Circuit training is a form of exercise in which you move quickly between 6-10 stations and do a different movement at each station. You spend 30-60 seconds at each station and then move to the next one with very little rest in between. Most circuit training workouts can be done in 30 minutes or less.
Circuit training has many different benefits, including:
- It doesn’t take a lot of time
- It improves cardiovascular fitness
- It trains the entire body
- You can do it without equipment
- It can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol
- It’s good for all age groups
- It improves anaerobic fitness
- It adds training variety and prevents boredom
- It can help with weight loss
- It’s ideal for all experience levels
In this article, I’ll discuss the benefits of circuit training in greater detail. I’ll also show you how to set up your own circuit training workout using the Fitbod app and discuss some of the drawbacks of circuit training. I’ll also provide a few examples of people who circuit training is ideal for.
10 Benefits of Circuit Training
1. It doesn’t take a lot of time
One of the greatest benefits of circuit training is that it can be done in a short amount of time. You can complete an effective workout in under a half-hour.
Research has shown that circuit training workouts as short as 7 minutes can improve muscular endurance in both males and females. And if you extend the workout to 14 minutes, it’s enough to notice improvements in aerobic capacity, especially in females.
2. It improves cardiovascular fitness
When you do circuit training, you’re working against the clock to get as many reps as you can before time runs out at each station. The rest intervals are also short, which doesn’t leave you much time to recover.
Because the rest periods aren’t long enough to get your heart rate completely back to normal before your next active interval, it stays elevated for a longer period of time.
For this reason, researchers believe that circuit training elicits significant VO2 and energy expenditure values, especially in a combined circuit training program that involves running rather than total rest in between weight lifting intervals.
Related Article: 7 Best CrossFit Alternatives (That Won’t Break the Bank)
3. It trains the entire body
During circuit training, you move through different stations where a new exercise is introduced. You may do squats, overhead presses, lunges, bicep curls, tricep extensions, and sit-ups all in the same workout.
This means that even if you only have a couple of days each week to work out, you can still hit most of the major muscle groups multiple times per week.
Related Article: Full-Body Workouts Every Day: Will You Get Better Results?
4. You can do it without equipment
While many people do circuit training with light weights, jump ropes, and other pieces of equipment, you can do it with just your body weight. For this reason, circuit training is great for people who work out at home or don’t feel like driving to the gym.
Research has shown that a circuit training workout should include a combination of strength and aerobic movements. Squats, push-ups, sit-ups, mountain climbers, jumping jacks, lunges, and dips (which you can do on a sturdy chair) are all bodyweight movements that build strength and get your heart rate up, making them ideal options for a no-equipment circuit training workout.
Related Article: Can Bodyweight Exercises Build Muscle? (Yes, Here’s How)
5. It can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol
When compared to other forms of exercise, circuit training may be better at lowering blood pressure and cholesterol.
Researchers from the University of Padova, the University of Palermo, and the Italian Association of Medicine and Fitness studied 58 men who each exercised for 50 minutes three times a week. They were divided into three groups: a high-intensity circuit training group, a low-intensity circuit training group, and an endurance training group.
After 12 weeks, the high-intensity circuit training group showed the greatest decreases in total cholesterol and diastolic blood pressure (the pressure in your arteries in between each heart beat). The low-intensity circuit training group showed the greatest decreases in systolic blood pressure (how much pressure your blood exerts when your heart beats).
6. It’s good for all age groups
Circuit training isn’t just for adults. Studies have shown that circuit training is beneficial for kids and the elderly, too.
A study published in Human Kinetics Journals showed that a group of elderly patients who met frailty criteria (weight loss, exhaustion, low physical activity, slowness, and weakness) produced significant improvements in balance, strength, and gait after circuit training for 12 weeks.
Another study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning showed improved performances in lateral jumps, sprints, and sit-ups in male and female school-aged students with an average age of 11.6.
7. It improves anaerobic fitness
Anaerobic fitness describes your body’s ability to perform exercises that require quick bursts of energy. Because circuit training involves doing short intervals of work followed by brief periods of rest, your body becomes more efficient at performing at a high intensity for a short period of time.
