Circuit training workouts without equipment can provide both cardiovascular and strength training benefits, at home or in the gym, for any fitness level. Just because you're not using any equipment doesn't mean your workout will be less effective.
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Circuit Workouts Are Convenient
Circuit workouts are an efficient way to exercise. Typically, little rest is taken between sets as you perform one exercise right after another. Depending on your fitness level, the amount of rest you choose will determine how extreme your workout is and what type of cardio you'll be performing.
Simply put, you can design high-intensity workouts, aerobic workouts or advanced Tabata-style workouts by merely adjusting your rest and work periods. Your fitness level will determine how challenging you find each session.
For an advanced person, performing 60 seconds of work with 15 seconds of rest could be a reasonably standard high-intensity interval training (HIIT) circuit. Circuit training for beginners may include 30 seconds of high-intensity work with a 60-second break.
The good news is that you can easily design your own circuit training workouts without equipment and adjust them to your individual goals and fitness level. First, let's take a deeper look at some typical work and rest period times, and then explore some of the best circuit training exercises without weights.
Read more: Full-Body Circuit Workout For Women
Design Your Circuit Workout
The American Council on Exercise provides a table for determining the type of workout you are doing based on specific work and rest intervals. The intensity of your work interval will also come into play.
With anaerobic intervals, working out at an intense level — about 7 to 8 on a scale of 10 — will be required to get results. With aerobic training, the intensity will be lower, around 3 or 4 on the scale. Below is a Ratings of Perceived Exertion Scale, used by the American Council on Exercise and the Cleveland Clinic, among other institutions.
- 0 – No effort
- 1 – Very easy
- 2 – Somewhat easy
- 3 – Moderate effort
- 4 – Slightly hard
- 5 – Hard
- 7 – Very hard
- 10 – Very, very hard
Below are some examples of how to time your work and rest periods (or active recovery, AR) based on the desired workout type and intensity, as provided by the American Council on Exercise.
Remember to start slowly and work your way up. Do not attempt more advanced workouts without being physically ready. As always, speak to your healthcare provider before embarking on a new exercise program.
- Cardiovascular conditioning (aerobic): 1 to 5 minutes of work and 1 to 5 minutes of rest/AR (1:1)
- Metabolic conditioning (anaerobic HIIT): 15 to 45 seconds of work and 30 to 120 seconds of rest/AR (1:2-3)
- Tabata: 20 seconds of work and10 seconds rest/AR (2:1)
Tabata, for example, requires working out at high intensity for 20 seconds followed by 10 seconds of rest or active recovery. Repeat this cycle for four minutes. That's a set, or round. Perform up to four rounds per session.
If, say, you prefer to exercise outdoors, you can sprint for 20 seconds, walk for 10 seconds and repeat. Continue for four minutes, take a short break and start all over.
Circuit Training Exercises Without Weights
The May-June 2013 issue of the American College of Sports Medicine's Health and Fitness Journal explains that your own body weight can be used as resistance for exercise. This eliminates the need for equipment and facilities, allowing for workouts to take place anywhere, with any budget.
Researchers behind that study recommend selecting exercises that hit all of the major muscle groups. Furthermore, it's important to work large muscle groups to create the intensity and resistance necessary for an effective workout. With this approach, you'll burn more calories as your body requires more energy to use them.
Choosing exercises that are easy to transition between can help reduce rest times. Body-weight exercises are a good choice since you don't have to switch equipment in between. Performing standing exercises together and then moving on to floor exercises can also save time. Recommended exercises include:
- High knees
- Triceps dips
- Abdominal crunches
- Wall sits
- Jumping jacks
- Running in place
Read more: Proper Push-Up Technique
Circuit Training Workouts Without Equipment
The following examples are meant to provide ideas for circuit training workouts without equipment. Depending on your schedule and fitness level, you can perform more than one circuit during a 20-or 30-minute workout. Remember to listen to your body and never sacrifice form for speed. Take rest as needed.
Circuit 1: Squats and Push-ups Aerobic Training
- Set a timer for 10 to 15 minutes
- Body-weight squats x 1 minute
- Push-ups (on the knees if necessary) x 1 minute
- Squat jumps x 90 seconds
- Rest or march in place for 1 to 5 minutes
- Repeat circuit until the timer goes off
Circuit 2: Lunges and Planks HIIT
- Set a timer for 10 minutes
- Body-weight lunges, left leg forward x 10 seconds
- Plank x 10 seconds
- Jump switch lunges x 15 seconds
- Rest or march in place for 30 to 120 seconds
- Repeat circuit until the timer goes off, switching legs for each round
Circuit 3: Turn It Up Tabata
- Lateral jumps x 20 seconds
- Rest 10 seconds
- Burpees x 20 seconds
- Rest 10 seconds
- Push-ups x 20 seconds
- Rest 10 seconds
- High knees x 20 seconds
- Rest 10 seconds
- Rest for a few minutes to recover and then repeat as desired
For a circuit workout using no gym equipment that gets you outside, check out LIVESTRONG.com's low-intensity summer workout circuit for your whole body, which only requires a park bench.
Why Choose Circuit Training
An April 2017 analysis published in Ageing Research Reviews showed that circuit training for three sessions per week for an average of 41 minutes per session resulted in greater upper and lower body strength.
This workout method increased adherence to strength training programs due to the shorter duration of circuit training workouts versus traditional models of straight sets and repetitions. Increasing workout adherence can mitigate the typical loss in muscle mass experienced by the majority of aging adults.
When it comes to measures of blood pressure and cholesterol, a small study published in_ Lipids in Health and Disease_ in September 2013 notes that high-intensity circuit training seems more effective than low-intensity circuit training.
The study found that although all groups displayed improved body weight measures, the high-intensity circuit training group had more significant reductions in several areas. These include fat mass, diastolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as an increase in healthy high-density lipoprotein cholesterol.
Researchers concluded that high-intensity circuit training was more effective at improving blood pressure and blood lipids than lower-intensity circuit training or endurance training alone.
It is clear that whether you opt for a lower-intensity or higher-intensity form of circuit training, the benefits are worth it. Choose a type of workout with your specific health concerns and goals in mind. You can also mix the two to get the best of both worlds.
- American Council on Exercise: "How to Create an Effective Circuit Workout"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Rated Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale"
- American College of Sports Medicine's Health and Fitness Journal:"High-Intensity Circuit Training Using Body Weight: Maximum Results With Minimal Investment"
- Lipids in Health and Disease: "Effects of High-Intensity Circuit Training, Low-Intensity Circuit Training and Endurance Training on Blood Pressure and Lipoproteins in Middle-Aged Overweight Men"
- Ageing Research Reviews: "Circuit Resistance Training Is an Effective Means to Enhance Muscle Strength in Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"