Let's face it - we live busy lifestyles, and we simply don't have the luxury of being able to work out for hours at a time, let alone even one hour! Circuit training alleviates this issue by giving you the ability to design a total body workout that will maximize the amount of work done in a minimal amount of time. It's fairly easy to design your own circuit training program, but there are a few things you should consider before committing to a routine. So let's take a look at how to do circuit training on your own without a trainer designing a routine for you.
Circuit training is typically comprised of two or more exercises that are performed in succession, with virtually no rest between exercises. Some circuits can be made up of 10-15 exercises (typically for smaller muscle groups), while others may only be comprised of 3 to 4 exercises (typically for larger muscle groups). Now that you have an idea of structure, there are four other aspects to consider:
You'll need to determine how much time you can devote to your circuit training routine, not only in terms of days per week, but also in the amount of time per day. Be as honest and realistic as you can with your estimate, because a sure way to set yourself up for frustration is to try and commit to a routine that is simply too time-intensive for your schedule. The average time frame for circuit training workouts is anywhere between 15 to 30 minutes per session. The average number of circuit training sessions per week is roughly three to four.
There are two basic types of circuit training workouts - horizontal and vertical. Horizontal training is when you perform all sets of one particular exercise before moving on to the next exercise. For example, if your circuit consists of push-ups, squats and lunges, you would perform all of your push-up sets before moving to squats. Vertical training is when you perform one set of each exercise consecutively before starting over again with the first exercise. In this case, you would do one set of push-ups, one set of squats, and one set of lunges before moving back to push-ups.
Neither type is better or more effective than the other, and which one you choose will largely depend upon your own personal preferences. Some people like to knock all out all of their sets for one particular exercise so that they can "get it out of the way" before moving on to the next exercise; horizontal training fits well in this case. Other people tend to prefer a little more variety during their workout, so vertical training fits their personality type a little better.
If you plan on performing your circuit training workout at the club, you'll obviously have more equipment (and exercises) to choose from than if you're doing it at home. Some circuits are specifically designed with free weights or gym equipment in mind, while others will utilize your own body weight for resistance. The answer to which one you should choose will be based on your objectives; do you want to focus on cardio or muscle building? Circuit training typically lends itself to cardio training because of its fast-paced style, but many bodybuilders use circuit training as a way to challenge their muscles to grow through a process called "pyramiding". With pyramiding you can either start with light weights and increase the weight on each round of sets (pyramiding up), or start off with heavy weights and decrease the weight on each round of sets (pyramiding down). Again, which one you choose will depend upon your particular workout objectives.
To keep things as simple and efficient as possible, you can choose exercises that require nothing more than your own body weight and a few square feet of space (e.g., push-ups, squats, mountain climbers and dips). Whether you're training for cardio fitness or muscle growth, it is important to remember that the non-stop nature of circuit training will keep your heart rate elevated throughout the entire workout, so even if your objective is to increase muscle mass, you will still derive good cardiovascular benefits from utilizing a circuit training approach.
Will you be targeting your upper body, lower body, or full body with your circuit training workout? It is a common practice to design circuit training routines to target specific areas. Below are some sample circuit training workouts for targeting the upper body, lower body and full body.
- 3 sets of 20 push-ups
- 3 sets of 12 dumbbell shoulder presses
- 3 sets of 12 lat pull-downs
- 3 sets of 10 T-bar rows
- 3 sets of 15 squats
- 3 sets of 10 kettlebell deadlifts
- 3 sets of 15 walking lunges
- 3 sets of 15 hamstring curls
You can construct a full body workout by combining two or three exercises from each list above, and performing them in alternating intervals. Also add in core-specific exercises such as abdominal crunches and planks, or overall body exercises such as burpees and jumping jacks. Want more ideas? Check out how Five Seasons member Mark Wright's most challenging circuit was laid out by his trainer.
As you can see, there are several factors to consider in order to design a circuit training workout on your own. Don't be afraid to experiment a little, making adjustments to your routine as you go along. There really are no wrong options where this is concerned; as long as you're keeping your body moving, you're doing great.