The Beginner’s Guide to Circuit Training Workouts

Strength training + Cardiovascular fitness + muscular endurance = Circuit training

Circuit training is incredibly effective.

As you can see above, this style of training covers more components of fitness than any other training methods.

And in fitness (and all other things), heightened effectiveness means more health benefits. 

But before you can experience the incredible health benefits of circuit training, let’s first understand this particular style of workouts. 

In this beginners’ guide to circuit training workout, I’ll cover what circuit training is and how to put together a circuit training workout.

I will also provide a sample circuit training workout using just bodyweight exercises. 

So let’s dive in. 

So what exactly is circuit training?

Circuit training is a fast paced body conditioning workout method that combines several strength training and high-intensity aerobic exercises (typically between 4 -10 exercises) to create a circuit.

It’s really like speed dating. 

In speed dating, you have a number of men you have just a few minutes to chat over. When the time is up, you move on to the next. 

Circuit training workouts works somewhat similar.

Instead of going through a circuit of men, you’ll go through a circuit of 4-10 exercises. 

Benefits of Circuit Training Workouts

One of the greatest benefits of circuit training workouts is its ability to improve your overall health and fitness.

For me as a mom, who have limited time to workout, a quick circuit training routine is perfect for me.

I’m able to work my full-body in half the time of a typical workout. 

This is why I think circuit training for women is perfect. especially for busy women and moms like me. They fit our schedules and meet our needs to get fit and stay healthy without sacrificing a big chunk of our valuable time. 

Short circuit training workouts provide both strength training and cardio workouts benefit all in one, killing two birds with one stone. 

According to a study done by UCAM Research Center for High Performance Sport in Spain, circuit training can benefit in the following ways: 

  • Stronger heart
  • Lower resting heart rate
  • Stamina (endurance) 
  • Lung capacity 
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Bone mass (bone density) 
  • Body compositions 
  • Lean mass

All of the benefits above combined in one workout lead to an overall improvement of your health and fitness.

Another training benefit is in how exercises are sequenced. 

The Effective Way to Perform a Full-Body Workout 

Circuit training workouts typically involve several exercises targeting various parts of your body in one circuit. 

In other words, it can easily hit almost all your body parts including abs, thighs and arms in one workout. 

But just because it’s a full workout, it doesn’t mean you’ll be over fatiguing your body. 

Circuit training has a way around it. 

Well-built circuit training routines are performed in a way that you go from one exercise that targets one body part to another that targets another body part. 

For example, here is a sample circuit workout:

What is circuit training? Circuit training image workout example

* Perform one exercise for 30-60 seconds with short rest intervals (typically 10 – 30 seconds of rest).

  • Squat: Leg and butt exercise
  • Push-Ups: Full-body exercise targeting primarily the chest, shoulders and core
  • Lunges: Hamstring exercise
  • Dips: Upper body and triceps exercise 

As you can see, it alternates between upper body and lower body exercises. 

By alternating between the different body parts, you can allow each muscle group to get a sufficient recovery period before it gets worked again. 

This brings another benefit. 

Even though you are resting certain body parts, your body continues to work, which forces your heart to work harder to pump blood and oxygen to working muscles and other tissues in the body.

This increases your lung capacity as well as decreases your resting heart rate. 

Mid to High Intensity Keeps Heart Pumping

Circuit training is by nature a mid to high intensity workout. 

The rest between exercises is generally short (10-30 seconds), you are either under the clock or on a rep count basis that keeps you moving throughout the circuit. 

This interval like element and short rest periods of circuit training keep the intensity moderately high. 

You can also increase (or decrease) the workout intensity by choosing harder (or easier) exercises to put in circuit. Generally, multi-muscle, multi-movement compound exercises are considered advanced and harder. 

You can also increase or decrease the number of exercises to perform to adjust the difficulty and intensity level. 

The options are countless, and you can easily customize to fit your needs and fitness level. 

Overall, it’s a great way to save time without sacrificing workout quality. 

It’s also a boredom buster that spices up your workout in a snap. 

Circuit Training History

So when did this smart training method come about?

While we are just catching the circuit training wave, and many consider it a “new” way to work out, it’s actually been around for quite some time now. 

It was originally developed by R.E Morgan and G.T. Anderson in 1953 at the University of Leeds in England. 

Together they developed a workout program consisting of a series of exercises with little to no rest in between.

In the original format, a circuit was comprised of 9-12 stations. 

According to Len Kravitz, Ph.D., this number may vary according to the design of the circuit. 

