Circuit training is composed of a set of several exercise stations done in sequence with little or no rest between them. It can easily be worked into your cardiovascular and resistance training routines. Circuit training was developed in England in 1953 and originally consisted of 9-12 stations. Today, the number depends on the purpose and design of the circuit.
Circuit training is used in coaching specific sports such as basketball or soccer with short bouts of running alternated with jumping, leaping and full court runs. It can also be specifically tailored for high intensity, physically active occupations such as firefighting. In the CPAT (Candidate Physical Ability Test), prospective candidates complete a timed sequence of eight events that simulates a fire scene.
The entire sequence, or circuit, is done while wearing a 50-pound vest and must be completed in 10-minutes or less. During the stair climb, an additional 25-pounds is added to simulate carrying a hose up the stairs. There is about a 20-second recovery period while walking between stations, the ultimate in circuit training!
What about us mere mortals? How can we add circuit training to our workouts? If you have been doing the same fitness program everyday, consider doing something different on two of those days. If you are working out three days a week, use one day to re-wire your workout with a round of circuit training. If you belong to a gym, they can set up a circuit program for you during your resistance training session or by alternating an aerobic and non-aerobic station throughout the sequence. Whether you are a beginner or advanced exerciser, circuit training is a way to add variety, spark and improvement to your fitness.
One of the most popular and successful fitness programs designed as a circuit is Curves for Women. Resistance training is alternated with cardiovascular training in sequence for a full body workout in thirty minutes. I had the opportunity a few years ago to attend a Curves workout as the guest of a friend of mine in New Jersey. As a long time runner, I could keep up a high level of cardiovascular exercise but I felt the twinges of a few neglected muscles the next day after the resistance machines which are part of the circuit. You work at your own pace and progress when you are ready. It’s a great program.
If you like to exercise at home, you can even set up your own circuit around your house. You don’t need expensive equipment. An example of alternating cardiovascular and resistance training would be to begin with squats or lunges for 60-seconds, followed by jogging in place for 2-minutes followed by biceps curls for 60-seconds then jumping jacks or jump rope for 2-minutes, sit-ups for 60-seconds and 2-minutes of step aerobics. Add more for a longer circuit and complete two or three circuits as you feel ready. You can do similar activities at a park course or track.
A word of caution before you increase your exercise intensity. Although it is recommended that you alternate moderate and hard intensity training sessions throughout the week, it is also important to establish a solid training base line. That means you have been exercising regularly for three to six months. You are at greater risk for injury if you begin high intensity training without a well-established baseline.
“Circuit training is the most scientifically proven exercise system. It’s the most time efficient way to enhance cardiovascular fitness and muscle endurance in the same workout. Studies show that circuit training helps women to achieve their goals and maintain them longer than other forms of exercise or diet.”1 (If your goal is to increase muscle size or bulk, you will need to increase the amount of weight used and decrease the number of repetitions.)
If you’re ready for a change, energize your workout with circuit training. Plan your own program with exercises and activities you enjoy. Be creative, mix it up. Have fun with it!
Sources: 1″Circuit Training: The Best of Both Worlds” Carla B. Sottovia, PHD, Cooper Fitness Center, 2/3/2009, Curves International (November 2006) “Fact Sheet” Prince William County Fire and Rescue, CPAT Training Center, Manassas, Virginia
Yours in fitness,
Olivia C. Rossi, RN, MSN
Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist, ACSM
Certified Personal Trainer, ACSM