Circuit-Training Disadvantages

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Women performing work-out circuits at the gym. (Image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

In circuit training, a person moves quickly between single sets of exercises, completing one after another with minimal rest in between. She repeats the entire circuit for a number of rounds. Because circuits involve a variety of exercises, they are used for efficient full-body workouts, which have been shown to be effective for increasing muscular and cardiovascular endurance in both the young and the old. However, there are certain disadvantages of circuit training.

Spacing and Timing

Circuit training often requires advance planning and a lot of time and space, which can be a problem if you workout in a crowded gym. At some point during your circuit, as you move quickly from one exercise station to the next, it is likely that someone else will interrupt your circuit by using the space or equipment you need to continue, especially if you plan to use popular stations like the bench-press or pull-up bars. To avoid this disruption, you may have to schedule gym visits when it is less crowded or train from home with limited equipment.

Limited Strength Gains

Circuit training is effective for improving muscular endurance, but it may have limited use for increasing strength and power. While it is not impossible to do low-repetition, high-weight exercises during a circuit, these types of exercises can be too exhausting to complete a full round of them, especially when performed with minimal rest. For this reason, circuits are usually designed to accommodate at least eight repetitions per exercise, which builds muscle size and endurance, but not so much strength. Because circuit training usually cycles between various muscle groups, it can also decrease the gains you might get from more specific muscle training.

Easy Exhaustion

Circuit workouts can be highly fatiguing, and it is likely that beginners will work harder at the beginning of a circuit. For instance, if you begin a circuit with squats and finish with pushups, you may achieve lesser gains in the chest than in the legs. This is partly due to the fact that participants may minimize or eliminate rest between stations. It can be helpful to use an effective work-rest ratio of at least 1:1, for example, 30 seconds of work and 30 seconds of rest.

Simple Fixes

While these downsides are common in circuit training, they are not always the case and can be avoided with simple changes. For instance, training with free-weights in a gym’s group fitness class can be a great way to perform circuits uninterrupted. You can use circuits for strength training by alternating between low-rep strength and high-rep endurance exercises, which helps avoid complete muscle exhaustion. Also, you can vary the muscles you target at different stages of the circuit rounds, which may allow you to get a more balanced full-body workout.

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