Each participant moved from one station to the next with little (15 to 30 seconds) to no rest, performing a 15 to 45 seconds workout of 8 to 12 repetitions at each station, using resistance of about 40% to 60% of one-repetition maximum (1RM). 

Although they used gym machines in the original circuit, circuit training has evolved to include anything from free weights, resistance band, calisthenics (bodyweight) or any combination. 

Circuit Training Effectiveness

There are numerous proven benefits (see the section: Benefits of Circuit Training workouts)

But its effectiveness is just as well documented as its health benefits. 

A study published on BioMed Research International examined how a high-intensity circuit-training (HICT) program affects key physiological health markers in sedentary obese men.

The study involved eight men with body fat percentage greater than 26%. 

Participants completed a four-week HICT program, which consisted of three 30-minute exercise sessions per week, for a total of 6 hours of exercise. 

Upon completing the 4 week high intensity circuit training, the participants’ heart rate (HR), blood pressure (BP), rating of perceived exertion, total work (TW), and time to completion were measured. 

In addition, participant’ body composition was measured before and after HICT.

The study shows participants improved: 

  • Resting heart rate by 16% 
  • Systolic blood pressure by 5.5% 
  • Fat tissue percentage by 3.6%
  • Total work by 50.7%
  • Lean muscle tissue by 2%
  • Cholesterol by 13% 
  • Triacylglycerol by 35%
  • Insulin by 18%

Overall, participants showed a significant improvement in biochemical, physical, reduction in body fat in just 6 hours of total exercises from the HICT program. 

You get maximum benefits and improve your overall body fitness and health in just one workout as opposed to doing cardio and resistance training separately.

Circuit Training Versatility

One of the major positive benefits of circuit training it’s versatility.

It can be customized for any fitness goal you have whether it’s power, endurance or strength. 

It can be shaped to place an emphasis on certain benefits over another.

For example a power based circuit will emphasize a short exercise time period and longer rest intervals between exercises. 

When performed with high intensity, it builds power. 

An endurance based circuit will be high intensity workout with a longer exercise period with a shorter rest period between exercises.  

The high intensity is what makes the circuit training beneficial, so push yourself as hard as you can (of course within a reasonable limit). 

Save Time With Circuit Training Workouts

Circuit training workouts are built for a modern, fast-paced busy lifestyle. 

Traditionally, resistance training was performed separately from aerobic exercises. 

Traditional Recommended Dosage of Resistance Training 

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), for resistance training alone, two or three nonconsecutive days per week workout frequency is recommended. 

For example, Monday, Wednesday and Friday are your resistance training days. 

Per ACSM’s recommendations, each resistance training workout is a full workout consisting exercises for each muscle group performed at an intensity of 40% to 80% of a one-repetition max (RM) for 8 to 12 repetitions with 2-3 minutes of rest in between.

They recommend you complete 2-4 sets for each muscle group.  

Standard Guidelines for Cardio Workouts

The standard guideline ACSM layys out for cardio workouts (aerobic training) is 150 minutes per week (recommendation based on moderate-intensity cardio).

Done at the intensity of 46% to 63% of maximum oxygen uptake (Vo2max), it’s 30 to 60 minutes per session. 

Alternatively, you can perform 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity exercise (64% to 90% VO2max) for 20 to 60 minute per session.

Regardless, recommended cardio workout volume is 20-60 minutes per session for 2-3 days a week. 

By following all the guidelines of cardio and resistance training, you are looking at 5-6 days of physical activity per week. 

Although these traditional exercise protocols can be effective, they maybe not be realistic enough for time-conscious individuals or moms like me, because of the amount of time necessary to complete each program.

With circuit training workouts, you get the same benefits of cardio and resistance training in only half of the recommended workout time.

Take the 7 seven minute workout challenge below, which is built on the base of the recommended circuit training format.

Also the problem with performing cardio training and strength workout separately can often require 3 to 5 times a week of training sessions. Although that’s the frequency recommended, this high workout frequency is not without a limitation. 

According to Chris Jordan, the director of exercise physiology at the Human Performance Institute in Orlando, FL and one of the creators of the 7-Minute Workout Challenge, the high workout frequency can limit exercise effectiveness. 

Circuit Training Solves This Problem. 

By combining both aerobic and resistance training into a single exercise bout, you cut your workout time in half. 

You can also cut your workout frequency from 5-6 days a week to about 3 days a week by incorporating both workouts into a circuit. 

And in a shorter exercise period, you still get to develop your cardiovascular fitness as well as muscular strength just as you would if you were to conduct each workout independently on separate days. 

Circuit Training Workouts for Weight loss

Circuit training is one of the best form of exercises for weight loss. 

