What is 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.”
Morgan and Anderson 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 exercise 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 circuits, but the main structure and end result remain the same.
What are the benefits of circuit training?
- Multiple people can train at once and work at their own intensity
- The variety means there’s no room for boredom
- Circuit training boosts cardiovascular fitness
- Circuit training boosts muscular fitness
- It offers a full-body workout in a short space of time
- It's social
- No wasted time as rest periods are minimal
- Significant calorie expenditure
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:
- 2 circuits should be completed weekly and can be implemented with endurance training.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
Circuit Training Workout Routine
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
3. Bench push ups
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.