The “circuit” in circuit training comes from the fact that you do a sequence of exercises back to back to back, and then you repeat the sequence.
And then again.
You cycle through the planned sequence of exercises, or circuit, multiple times.
That’s circuit training.
Generally, you hit each major muscle group during one full circuit. You may do a lower body for one exercise. Then upper body the next.
You’ll find all sorts of different circuit training sequences. Here are some things most will have in common:
Several different exercises. A normal circuit will have five to ten different movements per circuit. You’ll often hear these referred to as “stations.” Overhead press station, squat station, etc.
Little to no rest in between.The goal of circuit training is to keep your heart rate up. Ideally, if you’re physically able, you go from one exercise to another without stopping. Maybe you rest after the whole circuit. Maybe.
Rinse and repeat.Generally, you’ll run through your circuit a few times. Three rounds are common.
The point here is to work different parts of your body with different exercises, and then while those parts are recovering, you’re working on your other movements! This helps build cardiovascular health, while also improving muscular endurance and strength.
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Why Should I do circuit training?
Generally, you’ll hear exercise divided into strength training or aerobic exercise (cardio).
What’s the difference, you wonder?
Strength training. Strength training is also referred to as anaerobic exercise, which would be a short burst of energy for movement. Think of a push-up or pull-up. These exercises help build and tone muscle.
Aerobic Exercise.“Aerobic” means “needs oxygen.” Your heart rate increases to get oxygen where your body needs it, thus the word “cardio.” Running, biking, or jumping jacks would be examples of aerobic exercise.
The thing about a circuit is, you actually do both categories. Presses and lunges fall into strength training. Jumping jacks are cardio.
And since you aren’t stopping much in between stations, you’ll need more oxygen, and voila. Even more cardio.
With circuit training, you build muscle and burn fat WHILE building stamina.
As Michael Scott would say, “that’s a win, win win.”
There’s some debate on what kind of exercise is better for weight loss: aerobic or anaerobic.
If you’re limited on time and only can pick one, I would pick strength training: when you strength train, you break your muscles down, and your body needs to work extra hard over the next 24-48 hours to rebuild those muscles (with increased calories burned).
We work with our 1-on-1 Coaching Clients to create programs that combine both strength and cardio in a fun way – it really comes down to a program that you actually WANT to do.
Before and after your circuit training: Warm up and stretch
No matter which circuit you pick, I want you to start with one important thing:
I cover why you should always warm up in an article found right here. It doesn’t have to be much though, give it about five minutes to get your muscles active and your heart rate up.
This will help you do exercises properly and help prevent injury. You can run in place, do air punches and kicks, or some jumping jacks.
Here is NF Senior Coach Staci (you might know her incredible story) showing you many beginner options you can use to warm up as well:
Did I just tell you to prepare for circuit training, with a circuit?!
If you’re curious, here’s my personal (advanced) warm-up:
Jump rope: 2-3 minutes
Jumping jacks: 25 reps
Bodyweight squats: 20 reps
Lunges: 5 reps each leg.
Hip extensions: 10 reps each side
Hip rotations: 5 each leg
Forward leg swings: 10 each leg
Side leg swings: 10 each leg
Push-ups: 10-20 reps
Spider-man steps: 10 reps
Our goal isn’t to tire you out, instead we want to warm you up.
That’s step one.
Completing your chosen circuit training routine would be step two.
Below, you’ll find 15 workouts you can follow along with! And if you like our style of workouts, you can check out our coaching program where we’ll customize a circuit routine that fits your life and/or travel schedule:
Once you’ve done the above three times, go ahead and put your kettlebell away for your final step: stretches.
If you want a kettlebell worksheet, grab one by signing up in the box below:
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Beginner Gym Circuit Training
If you have access to a gym, you have a lot of circuit options.
If it’s your first time stepping foot in a fitness facility, check out our Beginner’s Guide to the Gym. The gym can be a scary place, but we’ll give you a strategy to get comfy.
We’ll also walk you through each movement for both Days A and B below. I would recommend picking one of our 5 Beginner Gym Workouts, going through the leveled progressions, and working your way up to the circuits below:
Do 3 circuits with 10 reps of each exercise, one after the other!
Have fun and keep things interesting. And if you don’t want to build your own workout, that’s cool too! We have 15 free workouts in this article, and we can also do all the heavy lifting for you.
Well, not literally DO the heavy lifting, but you know what I mean. We create custom workout solutions for busy people just like you in our 1-on-1 Coaching Program. Let us create a workout and help you make better food choices.
It’s like having a Yoda in your pocket (again, not literally).
How to Stretch After Circuit Training
Once you finish your workout, the final step (three) would be stretching and cool down. No matter what circuit you go through, stretch after a workout. It can help a lot with muscle recovery.
Scope this video for an awesome stretching sequence to follow:
You could also do some yoga poses. For stretching, find what feels good and take your time. Let your heart rate come down while you stretch.
You could even do some foam rolling too if you’re a glutton for punishment!
Getting Started With Circuit Training
There are all sorts of different ways to do circuit training. We just showed you fifteen.
YOUR MISSION: Complete one of the above circuit training workouts! If you don’t know which one to pick, start with the Beginner Bodyweight Circuit. It’ll get you used to the idea of hustling from one exercise to the next.
And you can do it in your living room!
If you’re looking for more hands-on instruction and customized guidance, check out our 1-on-1 Coaching program. You’ll work with our certified NF instructors who get to know you better than you know yourself, and then build a workout program that is specific to your exact goals.
Simply put, we tell you exactly what to do every day, and how to eat. And then, we check in with you regularly to make sure you’re doing it!
If you got this far in the article, I really want you to try one of these workouts. Right NOW. I always mention the most important step in a fitness journey is starting it. Today, start circuit training.
Once completed, I’d love for you to share your story with the community in the comments:
How’d it go?
Did you get through three full circuits?
Which routine did you pick?
Find a circuit you’re comfortable with, and do it.