Circuit training evidently burns more calories than weight lifting or moderate cardiovascular exercise. 

According to American Council on Exercise (ACE), a 150-pound person can burn an estimate of 308 calories at a moderate intensity and 573 calories at a vigorous intensity just in one hour of circuit training. 

Circuit training also helps preserves muscle mass.
The resistance from your body weight, free weights or machine challenges your muscles, which lead to development of muscle strength and muscle mass (think defined, sculpted body).

Because muscles are metabolic active tissues, they expend far more energy in the form of calories while at rest as opposed to fat. This obvious leads to increased calorie burning. 

According to a Los Angeles Time article, your muscles contribute to as much as 20 to 25% of total resting metabolic rate. 

Researcher, Speakman JR and Selman from Rowett Research Institute did a study on the effect of resting metabolic rate in relation to exercise and reported that resting metabolic rate, RMR is in fact the largest component in the daily energy budget.

They added, any increase in RMR as a result of exercise is significant in daily calorie expenditure. 

Basically, you want to gain as much lean muscle mass as possible, because it increases your resting metabolic rate, which assures higher calorie burn throughout the day.

Circuit Training Offers Convenience

Exercising at home is an easy choice to make, especially if you want to save money or need convenience.
You can easily combine several exercises to create your own circuit using your own bodyweight or free weights such as dumbbells or kettlebells.

It does not require a gym membership nor a large space.

Getting Started with Circuit Training

Getting started with circuit training is super easy. 

It doesn’t require any equipment. It only take your bodyweight and some space. 

You can perform several variations of circuit training 3-4 times a week. 

The length of the workout can be anything from 4 to 30 minutes depending on your experience level and time available.

Always start by taking a few minutes to perform foam rolling exercises and properly warm-up your body for best performance and injury prevention.

If you need a warm-up routine, here is our 5 to 10 minute dynamic warm-up. Also don’t forget a post-workout stretch to ease muscle soreness and speed up your recovery. 

Sample Home Circuit Training Workout

Here is a sample circuit workout you can do as bodyweight only or with free weights. 

Cardio exercises: Pick 1-2 exercises from the cardio exercise list below to include in your circuit

  • Running up-down stairs
  • marching or jogging in place
  • jumping jacks
  • skipping rope 
  • Side shuffle 

Strength training exercises: Perform all the exercises below in the exact sequence. 

There Are 2 Ways to Do a Circuit Training Workout

  1. Perform each exercise for 30 seconds followed by a 10-20 seconds of rest. Complete 1-3 sets. 
  2. Perform 8-12 repetitions per exercise with a 10-20 second rest in between for 1-3 sets

Body-weight Exercises:

  • Push-ups
  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Planks
  • Bicycle crunch
  • Back extension
  • Glute bridges
  • Inverted row 

Here are a few pre-made workouts created by our certified expert to get you started:

  • 20 Kettlebell Circuit workout
  • Bodyweight circuit training for beginners
  • 9 Minute Resistance band workout for building a better butt
  • 7 Minute Workout Challenge
  • 6 minute morning workout challenge 
  • 20 minute Dumbbell Circuit training

There you have it!

In this post, you learned what circuit training is, what benefits it offers, and how you can get started with circuit training workouts! 

There you have it! Circuit training workout is a extremely effective way to benefit from both cardio and strength training workouts and decreasing your total workout frequency.

And because circuit training workouts can be done anywhere without or with exercise equipment, they provide the convenience for busy individuals who can’t commit to working out everyday. 

Have you tried circuit training? What did you think? We’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment below.

Works Cited:

  1. Kravitz, Len, Ph.D. “Circuit 05.” Circuit 05. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Aug. 2015.
  2. Brett, Klika, C.S.C.S., B.S., and Jordan Chris, M.S., C.S.C.S. “HIGH-INTENSITY CIRCUIT TRAINING USING BODY WEIGHT: Maximum R… : ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal.” LWW. Http://, May 213. Web. 26 Aug. 2015.
  3. Romero-Arenas, Salvador, Miryam Martínez-Pascual, and Pedro E. Alcaraz. “Impact of Resistance Circuit Training on Neuromuscular, Cardiorespiratory and Body Composition Adaptations in the Elderly.” Aging and Disease. JKL International LLC, n.d. Web. 27 Aug. 2015.
Misato Alexandre


After making healthy living a priority, Misato lost over 20 lbs in less than 90 days. Instead of weight loss being a dreading experience, living the lifestyle of health and fitness granted her more happiness and joy than ever before. She co-founded Fitwirr to make health and fitness simple for everyone and share her tips through writing evidence-based articles on nutrition, weight loss, and exercise.

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