Circuit training is an excellent way to improve fitness and strength, which can be done in a gym or at home.
Circuit training is traditionally a set of aerobic and strength exercises carried out at stations around a gym, sports hall or martial arts dojo.
Below we provide a classic circuit training routine that you can follow at home.
There are usually between 10 and 15 stations where exercises are done for a set time, usually one or two minutes, before moving on to the next station.
See the video below for a good example of a circuit training routine. Also see our 20 minute home workout which is essentially a form of circuit training.
Circuit training exercises provide an excellent full body workout that improves fitness levels and helps to lose weight. Circuit training is an ideal way to structure your home exercising or any beginners’ workout, as you do not need any equipment to do it.
Several home weight loss plans incorporate circuit training to help you lose weight and get fit.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Circuit Training
- Circuit training is ideal for perform high intensity fat burning workouts
- Excellent basic workout to condition and strengthen the body
- Easy to work every muscle in your body
- Can be adapted for any size workout area
- Does not require expensive gym equipment, you can do circuit training at home
- Can be customized for specificity; easy to adapt to your sport
- Can be incorporated into a beginners weight training routine
- Circuit training is an excellent way to help to lose weight
- Primarily geared towards fat loss, thus being more useful for endomorph or endo-mesomorph body type trainees looking to lose fat.
- Despite its high total volume, the volume of exercise for individual muscle groups is small, stimulating little Hypertrophy.
A Basic Circuit Training Workout
There are several ways to do this circuit. First, you could set yourself a target number of reps for each exercise to complete before moving on, such as 50 squats, 20 push ups etc.
An alternative way is to set a time limit, usually around 60 seconds, to complete as many exercises as possible.
A third, and less common approach, is to do each exercise to failure – do as many as you can. This may lead to a slightly imbalanced workout. The reps her are just a suggestion, feel free to modify to design the workout around your specific goals.
There are many ways to skip. Jumping with both feet together provides both a good warm up and a very vigorous workout.
- 2 minutes
2: Air Squats
These are the powerhouse of all bodyweight exercises. They work the largest muscles of the body, the glutes (butt muscles). You can learn how to squat here.
- 20 reps
3: Press ups / Push Ups
Start by supporting your body off the ground with your arms about shoulder width apart and fingers pointing forward. Then lower your self to the ground, ideally as close as possible without actually touching the ground, then lift again. There are many variations to the standard press up.
Three-quarter press ups are performed by supporting the lower body on the knees not the toes, which are ideal if your upper body strength is still developing. Martial artists often do press ups on knuckles and fingertips to help strengthen hands at the same time. See our Push Up page for more detailed instruction.
- 20 reps
4: Star jumps / Jumping Jacks
Also known as a jumping Jack, this is done by jumping to a position with the legs spread wide and the hands touching overhead and then returning to a position with the feet together and the arms at the sides. Do as quickly as possible.
- 20 reps
5: Sit-ups / crunches / leg raises
Everyone is familiar with this exercise. It is the classic core strength exercise that helps to tone the abdominals. There are many variations on the sit up. If you are training alone then crunches are easiest. With a partner full sit ups can be done by linking your ankles with your partners for support.
Leg raises are done by laying down on your back and supporting yourself with your hand behind your head (use a table leg or grab a partners ankles). Then raise your legs to the vertical and down again. Try not to touch the floor when lowering, leave a gap of a few centimeters.
- 20 reps
6: Mountain Climbers
Start in a push up position, then bring one knee to your chest while the other stays on the floor behind. Then quickly switch the position of the feet, so that the rear knee tucks under your body while the other knee extends backwards. Alternate so that 10 steps are taken for each leg, 20 reps total.
- 20 reps
7: Bench Dips (using a gym bench or chair)
Start by sitting on the gym bench/chair. Hold onto the edge of the bench then slide forward so that you are supporting your body with your arms. Then lower yourself and raise back up. You can start with small movements, then as you improve start to lower as much as possible.
- 10 reps
8: Step ups (onto gym bench)
Simple step up onto a gym bench. Start with the left foot leading, then halfway through the exercise, or on the second circuit, lead with the right foot.
- 20 reps
9: Back Extensions
Lie on the floor on your front / belly. With your arms lightly touching your temples and looking forward, lift your torso up off the floor, hold, then lower.
- 20 reps
10: Lateral Jumps
Two ways to do these. Either with a bench, and side jump up onto bench then off the other side. A good solid gym bench is needed for this, so do not try using a chair at home. Simply stand to the side of the bench and jump up onto it with both feet together, then jump to the other side. Repeat.
Or, just jump from side to side. You could place a shoe box on the floor to have a small marker to help guide you.
- 20 reps
The optional exercises will give you an extra burn – the sprints and burpees will increase fitness and burn more fat.
Start in a press up position, then jump feet forward to a squatting position as for a squat thrust. Then immediately jump up clear of the ground, spreading your limbs as far apart as possible, forming an “X”, land with feet together. Drop back to a squat, then jump feet back to the starting position.
