What is circuit training and what are the benefits?

Circuit Training: principles

Let’s face it, with so many training methods available to us, we often end up confused and as a result, some of us still may not really know what circuit training is. So, what’s it all about?

It all began in the 1950s at Leeds University in England when the harsh winters made outdoor exercise difficult. So researchers had an idea: to develop a type of exercise that could be practiced indoors. You know, before Workout From Home was actually a thing.

This training that they came up with combines strength AND aerobic exercise. Pretty genius, isn’t it ? In all, there are 9 to 12 exercise stations, carefully selected and set out to make up THE perfect set.

If you’re wondering how it works, well the objective is for everyone in the circuit to move from one station to another, with breaks of a few seconds between each station.

What is circuit training?

For those like us who are crazy about sport, circuit training can be both fun and effective. As the exercises are arranged in stations, it works a bit like a school PE session. Remember those? But here, there’s no competition - you and your workout buddies go from station to station and can support and motivate each other to do well!

What’s pretty great about circuit training is that whether you’re doing the workout with weights, barbells or resistance bands, or just your own bodyweight, it can work! A pretty flexible workout perfect to perform even when you’re on the move.

Breaks and rests normally last for up to 60 seconds, giving the body time to partially recover, but not fully! That would defeat the purpose. You can stay at each station for a fixed amount of time or do a fixed number of repetitions, depending on your goals.

And since we know all you athletes are looking for big gains, over the course of the circuit you will have worked lots of different muscle groups for a full body burn!

What are the benefits of circuit training?

Most of us are working against the clock to do everything we want to do. Circuit training can prove really practical, as having little or no break between repetitions means that you can actually finish more quickly. Bear with us, it doesn’t mean you’ll get less sweaty! Of course, it does depend on the size of the circuit. In general, however, you’ll find that it provides a quick and intense workout, pretty convenient for those of us who have a pretty hectic lifestyle, isn’t it?

What’s more, doing a circuit without breaks can be beneficial to your health when you stick to it over time, as it can cause a moderate increase in your cardiovascular capacity.

Circuit training can even help to reduce body fat, as well as contributing to better overall fitness.

If you’re wondering how, it's thanks to the way in which circuit exercises increase our aerobic metabolism, helping burn more calories during training and in the recovery period.

Circuit training exercise ideas

The next thing we need to decide is which type of circuit we should perform. Even if there’s no doubt that we’re sharing the same passion towards sport, always chasing after our next fitness goal, we also know that one size doesn’t fit all. What’s good about circuit training is that it can be customised to your individual goals, including more cardio or strength exercises. It’s also possible to switch up the exercises on different days, to create a nice, dynamic workout. We wouldn’t want you athletes getting bored on us!

Ready to check out some exercises you could include in your circuit? But remember! If you have any concerns about your physical limitations, it’s always a good idea to get the ok from a medical professional. Let’s go!

1. Mountain climbers

If you’re not familiar with this one, the goal of this exercise is to work on your abdomen and hip muscles. To start, it’s pretty simple! Place both hands and feet on the floor, with your body stretched out in a plank position, looking down at the floor. Make sure your hands are directly under your shoulders, then keep your trunk steady and your glutes contracted. Bring each knee up to your chest alternately, with rapid movements. Got it? Careful not to lift your hips or let your body sag! Bonus burn if you can alternate your feet at the same time without putting one down before the other.

2. Lateral jumps

Stand with your legs straight, hip width apart. Now, tilt forwards and jump to the left on your left foot, with your right foot crossing behind it until your toes touch the floor. Do the same on the right side then switch, jumping from side to side, alternating your arms so that your right arm swings forward with your right leg and vice versa. Flex your back on each jump and make sure you're bending your knees when you land!

3. Abdominal plank with jumps

Start in a plank position with your feet together. Keeping your feet together, jump them to the left. Go back to your initial plank position. Repeat the exercise on the other side. Don’t let those sneaky hips creep up!

4. Push up and squat

Start in the plank position. Jump forward to go into a full squat, with your hands on the floor. Lift your arms up above your head, then bring your hands back down to the floor. Jump back to the plank position and do a push up - but make sure your elbows stay at a 45 degree angle from your body to work the right muscles and avoid a strain! A perk of this exercise? It's also a great intro move into a full burpee. Let’s be honest, it’s definitely getting us sweaty!

5. Jump and squat (aka plyometric squat)

Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips, with your toes pointing forwards or turned slightly outwards. Go down into a squat with your thighs parallel to the floor. Jump straight up in the air. When you land, go straight back down into a squat and up you come again into a jump. Just make sure you're bending your knees every time you land!

The list of circuit training exercises is extensive. Activities such as side, reverse and abdominal planks, elliptical bikes and running can also be included. Choose your favourites!

Circuit training vs HIIT: what's the difference?

HIIT shouldn’t be that new to you - everyone’s been talking about it recently. Actually, HIIT Training is another good way of achieving results in a short space of time. It consists of high-intensity interval training, in which short and very intense exercise periods of 10 to 20 seconds are alternated with recovery periods a few minutes long.

Besides having a longer recovery period, HIIT tends to involve fewer exercises than circuit training. It is possible, for example, to work out only on an exercise bike, alternating very short bursts of intense exercise with longer recovery periods.

Both circuit training and HIIT can help improve your physical and cardiovascular fitness, as they increase your heart rate. It’s HIIT-ing pretty hard, isn’t it?

Now that you know everything about what circuit training is, why not include it in your exercise routine? Let’s round up your mates and crush it together! We’re here to support you on your journey to better performance, physical fitness and health.

Written by: Green Park Content

Any medical advice and views expressed are those of the author; readers should obtain medical advice.


[1] Instituto Politécnico de Viana do Castelo. Functional Training Method. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/258066076_Effects_of_a_Circuit_Training_Program_on_Muscular_and_Cardiovascular_Endurance_and_their_Maintenance_in_Schoolchildren

[2] Ji-Woon Kim, Yeong-Chan Ko, Tae-Beom Seo, Young-Pyo Kim. Effect of circuit training on body composition, physical fitness, and metabolic syndrome risk factors in obese female college students. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6028228/#:~:text=In%20this%20study%2C%20circuit%20training,showed%20relative%20effect%20between%20groups.&text=Findings%20of%20this%20study%20on,improve%20weight%20and%20%25%20body%20fat


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