When performed correctly, circuit training provides a multitude of health and fitness benefits. In fact, circuit training is so popular that it has endured in many countries since 1953. Traditional circuit training follows established guidelines for success. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of circuit-training results enables informed program design.
Circuit Training Defined
Generally, circuit training programs comprise nine to 12 weightlifting stations arranged to target all major muscle groups from largest to smallest. At each exercise station, you should perform eight to 20 repetitions and take short rests lasting no longer than 30 seconds as you progress from one station to the next. Additionally, using weightlifting loads of 40 to 60 percent of your maximal ability ensures performance of an adequate number of repetitions for each exercise. Depending on your fitness level and preference, you can perform your circuit one to three times.
As with other weightlifting routines, circuit training improves muscular strength, or in other words, your ability to produce force. For example, strength determines how many groceries you can carry at one time or the heaviest amount of weight you could lift during a bench-press exercise. However, due to moderate weightlifting loads and a high number of repetitions per station, circuit training produces less strength improvement than other training programs. Therefore, strength athletes, such as weightlifters and football players, typically avoid traditional circuit training and lift weights with heavier loads and fewer repetitions.
Weekly circuit training enhances muscular endurance, or your ability to perform muscular activity over time. For instance, muscular endurance dictates how many push ups you can perform consecutively or how many flights of stairs you can climb before your legs become tired. Performing up to twenty repetitions at your workout stations, with little rest throughout your workout, forces your muscles to work through fatigue and build endurance.
Circuit training can improve your body composition, or the percentage of your total body weight comprised of fat, by burning calories and building muscles. Additionally, increased muscle mass boosts the number of calories burned during rest and exercise. For best results, beginners should start a circuit-training program with one or two sessions per week and add up to two weekly sessions as strength and endurance improves. Remember, periodically increasing your weightlifting load supports continual fitness improvements throughout your program.
- Ask Dr. Len Kravitz: New Insights into Circuit Training; Len Kravitz, PhD
- “ACSM’s Resources for the Personal Trainer”; American College of Sports Medicine; 2007