Not all exercise routines are created equal. At least, not when it comes to weight loss potential. Circuit training can be a powerful tool in your weight loss regimen because it keeps you engaged in high-intensity activity throughout the duration of the workout. This allows circuit training to provide a host of fat-burning benefits.
While circuit training can take many different forms, if you focus your routine correctly it can be optimized to deliver amazing weight loss results while at the same time build muscle and endurance.
What is Circuit Training?
Circuit training can easily be confused with other types of various exercises such as High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). However, the goals and the results you’ll see are very different between these two styles. True circuit training follows these core guidelines:
- 6–12 different exercises performed in sequence.
- Exercises are performed with little or no rest between them (0–30 seconds).
- Exercises include a mix of core, anaerobic (muscle building), and aerobic (cardio) exercises.
- A high number of repetitions are performed for each exercise.
- A circuit training session lasts 30–60 minutes.
You’ll see this leaves a lot of room for interpretation. No special equipment is required, which is what makes circuit training one of the best workout programs that don’t require a gym membership.
Is Circuit Training a Good Way to Lose Weight?
Circuit training can be an extremely effective weight loss tool when done right. Paired with the right weight loss diet, you’ll see real results. Even better, with circuit training, you’ll be burning calories in an extremely short period of time because circuit training packs so much intensity into every second.
How does Circuit Training Burn Calories?
Circuit training combines aerobic and anaerobic exercise to get your heart rate into the aerobic zone, which is between 70% and 80% of your heart’s maximum rate. At this elevated heart rate, you’ll not only burn available calories but also trigger your body to convert stored fat into energy.
The exact beats per minute to get into the aerobic zone vary from individual to individual based on fitness level and other factors. If you’re breathing hard, sweating, and you feel a steady burn in the muscles you’re working, chances are you’re in the aerobic zone and reaping those benefits.
How Many Calories do you Burn Doing 30 Minutes of Circuit Training?
An intense aerobic circuit training routine (the kind best suited for weight loss) can burn up to 270 calories in 30 minutes. This means 1 hour of high-intensity circuit training can burn up to 540 calories.
In comparison, a weightlifting-focused circuit training routine can burn approximately 200 calories in 30 minutes. The number of calories burned circuit training in this style can add up to 400 in 1 hour. Not bad for doing mostly “non-cardio” exercises.
Can I do Circuit Training Every Day?
Rest days are crucial to any workout program. By taking a day off, you give your body time to recover, repair, and build muscle. Although it may be tempting to tackle a circuit workout every day to get those calorie-torching benefits, it’s important to listen to your body and not risk overtraining.
That said, the variety of exercises you can include in a circuit training program can be so varied that you might do 3 sessions in a week and not repeat a single exercise. This can help you focus on giving rest to certain muscle groups and avoid performing high-impact exercises day after day. As you build your endurance you’ll find that you may be able to perform circuit training workouts with varied stations more often than you could other types of exercise, such as running.
When building a circuit training for beginners, begin with 3 training sessions per week, with a rest day after each session. As you begin to feel out your limits, you can add more workouts or increase the duration of each individual workout.
Weight Loss Benefits of Circuit Training
Now that you know circuit training has the potential to burn a lot of calories in a short period of time it’s time to take a closer look at the benefits of circuit training for weight loss, and more reasons you may want to choose this form of exercise.
Burn Calories While you Work
Circuit training truly allows you to get the best of every world. Can’t decide between running, rowing, and biking? Why not incorporate all of them into your circuit? Not only will you get the calorie burning benefits of each exercise, but you’ll also use different muscles for each one, allowing you to go all out at each station in your circuit. This is what makes circuit training so effective—no single muscle gets so fatigued that you have to slow down. The result is that you perform each exercise at peak efficiency, which helps keep your heart rate in that aerobic zone.
Burn Calories After you’re Done
Due to the high intensity of circuit training, your body needs to work just as hard to recover as it does during the workout. It does this by consuming more oxygen to refuel. The awesome benefit of this oxygen consumption is a metabolic boost that causes your body to burn calories at a higher rate even on your rest days. Essentially, you’ll be burning fat due to circuit training even when you’re not working out.
Replace Fat with Muscle
Isn’t it everyone’s dream to shed a few pounds and reveal the chiseled body that’s been hiding beneath? For many who use strict cardio training to lose weight, when they lose excess fat they aren’t totally pleased with the results. They look in the mirror and see someone who’s skinny but not someone who’s fit. This leads them to switch up their routine and incorporate weight lifting or calisthenics to build muscle.
In comparison, Full body circuit training helps you build muscle as you lose weight by incorporating exercises that involve many different muscle groups. Work in some push-ups, squats, or pull-ups and it’ll you’ll see the benefits of circuit training. At the same time the pounds come off, your physique will be toned and strengthened.
