A growing body of research suggests that there is a way to get a solid workout without spending hours in the gym: circuit training. In this method, resistance exercises are performed back to back with minimal rest in between sets. According to a study published in the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research," circuit training is just as effective as traditional resistance training, but requires less time.
Make a Plan
To create a group circuit workout, set up several stations. Each station should have the equipment and space needed for one particular exercise. At each station, do your best to perform the designated exercise without stopping for one minute. At the end of the minute, everyone will rotate stations and move on to the next exercise. Repeat the entire circuit two to three times.
This station system makes the most of limited equipment so that this workout can be done in a large or small group. Circuit workouts traditionally consist of exercises using machines or free weights, but the American College of Sports Medicine has found that body-weight exercises can be just as effective.
The core muscles play an important role in stabilization and alignment, so make sure your circuit includes some core-strengthening moves like plank drops. Begin in a plank position with your arms straight. Then, bend your knees and lower them toward the floor, but stop before they touch. Straighten your legs and return to the starting position. Keep your abdominal muscles engaged the entire time, and do not arch your lower back. Repeat for one minute until it is time to switch stations. If you can't do this for a full minute, simply hold in a plank position.
Work all your major muscle groups with the step-up, curl and overhead press. For this exercise, you will need a box or step platform and two dumbbells. Hold one dumbbell in each hand. With the right leg, step up onto the box and balance, keeping your left leg raised and bent. Perform a bicep curl by raising the dumbbells to your shoulders, and then press the dumbbells overhead. Lower the dumbbells, step down with the left foot, and repeat on the other side. Remember to keep your abdominals engaged the entire time and choose dumbbells of a weight you can maintain for the full minute. After one minute, move on to the next station.
Give It a Rest
If your circuit is too intense, you won't be able to finish your workout. Give yourself a slight rest by incorporating exercises that target specific muscle groups instead of the whole body. To tighten and tone your lower body, try squats. Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees and squat down as if you are sitting in a chair and then straighten your legs to stand up. Keep your abdominals engaged and maintain a neutral spine, not arching or curving your back. To make this more challenging, hold a dumbbell in each hand.
- Journal of Strength and Conditioni:ng Research: Similarity in Adaptations to High-Resistance Circuit vs. Traditional Strength Training in Resistance-Trained Men
- ACSM's Health and Fitness Journal: High-Intensity Circuit Training Using Body Weight: Maximum Results With Minimal Investment
- NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training; Micheal Clark et al