- 10 reps
12: Shuttle Runs / Sprinting the length of the hall *
For the duration of the exercise simply sprint from one end of the hall to the other, either touching the wall before turning, or squatting and touching the ground. Obviously this exercise will have to be missed if you are training at home.
- 5 sprints
If you practice these exercises a couple of times each week your cardiovascular fitness and strength should quickly improve. They are ideal home exercises, they are great for the martial arts class in the gym too. Remember to warm up well before your circuit training workout and stretch afterwards.
*The shuttle runs may be tricky to do at home, best to leave these out if you have nowhere safe to run.
A Quick and Intensive Circuit Training Workout
You do not have to do so many exercises in each workout. This routine provides a quicker circuit, ideal if you want to do 10 minutes of intensive exercise. High Intensity Interval Training is considered to be a more efficient way of burning fat and getting fit quickly. For a home based circuit training workout, you can make good progress with just five exercises. Rather than measure reps, perform each of the following exercises for one minute, with a 30 second rest in-between. Rest for one minute at the end of the circuit before repeating.
Start the workout with the classic old school cardio workout. Buy a speed rope, as these are much easier to use. Then just skip for one minute. Skipping is very intensive and can burn a lot of calories. Boxers skip, and they are among the fittest sports persons around.
Another old school circuit training exercise. Lie on your back with your knees to your chest. Then extend one leg while bringing your elbow to your opposite knee. Return to start position and repeat on the other side. This is a great abs exercise, and more intensive than crunches.
3. Triceps dips
Triceps dips require a little apparatus. Although a workout bench is ideal, a chair will do. Start by sitting on chair, place your hands on the edge of the chair, fingers pointing forward, then lower yourself, and lift back up. Repeat as many times as possible in one minute.
4. Bodyweight Squats
Most people associate squats with ironmen lifting Olympic barbells containing hundreds of kilos of weight. However, simple bodyweight squats provide a fantastic leg workout. If you have extra energy, do squat jumps – same as a squat, but with a plyometric power-up and jump. As your arms are rested, time for the final, intensive exercise.
5. Push ups / Press ups
Push ups are one of the best core and upper body exercises. They strengthen the arms (triceps) and shoulders, as well as the back. They will probably demand the most effort on your part, so they are done last with a longer recovery rest afterwords.
Do this circuit twice and you will get a very intensive workout, in the comfort of your own home, in less that 20 minutes.
High Intensity Interval Circuit Training Workout
Here is another circuit that is designed to be done at home with a few items or in a gym. The goal is to keep your heart rate high while cycling through a range of exercises to reduce muscle fatigue. If you just sprint for 10 minutes your muscles will fail very quickly, but by performing different exercises that work different muscles groups you are essentially resting one part while exercising another.
Almost all HIIT routines are on a circuit so that you repeat the exercises. The first exercises provide both the warm up and the “breather” before starting over again. This routine requires a light barbell or pair of dumbbells for the military presses.
1. Warm Up / Breather
If at home jog on the spot, gently. Keep your upper body loose and relaxed and keep going for about 4 minutes. At the end of the jog perform 20 quick jumping jacks.
2. High Intensity Sprint Exercise
Ideally you will actually sprint, as in run as fast as possible. Shuttle runs in a sports hall work well. You can sprint on a treadmill, although not so easy. If at home then skipping is the best option. 30 seconds of sprinting or skipping as fast as you can. Do not hold back.
3. Military Presses
Military presses (also called shoulder presses / overhead presses) work the upper body, specifically the shoulders. They are one of the best standing weight training exercises. You can use dumbbells, a barbell or make do with any other weight. Sandbags work just as well. All you have to do is press the weights straight up from shoulder height and down again. Aim for 20 quick presses. If it seems too easy with the weight you have, increase the weight or the number of presses.
4. Bodyweight Jumping Squats
After the presses your legs should be rested, so time for some plyometric squats. All you do, from a standing position, squat down and then propel yourself upwards to jump. Land, and squat again. Repeat this 10 to 15 times. The purpose is to build powerful legs, so if 15 becomes too easy hold some dumbbells next time.
5. Push Ups
Classic bodyweight exercise, and very effective. Excellent after the squats too. Perform 20 push ups, keep them clean, good form with a straight back.
6. Sprint Again
Your legs should be rested well after those 20 push ups, so now sprint again for 30 seconds.
Things are getting harder now. To do a burpee start by standing up straight. Squat all the way down so that your palms touch the floor. Kick your fee back into a push up position, then hop your feet forward again, and stand up. This is the basic burpee. Repeat this 10 times. You can add a push up (although your arms should still be resting in this circuit) and also perform an explosive squat jump. However, in this circuit we are keeping them at a lower intensity.
Give your abs a burn with 30 crunches. Lie on the floor with your knees above your waist and your hands lightly touching your temples. Looking upwards (not towards your legs) crunch those abs.