Studies have shown that circuit training can help improve sprint times. Subjects who participated in three circuit training sessions per week for 10 weeks were able to decrease their sprint times by 0.5 seconds.
8. It adds training variety and prevents boredom
Because circuit training involves quick bursts of activity and requires you to quickly move from one exercise to the next, it’s hard to get bored. Circuit training can also be used to help you break out of a rut if you’re no longer enjoying your usual routine.
In what’s probably not a surprise to you, research has shown that when people enjoy their exercise routine, they’re more likely to stick with it. Circuit training is an excellent way to switch up your routine if you’re looking for a new challenge to keep you motivated.
9. It can help with weight loss
If you’re trying to lose weight, circuit training may be able to help you reach your goals.
Twenty-two women who participated in a study that analyzed the effects of two different circuit training methods lost an average of 2kg (roughly 4.5lbs) after 9 weeks of circuit training three times per week. Results were greater in women who combined circuit training with other low-impact forms of cardio.
However, it’s important to note that the women in this study were overweight when they started. Other studies show that the biggest weight losses from circuit training occur in overweight or obese individuals. People at a normal weight who start circuit training likely won’t lose a significant amount of weight.
Related Article: 10 Types of Cardio Workouts for Fat Loss (That Actually Work)
10. It’s ideal for all experience levels
Whether you’re a beginner or you’ve been physically active for your entire life, you can do circuit training.
You can always modify exercises to make them easier or more challenging. For example, you can do elevated push-ups if you’re a beginner and clapping push-ups if you’re more advanced. If necessary, you can also swap movements such as shuttle runs for marching in place if you have joint issues.
With that said, beginners should still exercise caution when starting circuit training. Use light weights in the beginning and don’t try to move faster at the expense of your form breaking down. You can also take longer breaks in between each station if you need to.
Related Article: Cardio for Beginners: 6 Mistakes to Avoid (Plus 3 Workouts)
Performing Circuit Training With Fitbod
The Fitbod app makes it easy for you to create your own circuit training workout. You can customize the routine based on your available equipment and the muscles you want to target.
Below are the steps for creating a circuit training workout in the Fitbod app on an Android device. The process should be similar on iOS devices, but the steps may differ slightly.
Step 1: Log in to the app
Open the app and log into your account, if necessary. If you’re already a Fitbod subscriber, you should see whatever workout is coming up next in your current workout program.
Step 2 (Optional): Change your fitness goal
Depending on what your current fitness goal is, you may need to adjust it. For example, if you currently have Powerlifting as your goal, building a circuit training routine based on that goal would require you to do a lot of low reps at a high weight, which isn’t ideal for circuit training.
To change your fitness goal, click the three vertical dots in the right corner, then go to Edit Workout Settings. Scroll down to Workout Settings and click Fitness Goal. From there, select the Muscle Tone option and click Save.
Step 3 (Optional): Change your equipment settings
If you want to do your circuit training routine with a different set of equipment than what you used for your previous routine, go back to the Edit Workout Settings screen. Click Available Equipment to tell the app which equipment you want to use for your workout.
If you don’t want to use any equipment, you can also toggle the option for bodyweight-only workouts from the Edit Workout Settings page.
Step 4 (Optional): Edit your target muscle groups
You may also need to edit your target muscle groups. For example, if you’ve previously been doing an upper/lower split, the app may automatically format your circuit training workout for only upper body or only lower body movements. You’ll need to change that if you want your circuit training workouts to be full body.
To change your target muscle groups, click the three dots in the top right corner. Click Edit Target Muscle Groups, then select all of the muscle groups you want to hit in your circuit training workout. Make sure you hit Save before exiting this screen.
Step 5: Allow the app to alternate exercises to perform them as a circuit
If you’ve previously been doing a workout routine with straight sets, you’ll need to tell the app that you want to perform your exercises as a circuit instead.
To do this, go back to the Edit Workout Settings screen and scroll down to Circuits and Supersets. Click it to toggle
Step 6 (Optional): Customize your circuit training workout
Once you’ve set all of your workout preferences, the app will display the workout it has created for you. Review the list of exercises. If you want to replace any of them, swipe left to select from a list of ideal substitutes.
