower Body Dumbbell Circuit

Let’s start off with a dumbbell workout circuit that hits your legs. Start by selecting two dumbbells you will be able to hold throughout the movements. They should be heavy enough to pose a challenge, but not so heavy that holding them after a minute or two becomes exhausting in and of itself.

Here’s our lower body dumbbell circuit:

  • 8-12 reps: Dumbbell Deadlifts
  • 10-15 reps: Goblet Squats
  • 12-18 reps: Alternating Lunges
  • 15-25 reps: Calf Raises

For your lunges and calf raises, you are welcome to hold two dumbbells with a neutral grip at your sides, or one heavier dumbbell to your chest as you would during a goblet squat. 

If you’re comfortable, you could turn it into a barbell circuit as well and hold a light barbell on your shoulders for the squats, lunges, and calf raises. The choice is yours.

 

Lower Body HIIT Circuit

Time to kick things up a notch with a high intensity lower body circuit. For this set, we’re going to focus solely on bodyweight movements to make for a real functional training circuit.

Here’s our lower body HIIT circuit:

  • 12-15 reps: Squat Jumps / 20 seconds rest
  • 20-25 reps: Walking Lunges / 20 seconds rest
  • 12-16 reps: Burpees / 20 seconds rest
  • 12-16 reps: Alternating Lateral Squats / 20 seconds rest

Remember, as with all HIIT circuit training, you want to race through these movements while maintaining proper form for each exercise. 

If you’re not able to move consistently through all movements, try lowering the number of reps, so you can make sure you nail it start to finish without resting other than where specified.

 

Lower Body Kettlebell Circuit

Kettlebells are super versatile, allowing you to get in a great set of circuit weight training exercises that heavily targets your lower extremities. They are especially great for lower body workouts since their unique handle allows for your body to be in comfortable power positions. 

Here is our lower body kettlebell circuit:

  • 12-16 reps: Goblet Squats
  • 12-16 reps:  Alternating Reverse Lunges
  • 12-16 reps: Russian Kettlebell Swings

After even a single set of these exercises, your legs will be screaming for mercy. 

Remember– if you’re new to fitness, don’t try to be a hero and pick up more weight than you can handle for the duration of the above exercises. Turn it into more of a beginner circuit workout by keeping things light and moving through it with minimal rest. You can always scale up in weight later.

 

Simple Leg Circuit Workout

After your arm circuit workout, try hitting a leg workout circuit to make sure you’re accounting for total body fitness. By combining our above arm circuit with a lower body circuit workout, you’ll wind up doing a full body circuit that helps cultivate a strong, fit physique from head to toe.

Here is our simple leg circuit:

  • 40 seconds: Alternating Lunges / 20 seconds rest
  • 40 seconds: Bodyweight Squats / 20 seconds rest
  • 40 seconds: Lateral Lunges / 20 seconds rest
  • 40 seconds: Burpees / 20 seconds rest

If you want to make this leg circuit workout extra spicy, try adding in some light to moderate dumbbells to these bodyweight circuit exercises. Always make sure you don’t choose a weight that’s too heavy to move consistently and prioritize good form from start to finish.

 

Arm Circuit Workout

Gym goers spend countless hours each year carefully cultivating big, bulging biceps to show off during beach season. Are you ready to supercharge your workout with an absolute killer arm circuit?

Here is our arm circuit workout that’ll get you two tickets to the gun show:

  • 8-15 reps: Standing Dumbbell Bicep Curls
  • 8-15 reps: Standing Dumbbell Overhead Tricep Extensions
  • 8-15 reps: Seated “Arnold” Shoulder Presses
  • 8-15 reps: Dumbbell Hammer Curls
  • 8-15 reps: Standing Lateral Raises

If you prefer, you could swap out our reps version for a timed version and, instead, work for forty seconds followed by twenty seconds rest. The result has you working for forty seconds, resting for twenty seconds, then moving onto the next exercises.

Make sure you don’t go overboard on the weights; those reps really add up after a while!

 

Shoulder Circuit Workout

Are you ready for a great shoulder circuit to help build a hulking upper body?

It’s time to hit those delts and traps with our recommended weight lifting circuit for your shoulders.

Here’s the set:

  • 12-16 reps: Front Raises
  • 12-16 reps: Lateral Raises
  • 12-16 reps: Upright Rows
  • 12-16 reps: Shrugs

We recommend using a set of light dumbbells for the front and lateral raises, as they will feel challenging even at lighter weights because of the difficulty of the movement. It can also be a bit dangerous for those exercises if the weights you are using are too heavy.  

You can swap dumbbells halfway through and go a little heavier on the upright rows and shrugs, as shrugs use a smaller range of motion and generally must be heavy to reap the benefits associated with the movement. If you find your grip strength is preventing you from using your desired weight, feel free to try out some wrist wraps. 

 

Chest Circuit Workout

Looking to build powerful pecs?

Here is our chest circuit workout, which involves both barbell exercises and bodyweight exercises for a comprehensive strength circuit that encourages both muscular endurance and hypertrophy.

Here’s our chest circuit workout:

  • 8-12 reps: Barbell Bench Presses
  • 12-16 reps: Dumbbell Flys
  • 12-16 reps: Diamond Push-ups
  • 12-16 reps: Forward Leaning Dips

If you’re trying to do your circuit training at home and you don’t happen to have a barbell and bench setup, you can sub out the barbell for dumbbells instead. You can also do bench press while laying on the floor if you don’t have a bench, or use lighter weights while resting your back on an exercise ball. Regular push-ups work as well if you’re very limited on equipment, but you’ll get more bang for your buck going heavier on the bench press than bodyweight usually allows for.

 

Ab Circuit Workout

A lot of gym goers are in constant search for a great core circuit that will give them those classic six-pack abs. If you’re looking for a good ab circuit to help build core strength and chisel your abdominals, try using circuit training to achieve the results you’re looking for.

Here is our ab circuit workout:

  • 60 seconds: Crunches
  • 60 seconds: Ab Bicycle
  • 60 seconds: Reverse Crunches
  • 60 seconds: Push-Throughs
  • 60 seconds: Russian Twists

This is a great 5-minute ab circuit and a good beginner ab circuit to start with. If you’re looking for a little more challenge, try repeating the set twice and turning it into a 10 minute ab circuit, which will help you really feel the burn in your core.

 

Insanity Plyometric Cardio Circuit

One of the most popular series of fitness videos out there is The INSANITY Workout, led by renowned instructor Shaun T. The Insanity Plyometric Cardio Circuit is, therefore, one of the toughest, most intense workouts available.

What makes it so tough? You guessed it– circuit training. The program is a 45-minute circuit workout that makes great use of plyometrics to provide cardio benefits and build explosive power.

If you’re interested but looking for something a little more beginner friendly, we’ve put together a plyometric circuit that will help prepare you for the actual Insanity Plyometric Cardio Circuit, or simply just provide you with greater cardio endurance and more explosive power in general.

Here is our plyometric cardio circuit:

  • 60 seconds: Standing Mountain Climbers
  • 60 seconds: Squat Jumps
  • 60 seconds: Ski Abs
  • 60 seconds: Burpees
  • 60 seconds: Football Wide Sprints

We recommend taking a rest after one set, gathering your strength, and hitting it two or three more times for a great all-encompassing workout that will provide great cardio benefits. It’s a great calisthenics circuit, and one of the best circuits for runners given the degree it challenges your cardiovascular fitness.

As always, don’t forget to do a proper warm-up before going hard and stretch when you’re done!

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