9. Final Sprint
Perform another 30 second sprint.
Now repeat, starting with the “breather”.
The MotleyHealth 501 Home Weight Loss Workout
Here is a selection of some of our favorite workouts, these always give us good results. You only need a small space for these workouts. They work the whole body, build muscle, gets you fit and burns fat.
Perform the following circuit 3 times:
- 50 Star Jumps / Jumping Jacks
- 20 Push Ups
- 50 Squats
- 10 Burpees
- 20 Leg raises
- 20 Crunches
You may notice that there are in fact 170 exercises here, and 3 sets adds up to 510 exercises and not 501. I call this the 501 because the first time I did this I was aiming for 500 and then went one over. I did a few less leg raises and crunches. The name is not important, although I always aim for 500 reps.
The Core Four – Muscle Building Exercise for Weight Loss
One of the most important elements of losing weight and getting in shape is increasing your physical activity. Cardio workouts alone will not help you tone up and build the required muscle mass for long-term weight management. By increasing your muscle mass, your metabolism is also increased, meaning that you burn more calories of energy while resting. A more muscular person continues to burn off excess fat while sleeping. So, building some strength training into your weekly fitness schedule is essential, and that is where the Motley Health “core four” exercises come into play.
The “core four” are the four key weight training exercises to kick start you into building a better, fitter and stronger you. The four core exercises are:
- Bench Press
- Bent Over Row
- Barbell Curl
Aim to use a weight that allows you to perform 10 reps (lifts) in 3 sets. So for each exercise you should be aiming for around 30 reps + the warm-up set, so 120 exercises in total. If you pick a weight that is a little heavy and only manage 7 or 8 reps on the last sets don’t worry.
There are many other weight training exercises that can be added to these four at later stages, but just performing these four exercises once or twice a week will increase overall muscle mass, strengthen your core to help tone up the thighs and the upper body. The main reason that these are the core four is that each of these is a compound exercise, meaning that it works more than one muscle at a time.
The core four is designed to allow for a quick weight training session. Each exercise has a purpose. To warm up just perform each exercise first with a very light weight. Then perform each exercise 8-10 times for 3 sets. So you will be doing 10 squats, rest a minute, then another 10 squats, rest another minute, then another 10 squats. Then after a rest of 1-2 minutes, move on to the bench press, starting with a light weight again to warm up.
To take this workout further, once general fitness and strength has improved, the clean and press can be followed by squats and military presses with heavier weights, and the curls can be followed or replaced with chin-ups.
Metabolic Conditioning Circuit
This short and intensive workout will engage your heart, lungs and muscles.
- Run 400 meters
- 10 Burpees – full chest to ground then back on feet and jump while clapping your hands overhead
- 10 Sit-ups – with your feet against the wall, touch the wall then touch the floor behind your shoulders
CrossFit Circuit Training – The Filthy Fifty, aka Chuck Norris Workout
Just watched this video on Youtube from CrossFitPlano after Mike Brooks shared it on Facebook. It is a pretty varied and intense form of circuit training that cover all the fitness bases:
- Body weight exercises
- Core strength
- Weight training (light, muscular endurance)
Body weight training exercises include burpees and walking lunges. For plyometrics there are box jumps, squat jumps, jumping knees, wall ball shots (using a 20 pound medicine ball, not a basketball). Weight training includes push presses, hanging knee raises, pull ups and kettlebell swings. For core strength there are back extensions. For endurance there are step ups.
Cross fit is all about using a wide range of training methods to reach your full potential. Crossfit is to exercise what Jeet Kune Do is to martial arts. Simple but very effective workouts. The idea is to work at your own pace, but just keep moving, keep working. The workouts are high intensity and last for 15-20 minutes. This is all you need, and probably all you can manage. Stretch after, then relax.
Selection of circuit training and bodyweight workouts on MotleyHealth:
- 300 Movie Workout vs The Bodyweight 500 Workout
- 20 Minute Home Work Out
- Boxing Workout for Speed, Power and Strength
- Sports Specific Circuit Training
Circuit training workout tips from around the web:
- www.brianmac.co.uk/exercise.htm – Brian Mac provides some excellent circuits that work the upper body, core and trunk, lower body and total body. All exercises are illustrated with photos.
- sportsmedicine.about.com/od/tipsandtricks/a/Intervals.htm – the Sports Medicine section of About.com provides an article on Interval Training Workouts Improve Speed and Endurance.
Research into the health benefits of Circuit Training
- “Exercise training normalizes vascular dysfunction and improves central adiposity in obese adolescents” by Katie Watts, BSc(Hons), Petra Beye, MD, Aris Siafarikas, MD, Elizabeth A. Davis, FRACP, Timothy W. Jones, FRACP, Gerard O’Driscoll, FRACP and Daniel J. Green, PhD. Published: Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2004; 43:1823-1827, doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2004.01.032. Source: http://content.onlinejacc.org/cgi/content/abstract/43/10/1823