Step 7: Start your workout
Click Start Workout to begin your workout. You’ll see a timer in the top left corner so you can keep track of how long the workout takes. The app will also tell you how many total rounds and how many sets and reps per exercise you need to do.
When you’re taking a break in between each circuit or at the end of the full workout, you can record how many reps you’ve done for each set by clicking on the name of each exercise.
Need a workout program? Try Fitbod for Free.
Are There Any Drawbacks To Circuit Training?
1. It’s not ideal for improving endurance
Although circuit training can help strengthen your heart, it’s not the best method for improving your ability to handle long bouts of physical activity.
If you have plans to run a marathon, a 30-minute circuit training routine won’t help you reach that goal. You’ll need to do longer workouts that are more specific to marathon running if you need to be able to sustain physical activity for a few hours.
2. It can be hard to hold yourself accountable
The active periods during circuit training are short, so you have to push yourself hard during those intervals in order to reap the most benefits from circuit training. Sustaining that intensity can be hard to do if you’re working out on your own and no one is around to push you.
3. Putting together a well-rounded circuit training program requires some careful planning
Most circuit training workouts include a combination of both upper and lower body exercises as well as a combination of strength and cardio movements. If you’re trying to design your own circuit training routine, it can take time for you to come up with exercises that hit all of the major muscle groups and your desired training stimulus.
4. It requires a lot of space
Depending on your circuit training routine, you may need a lot of space to do it. You need room to set up each of your different stations and space to do exercises like shuttle runs.
This can be a challenge if you’re working out in a small home gym or you’re trying to do your routine in a crowded gym.
5. Circuit training isn’t ideal for changing your body composition
If you have physique-based goals, circuit training alone won’t help you reach them. While it can help you burn calories and lose weight, it doesn’t provide the stimulus you need in order to promote hypertrophy (muscle building). Even if you use weights, they won’t be heavy enough to help you add a significant amount of muscle mass.
Related Article: Supersets vs Circuits: Differences, Pros, Cons
Who Is Circuit Training For?
1. Anyone who’s looking for a short, effective workout
Most circuit training workouts only last about 30 minutes. This makes them ideal for parents, busy students, people with hectic jobs, or anyone who doesn’t want to spend a long time in the gym.
Related Article: The Best Workout Schedule For Busy Moms (Sample Program)
2. People who are bored with their current routines
If you’ve been following the same strength training or cardio routine for a long time and you’ve gotten bored with your workouts, circuit training can offer you a new training stimulus that can increase your motivation to train again.
Circuit training is also good for people who want to do more cardio but easily get bored with monostructural activities like running or cycling.
3. People who are burned out from other forms of high-intensity exercise
Circuit training can be intense, but it usually doesn’t involve a lot of heavy barbell work or other high-skill movements that you’d find in a program like CrossFit. If you like CrossFit-style workouts but need to give your body a break from high-intensity training, circuit training can be a worthy substitute.
Related Article: Cross Training vs CrossFit: Differences, Pros, Cons
4. Sprinters and athletes in sports that require quick bursts of energy
Sprinters and athletes in sports such as football, baseball, or basketball can all benefit from circuit training.
Since you need to be good at being quick and powerful for short periods of time, circuit training can help you improve the anaerobic fitness you need to be successful at your sport.
5. Endurance athletes
I mentioned earlier that circuit training alone isn’t ideal for anyone with endurance-based goals like running a marathon. But that doesn’t mean endurance athletes should neglect circuit training altogether.
Circuit training can be an effective training method to incorporate into your routine to help improve your overall conditioning. It can also help you strengthen the muscles you use most often in your sport, which can make you a better athlete and help prevent injuries.
Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try Fitbod for free.
Circuit training has many benefits, including improved cardiovascular fitness, reduced blood pressure and cholesterol, and potential weight loss. It’s also a time-effective way to get in a good workout that doesn’t necessarily need a lot of equipment.
Anyone can do circuit training as long as you scale to your abilities and work yourself up to more challenging exercises. However, you should still be aware that circuit training on its own may not be enough to build muscle mass, and you shouldn’t rely solely on circuit training if you have endurance-based goals such as running a marathon.
About The Author
Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.