Circuit training can be a powerful form of exercise, but to be most effective, it must adhere to the proven principles for fitness results.
Have you ever wished you could enjoy the benefits of cardiovascular exercise and resistance training all in the same workout? Many health clubs offer a class that focuses on 'body toning' or 'muscle sculpting' that supposedly accomplishes both a cardiovascular workout and a muscle-building and strengthening workout in one class. These classes typically call for aerobic activities such as stair-stepping mixed in with high reps with light weights (20+ reps per set with usually a maximum of 10 lbs. of resistance—oftentimes 5 lbs. or less). The trump card is that you will have your entire workout done within the hour—but primarily due to the light weights used, these classes are NOT very effective. Better than nothing--but not as effective as they could be.
While the concept is a good one, the methodology is flawed. I sometimes have clients perform a slightly different activity known as circuit training to make their workout time most efficient. For one type of circuit training, you can perform 5-10 minutes of cardio, followed by 2 sets of 2 weight lifting exercises, followed by 5-10 minutes of cardio, followed by the weight lifting…and repeat for the desired length of a workout (typically 45 minutes to 1 hour). Make sure that you are lifting the same weight (or at least close to the same weight) you would lift if you were simply performing your regular resistance -training workout.
The benefit to circuit training is that your heart rate remains highly elevated during the entire workout, which means you burn more calories and gain more fitness benefit per minute of exercise—provided that you perform both your aerobic and your weight training components as intensely as you would if you performed them separately (this is easier said than done, but possible with a lot of effort!). I don’t recommend circuit training to the exclusion of separate cardio and weight lifting workouts because the reality is that is harder to exert at the level required to make gains in each activity—and there are certain benefits that you will only achieve by focusing on each type of workout one at a time.
Sample Circuit Training Workout
A. 5 minutes of brisk walking or slow jogging
B. 2 sets each of a squat and a chest press, for 12 reps
C. 5 minutes of stair-climbing
D. 2 sets each of a lat pulldown and an ab crunch for 12 reps
E. 5 minutes of brisk walking or slow jogging
F. 2 sets each of a shoulder press and a stiff leg deadlift for 12 reps
G. 5 minutes of stair-climbing
H. 2 sets each of a bicep curl and a tricep press for 12 reps
I. 5 minutes of brisk walking or jogging
This workout targets all major muscle groups and will provide a great cardiovascular workout.