Circuit Training – Best Exercise Routine?

Written by | Posted under Exercising | 8 years ago


exercise routineThere are many benefits to circuit training. It is fun, can be performed alone or in groups, allows for a large variety of exercises/movements, is a great way to get a whole-body workout, and can expedite any training session! Most importantly, circuit training exercise routines are functional, as they target both our aerobic and anaerobic metabolic systems.


Energy Metabolism 101

When we train, our bodies function along a continuum of aerobic and anaerobic metabolism. (There is a third primary pathway, the creatine-phosphate system, but we will not discuss that here). Generally, aerobic metabolism supplies most of our ATP for long duration, low intensity activities. This is because the body has enough time to transport oxygen to the working muscles (hence aerobic). In aerobic metabolism fats, carbohydrates, and, to a very small extent, proteins, are converted to ATP to meet the energy demands of the activity. As the intensity of an activity increases, and the amount of oxygen available is no longer sufficient to sustain aerobic metabolism, there is a shift to anaerobic metabolism. Carbohydrates are the sole source of ATP production under anaerobic metabolism, and lactic acid is the by-product (lactic acid causes muscle fatigue and soreness). We are never using just one metabolic pathway or the other. Rather we are using different proportions of each pathway depending on the intensity and duration of each activity.

Life demands a balance between these two systems. Circuit training targets each metabolic pathway through the principle of ‘active rest’. Each exercise in a circuit targets a different muscle group or movement, allowing certain muscle groups to rest while others are working. This type of training favors anaerobic metabolism in the working muscle groups while the entire system is stressed continuously, integrating aerobic metabolism. Because of its ability to trigger aerobic metabolism and anaerobic metabolism at the same time, circuit training is often used to supplement a weight loss exercise routine. Some personal trainers even recommend circuit training as exercise routines for women who want to tone up their shape.


Circuit training is easy to do, and can be done anywhere. Here are some things to consider when setting up your circuit:

  • Warm-up: this should be low-intensity and gradual, 5-10 minutes; include activities such as jogging or gentle stretching.  A proper warm-up increases blood flow to working muscles, increases elasticity in those muscles, and ‘primes’ the body for physical activity.
  • Available resources: do you have access to equipment at a gym, or do you simply have your body-weight?  Either way, you can create a circuit!. A gym workout routine is preferred over a body-weight workout routine because the more equipment you have access too, the greater the potential variety for your circuits.
  • Exercise stations: once you know what resources you have available to you, choose exercises that target large muscle groups, such as push-ups or squats.  Try to pick exercises that target different muscle groups to add variety.  Each exercise chosen will be considered a station.  See sample circuit below for an example.
  • Circuit progression: here are two options for progressing through your cicuit:
  1. By repetition: decide to perform a certain number of repetitions at each station before moving to the next one (for example; 10 repetitions at each station).
  2. By time: decide to remain at each station for a specified duration (for example; 30 seconds at each station).  For group circuit training, this method generally works better.
  • Rest time: remember to move from one station to the other without a rest.  This allows for ‘active rest’ and combined emphasis on the aerobic and anaerobic metabolic systems.  However, after completing the entire circuit (every station), it is a good idea to take a break.  Recommendations for rest durations vary, but rest at least one or two minutes.
  • Circuit repetitions: decide how many time you are going to complete the circuit.
  • Cool-down: take 5-10 minutes to jog, walk, or stretch to get your heart rate back down to baseline.


  1. Station 1: push-ups (targets chest, arms, core)
  2. Station 2: free squats (targets legs in sagital plane, core)
  3. Station 3: side planks with leg lift (targets core and hip stability/strength)
  4. Station 4: pull-ups (targets upper back, arms, core)
  5. Station 5: lateral lunges (targets legs with lateral movement, core)
  6. Station 6: jump rope (mild plyometric-type activity; agility training targeting quickness)

For Medium Intensity = Spend 45 seconds at each station > Rest 2 minutes after circuit completion > Repeat circuit 5 times

Other Recommendations

  • Remember to emphasize different muscle groups at each exercise station in order get the best whole-body workout you can.  Also, feel free to integrate different techniques such as plyometrics, pilates, or yoga postures at the different stations. With enough variation, your daily exercise routine can just be a bunch of different circuit training routines.
  • Start slow!  If you are new to working out, don’t overdo it.  For example: set up 4 exercise stations, spend 30 seconds at each station, and repeat the circuit 3 times with a 5 minute rest between circuit repetitions.
  • Keep track of your progress
  • For aerobic and resistance training guidelines, read this article!
  • Make sure you have some whey protein readily available for post-workout recovery protein shakes.
  • For people with an aggressive weight loss goal, check out how to lose weight fast by adding the right supplements to your circuit training.


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  1. mike said,

    nice work well said

    8 years ago
  2. Thaya Kareeson said,

    Thanks for visiting Mike!

    8 years ago
  3. Ask the Doctor Onlin said,

    I really enjoy circuit training and it’s benefits. I highly recommend it to my patients. The nice thing about it is the way you are kept on edge each time you start a new exercise.

    8 years ago
  4. belenia said,

    wow….it sounds good im gonna try it!!!thanks

    8 years ago
  5. Thaya Kareeson said,

    @belenia: Great! Let us know how it goes!

    8 years ago
  6. lipo said,

    I really do enjoy circuit training because I feel I am working very hard for a good 45 minutes, which is encouraging. It tests all your muscles and your endurance power, thus combining weights and cardio. One thing I am sceptical about is that won’t our bodies be accustomed to it quickly, which means the benefits will wear off?

    7 years ago


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