Circuit Workouts

Circuit training is one of the many types of exercise you can do from home or at the gym. It combines resistance and cardio exercise to give you a condensed, well-balanced workout.

A typical circuit training routine is composed of a series of brief, intense workouts, each of which focuses on a different muscle group. Changing muscle groups allows you to keep going without the need for long rest periods. This both shortens overall workout time and keeps the heart rate up, providing a cardio advantage.

Some forms of circuit training only focus on strength-building, but many intersperse cardio workouts such as jogging or jump roping between resistance workouts. A good example of this is Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred workout, which alternates strength, cardio and abs circuits. A circuit can last anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes.

Some gyms offer circuit training classes in which a series of stations are set up, often in a circle. Everyone starts off at a different station; the instructor times the circuits and tells everyone when to rotate. A good circuit class instructor will pay individual attention to participants and ensure they are practicing proper form. It is also possible to perform circuit training from home, and you won't need a ny equipment to do it. Generally it is a good idea to have a pair of light weights around (2 to 5 lbs), but soup cans or milk jugs may be used as well. Peruse the internet for free at-home programs to follow.

Is circuit training right for you? Consider the strengths and weaknesses of this type of workout to determine if it will satisfy your goals.

Strengths
  1. Time: Since circuit training is a condensed form of exercise, combining two in one, it is great for people who don't have a lot of time to devote to exercise. Two to three sessions a week can increase muscle tone, cardiovascular health and energy levels.
  2. Efficiency: In some respects, you get better results from circuit training than uncombined exercise plans. The speed and intensity of a circuit workout allows you to burn more calories than you would in a more spaced-out workout. You end up with a simultaneous reduction of fat and increase in lean muscle mass. Lean muscle burns more calories, and a positive cycle emerges.
  3. Low Injury Risk: Circuit training generally involves high repetitions of low-weight resistance exercises. This allows for a big gain in results with a low risk of injury, since muscle and joint strain are made less likely by the use of light weights. People with back pain may especially benefit from this form of exercise, since using giant weights can put back muscles, spinal discs and vertebral joints at risk.
  4. Stays Interesting: Many people become bored with their workout routines. Since circuit training involves a constant change of activity, it is easy to stay interested.
Weaknesses
  1. Not For Bodybuilding: While circuit training may be ideal for those looking to tone up and lose some extra pounds, it is not going to drastically increase muscle size. Those looking to build bulging muscles would do better looking elsewhere.
  2. Insufficient Cardio: There is some concern that circuit training doesn't include enough cardiovascular exercise to meet health guidelines. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 2 and a half hours of moderate or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise per week. If you only do 2 or 3 short sessions of circuit training a week, then, you may be falling below these recommendations. Aim to perform 10-20 minutes of straight cardio on the days you're not doing circuits.

Circuit training with resistance and cardio components is an ideal form of exercise for beginners, those without a lot of time and those looking to increase overall endurance, cardiovascular health and strength. It is also a great option for people looking to lose weight quickly and healthily. It is not, however, the best option for bodybuilders or those looking to focus on long, intense cardio workouts.

Educating yourself about the different ways to exercise will help you pick the right routine for you. Decide what your fitness goals are first, then find a regimen that helps you meet them.