No fancy footwork, no keeping on the beat. Circuit training is simple. Hard work, back to back exercises, little or no rest, repeated multiple times. This is the basic format of circuit training.

Circuit Training

The History of Circuit Training

Circuit training was first developed in 1953 by R.E. Morgan and G.T. Anderson at the University of Leeds in 1953. The formula was as follows:

“A circuit consists of 9 to 12 stations, with each station representing one exercise. At each station an exercise is performed, with a specific resistance and for a specific number of reps.

Work at each station takes 30-60 seconds, after which, the trainee moves directly to the next station on the circuit (with no break) and begins the exercise. An aerobics station requiring 15-180 seconds of work is placed between the main exercise stations.”

They developed this form of circuit training in order to enable individuals to work at their own intensity while also training with others. This is why it is a popular training method for army recruits and other team exercises sessions.

During circuit training, the body is forced to work through exercises of varying intensities, resulting in the use of different energy systems, all within one session. Training in both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems provides an excellent workout improving overall fitness, speedwork and endurance.

Over the years, trainers have adapted and changed the formula to suit their needs, such as boxing circuits or bodyweight only circuits, but the main structure and end result remain the same.

Outdoor Circuit Training

Benefits of Circuit Training

Multiple people can train at once and each work to their own intensity

A circuit can be set up to accommodate a large number of people training at once, but each can be at their own level of fitness. The fittest will complete the most reps for time whilst those who are less fit will perform less, or a modified version of the exercise.

The variety means there’s no room for boredom

Switching up your exercises with each round of the circuit means that there is no room for boredom, providing your instructor has a good imagination.

Boosts cardiovascular fitness

The intensity of circuit training places an extra strain on your cv system, forcing your body to work harder and pump more oxygen around the body.

Boosts muscular fitness

Adding resistance to circuit training will develop strong, lean muscles. Completing lower weights for the higher reps required of circuit training promotes muscular endurance.


One of the biggest reasons for not exercising is lack of time. Circuits offer a full body workout in minimal time by promoting quick transitions between exercises and little rest periods.


Whilst you can easily set up a circuit on your own, training with company can add that extra incentive to work harder, push each other through and can give you the extra motivation to keep showing up each week to see your friends. Think strength in numbers.

No wasted periods

Rest periods are minimal, if not non existent when it comes to circuit training. There is no time for distractions like checking your mobile phone, or having to wait for the next bit of equipment you want to use to become free. The lack of rest means your heart rate is kept elevated throughout the exercise and so no time is wasted, you should have just enough time to mop your brow and grab some water, but no more.

Elevated heart rate

The sheer intensity of circuit training requires hard work. The heart rate should be elevated to between zones 3 and 5 throughout the routine, dependant upon the exercise. Guidelines to heart rate training zones.

Typical Circuit Training Exercise

Kick start your metabolism with HIIT

The intensity of the work intervals in circuit training create an EPOC effect. EPOC stands for excess post oxygen consumption, meaning that the oxygen your body needs will be raised post exercise, therefore raising your metabolism.

Significant calorie expenditure

The high intensity, constant work of circuit training, means not only do you burn calories at the time of exercise, but your body also continues to burn calories after the exercise is over. This means that the overall calorie expenditure is kept high.

Research Supporting Circuit Training

A study at The University of Alabama found that circuit training can maintain heart rates at near 80% of the max, at this level of intensity aerobic development can occur - this takes place between 78- 85% of the maximum heart rate.

In a study of weight training circuits conducted by The National Athletic Health Institute in the 1970’s participants performed back to back strength exercises with no rest for 10 weeks. The study’s participants gained 3 pounds of muscle and lost 2 pounds of fat. Both men and women achieved reductions in skinfold thickness and increased their overall muscular strength. Despite the lack of any cardio within the circuits, participants saw an improved running time to exhaustion on a treadmill by 5 to 6% and an 11% increase in their VO2 max.

A study for Aging and Disease called “Impact of Resistance Circuit Training on Neuromuscular, Cardiorespiratory and Body Composition Adaptations in the Elderly” found that in order to optimise the body composition, muscle strength gains, and developed cardiovascular function from circuit training, the following protocols need to be maintained:

  1. 2 circuits should be completed weekly and can be implemented with endurance training.
  2. Circuit weight training should last 30–50 minutes. The number of sets and the repetitions per exercise is going to depend on the intensity of training.
  3. The loading intensity to promote hypertrophy (build muscle) should approach 60–85% (more highly trained individuals 85%) of 1RM, although low intensity is also recommended (e.g. 40% of 1RM), high velocity contractions on at least 1 day per week to develop muscle power.
  4. The work to rest ratio is also a critical factor in the prescribing of circuit training. The work to rest ratio 1:1 (30:30 s) may be an excellent stimulus to promote improvements on aerobic fitness, and modifications on body composition (i.e. decrease body fat).

Outdoor Circuit

5 - 10 minute warm up light run.

Complete 3 rounds of the following exercises, try 45 seconds on with 15 seconds rest (just enough time to switch between exercises)

1.Bench step ups
2.Bench dips
3. Bench push ups

1.High knees
2. Walkouts
3. Travelling plank

1.Box jumps onto the bench
2.Bench plank rotations
3.Lateral Step up with abduction

1.Bunny Hops with hands on the bench
2.Mountain Climbers with hands on the bench
3.Feet elevated plank

5 - 10 minutes cool down stretches.

The beauty of circuit training is that a circuit can be set up anytime anywhere, you can change the routine to suit the equipment you’ve got, or use none at all. The main factor is your level of effort, as long as your circuit works you hard, you’ll reap the rewards.