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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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).
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.
We spend, on average, 85-90% of our time indoors.
Whether you're stuck in the office, at school, in your car, at home or even at the gym, the majority of the time there’s a roof over your head.
Since we live in the often wet and windy UK, we have an excuse, right?
Wrong! A little rain never hurt anybody. “What a glorious feeling”, Gene Kelly was onto something. What makes exercising outdoors so glorious?
Nature has provided it’s very own gym, the outdoor environment.
Benefits of Outdoor Training
Outdoor training increases endorphins
Endorphins are natural pain- relievers and make us happy. Training outdoors has been associated with higher levels of these 'feel good' chemicals being produced in the body. According to a study published in The Environmental Science & Technology Journal, just 5 minutes spent exercising outside in an open green space is enough to significantly lift your mood.
Fun Fact: The name endorphin derives from the words 'endogenous' and 'morphine' i.e a morphine like substance originating from within the body.
You burn more calories training outside
Why? When you're in a gym, the air con is set to keep you cool, the floor is laid with smooth surfaces for training on and the weather is shut out. Take your training outside and you're against the elements. You could be working against the wind adding resistance to your workout, sweating in the sun, or running across an uneven terrain. Research says you should burn 5% more calories than your regular gym session.
High oxygen levels improve almost every chemical reaction within your body. Research shows that spending time in fresh air, surrounded by nature, increases energy in 90 percent of people. “Nature is fuel for the soul, “ says Richard Ryan, Researcher and Professor of at the University of Rochester. “Often when we feel depleted we reach for a cup of coffee, but research suggests a better way to get energised is to connect with nature.”
Outdoor training can improve bone density
The best source of Vitamin D is Sunlight. Vitamin D is essential for our bodies to absorb calcium which “makes our bones grow strongerer”.
According to the National Osteoporosis Society recommendations, we should try to get at least 10 minutes of sun exposure to bare skin once or twice a day. Even if it’s cloudy, your body can still get vitamin D from sunlight; it just takes a little longer.
You spend longer exercising when it’s outdoors
According to a study in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity on average a person exercising outdoors spends 30 minutes more exercising than those who exercised indoors.
Exercising outdoors saves money
Firstly, you can save money on expensive gym memberships by swapping to training with mother nature. This leads to you not driving to the gym, which then saves you money in petrol and pollutes the planet less. This knock on effect of saving money (and the environment) continues as the more time you spend outside, the less time your spending indoors, lighting, heating and using electrics in your home.
Outdoor training helps you stress less
Exercise reduces stress wherever it’s done, but exercising outside can help to reduce cortisol even more. Cortisol is designed to protect your body when it goes into fight or flight mode, however elevated levels of stress from everyday life can leave high levels of cortisol in the blood stream leading to weight gain, chronic fatigue, higher susceptibility to illness, digestive issues, anxiety and depression. All of which can be combated by de-stressing and getting your exercise in outdoors can certainly help.
Exercising outside improves sleep
People who manage to fit in at least two and a half hours of physical activity each week benefit from a 65 per cent improvement in sleep quality, according to a study at Oregon State University. If you're lucky enough to live by the sea - or make an effort to visit the coast regularly - you are also more likely to get a better night's kip. This is because sea air contains charged negative hydrogen ions, which boost your ability to absorb oxygen, leaving us feeling more energised throughout the day and well rested at night.
Exercising Outside improves mental focus
Outdoor exercise provides mental stimulation that indoor workouts simply can’t rival. Whether you’re working out at home or your local gym, the view will always be the same four walls. Taking your training outside means you can have constantly changing scenery to challenge, excite and stimulate your brain so you can give your mind a workout as well as your body!
Outdoor training doesn’t leave room for excuses
If you’re running along on the treadmill and you want to stop, you can. Press the big red button and you're able to walk right out. But, when you're 3 miles away from home on your run, you’ve still got to get back. In fact training outside combats the three most popular anti-gym excuses. The great outdoors is free, easy to get to and you generally find it on the way home from work, so money, time and convenience fall short as adequate excuses.