Sometimes planning a workout routine around your schedule can be complicated, and not only that, but regular workout routines can take up a lot of time in your day. If you’re a busy person, spending an hour or more at the gym can be too time-consuming.
Luckily, there are a few alternatives that you can try that will still help you achieve your fitness goals, such as circuit training! This type of strength training takes up less of your time while still giving your muscles an intense workout, so you can grow bigger and more defined muscles while you also improve your endurance and cardiorespiratory fitness.
We’ll tell you all about what circuit training is plus its benefits, and then we’ll go in-depth on how to create your own circuit training program and the best circuit training exercises to include for a well-rounded full-body routine that you can do either at the gym or at home – you choose!
What is circuit training?
This type of workout consists in quickly performing 4-10 exercises that target different muscle groups one after the other. Once you get to the last exercise, you repeat the circuit, cycling through it around 3-4 times depending on your fitness level.
Circuit training is a great way to train both your strength and your endurance because it combines cardio movements with strength training exercises in a fast-paced manner with little rest time in between. While it may sound very similar to HIIT (high-intensity interval training), circuit training places more focus on building strength while HIIT is almost completely focused on cardio.
There are many circuit training benefits, such as being more enjoyable than other types of strength training because of how varied and customizable it is, making it difficult to get bored of it. But its main appeal is how time effective and flexible it is! You can train your whole body in just half an hour with a well-rounded circuit training program, making it perfect for those busy weekdays.
Creating your own circuit training program
One of the best things about circuit training is that it doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or an advanced trainer, you can create a routine that’s perfect for you. While circuit training programs tend to last between 30-45 minutes, you can start by doing 10-15 minutes at first to get used to the intensity of the workout and then work your way up.
Since circuit training is highly customizable, it’s up to you which exercises you’re going to add to your program. Ideally, a circuit training program will have a good combination of strength training and cardio exercises that target both your upper and lower body, so there’s a lot to choose from. You can pick four base exercises and keep cycling through them, or perform a completely different set of exercises during each cycle!
That said, there are a few basic steps to take when you’re creating any circuit training program, whether you plan to have a short or a long workout. It’s important to plan your program before you start training to avoid any delays or confusion in the middle of the routine, so make sure you take these steps before you start:
Choose a time limit
Circuit training is all about cycling through exercises, so you need to decide how many times you’re going to repeat the cycle – essentially how long you’ll be training.
As we mentioned, the total time of your workout will depend on your fitness level. If you’ve never done circuit training before, or any kind of interval-based training, aiming to work out for 45 minutes isn’t very realistic. Endurance is something that’s built with time, so you can’t expect to crush a full circuit workout right away.
At first, you can set up a 10-minute program with 4 stations, and cycle through those stations 3 or 4 times within the 10-minute limit. If you feel comfortable during this routine, you can then begin to expand the time limit, working out for 15-20 minutes until you’ve built enough endurance.
When you get the hang of it, you can start working out for 30-45 minutes while also increasing the number of exercises and cycles you go through. For example, a 30-minute program with 5 stations and 6 cycles to really give your muscles a good burn. Of course, the time limit will also depend on how much time you have available, so plan accordingly!
Pick an upper-body exercise
Circuit training aims to work your full body, so it’s essential to pick exercises that target specific areas of your body. For the first station, pick one effective upper-body exercise, or several that you can change each cycle.
Which exercise your choose it’s up to you and what you feel more comfortable doing. If you’re not a fan of pull-ups, you can completely avoid them and instead add some push-ups to your circuit. Doing a different exercise on each cycle will ensure that you hit each major area in your upper body, such as your shoulders, core, biceps, triceps, pecs, and whole back.
Here are some upper-body exercises you can do with minimal to no equipment:
- Push-ups target your pecs, triceps, and shoulders
- Pull-ups target your back muscles
- Tricep dips target your triceps
- Russian twists target your core, shoulders, and hips
- Dumbbell curls target your biceps
Pick a lower-body exercise
The next station will focus on lower-body exercises, which means you need to pick exercises that target the different areas of your legs for a stronger lower body.
There is a variety of effective exercises to choose from, and you can add free weights or a resistance band to increase the difficulty if you’d rather have a more challenging workout. It’s up to you and your preferences, as well as your fitness level. And again, try to pick a different exercise for each cycle so you can have a more well-rounded lower-body workout.
Here are some lower-body exercises you can do with minimal to no equipment:
- Squats target your hamstrings, quads, and glutes
- Glute bridges target your glutes and hamstrings
- Walking lunges target your quads and glutes
- Deadlifts target your hamstrings, glutes, hips, and back
- Calf raises target your calves
Pick a compound exercise
Now that you took care of training your upper and lower body separately, the next step is picking an exercise that targets your whole body or at least a great number of muscle groups.
This is what compound movements do best, targeting several major muscle groups and joints and training them all at once, allowing you to target as many areas as you can in little time for a stronger body. While there are a lot of compound movements that target specific areas, it’s best to go for the full-body movements for a more effective workout.
Here are some compound exercises you can do with minimal to no equipment:
- Burpees target your whole body
- Thrusters target your shoulders, core, and legs
- Jumping lunges target your core and legs
- Mountain climbers target your whole body
- Bent-over rows target your back and arms
Pick a cardio exercise
The last station in a basic circuit training program should be a cardiovascular exercise. As we mentioned in the beginning, circuit training combines weight training with cardio movements to maximize both endurance and strength – so this step is crucial!
Finishing each cycle with a cardio exercise will help you burn extra calories and increase your heart rate before you rest for a few seconds to start the next cycle. While some of the exercises we mentioned earlier can count as cardio, in this station it’s better to focus solely on your cardiorespiratory training instead of muscle-building.
Here are some cardio exercises you can do with minimal to no equipment:
- Jumping rope
- Jumping jacks
- Stair climbing
When you’re done with your cardio exercise, rest for a minute, drink some water, and get ready to begin the next cycle until you complete your whole program.
By following these 5 steps, you’ll be able to create your own circuit training workout, whether it’s with the exercises we mentioned or completely different ones that you prefer. To better visualize it, here is a sample 15-minute circuit training program that you can use as a guide.
- First cycle
- Walking lunges
- Stair climbing
- Second cycle
- Russian twists
- Glute bridges
- Third cycle
- Dumbbell curls
- Jumping lunges
- Fourth cycle
- Mountain climbers
- Jumping rope
Perform each exercise for 30 seconds, then rest for 15 seconds and move to the next station. At the end of each cycle, rest for a full minute before continuing until you’re done with the program. And remember, you don’t have to have a set of different exercises for each cycle, you can use the same exercises to make things less complicated!
Get the most out of your workout time with circuit training
There’s nothing better than feeling that your time at the gym was worth it, and that’s exactly what circuit training does for you. But don’t forget about regular strength training! On those days when you can devote a little bit more time to the gym, having a regular routine will ensure that you give your muscles the dedicated workout that they need.If you’re looking for a place to plan your circuit training program or some help with exercise ideas, check the Fit With Iulia app! Iulia creates weekly goal-focused workouts to help you achieve your strength training and weight loss goals by implementing the appropriate training splits and a variety of different exercises. Try your first workout for free by downloading the Fit With Iulia app, choosing a goal, and trying the first workout of any goal – no subscription required!