How to Maximize Circuit Training for Weight Loss
If you want to lose weight with circuit training, the answer is to hit those cardio exercises hard and often. Remember, circuit training is meant to be a full body exercise, but by shifting the ratio towards blood-pumping exercises you’ll optimize your weight loss benefits. Here’s how:
Focus on Aerobic Exercise
A traditional circuit training program tends to focus on 3 types of exercise:
- Aerobic (sprints, jump rope, mountain climbers)
- Anaerobic (deadlifts, kettlebell swings, medicine ball slams)
- Core (crunches, back extensions, leg raises)
In a standard circuit training routine, you would have an equal number of each of these exercise types and would not perform 2 exercises from the same category back to back. For instance, you might go from a jump rope station to deadlifts, and then do some crunches.
In order to focus on circuit training for fat loss, you’ll want to shift that ratio toward cardio. Begin with a routine where two-thirds of the exercises are aerobic, followed by one from either the anaerobic or core category. This will increase the number of calories you burn without sacrificing those muscle and strength building aspects that make circuit training so powerful.
Build your Own Circuit Training Routine
With so much variety and the ability to incorporate several exercises, it can be hard to know where to start with circuit training. When creating stations for your own circuit training routine you may be restricted by the equipment that’s available to you or the environment you’re in.
Circuit training workouts without equipment are easy to create and can be just as effective as the workout you’ll get inside the gym. Here’s a simple aerobic-focused circuit training routine using only body-weight exercises and no special equipment. These 12 exercises will get your heart racing and start burning calories in no time.
- Warm up with 10–15 minutes of cardio of your choice (running, rowing, jump rope, biking, jogging in place, shadowboxing)
- Perform each exercise for 1 minute, followed by a 15-second break.
- Perform the circuit 3 times and you’ll have finished a powerful 45-minute circuit training workout.
- Jump Squats (Aerobic)
- High Knees (Aerobic)
- Push-Ups (Anaerobic)
- Jumping Lunges (Aerobic)
- Mountain Climbers (Aerobic)
- Plank (Core)
- Burpees (Aerobic)
- Jumping Jacks (Aerobic)
- Squats (Anaerobic)
- Step-Ups (Aerobic)
- Butt-Kicks (Aerobic)
- Prone Back Extension (Core)
How to Choose the Right Circuit Training Style for You
The beauty of circuit training is that it can be done anywhere and incorporate almost any exercise. The routine laid out above can be done in your living room, in the gym, or in your local park. Once you begin adding some equipment or change the environment you’ll open up even more opportunities.
Circuit Training in the Gym
By shifting your circuit training to a traditional gym setting you add a whole host of new opportunities. You can replace bodyweight aerobic exercises with a treadmill, stationary bike, rowing machine, or all 3! Additionally, the treadmill can be used for more than just running. You can do crab walks, walking lunges, or crank up the elevation for a hill climb. This essentially creates 3 more stations out a machine that you might otherwise only use once in your circuit.
If you’re looking to start circuit training using gym equipment or begin full body circuit training with weights, we recommend beginning with the most basic and effective strength building exercises listed below:
- Weighted Squats
- Weighted Lunges
- Bench Press
- Bent-Over Row
- Overhead Press
Circuit Training at Home
Maybe you don’t have time to head to the gym, don’t have a gym nearby, or simply want to get a good workout without leaving your home. Whatever the reason, circuit training at home can be just as fun and beneficial as any other option. All you need is a large enough room to move freely in. There are also several circuit training instructional programs you can follow along with on your TV while you work out.
Although we created a fat burning circuit training workout above that can be done without any equipment, adding a few choice items such as a jump rope, a set of adjustable-weight dumbbells, or a pull-up bar, can give you almost unlimited variety. This way, you can switch up the routine whenever you get bored.
Circuit Training Classes
If you find you get a better workout or enjoy yourself more when exercising with an instructor or team, circuit training classes might be perfect for you. Many gyms offer circuit training classes which may be free with your membership. It’s definitely worth working with an instructor who can offer helpful tips to make sure you’re getting the most out of your workout.
A popular way of running circuit training classes is to pair up class participants. You’ll move from station to station with your partner, trading off between exercising and recovering. If you find a good partner their encouragement can give you the extra motivation you need to power through the toughest parts of the workout.
Outdoor Circuit Training
If the season and weather permits, outdoor circuit training can bring a new dimension by switching up your stations. Have you ever tried running sprints in the sand? Or doing box jumps and dips on a park bench? Fresh air and sun go great with circuit training.
If you happen to have an exercise trail or park with exercise stations nearby, this is perfect for circuit training. Try running from station to station and performing the exercises there. This is a great way to shake up the routine and perform some exercises you might not normally do.
Enjoy the Benefits of Circuit Training for Weight Loss
We’ve covered the calorie burning benefits of circuit training for weight loss, as well as the fact that it provides the flexibility to work out any time, anywhere, with any (or no) equipment. Combine that with a fast pace and a variety of exercises that you can change up whenever you want, and you’ll see why circuit training is so popular. The constant changes prevent the burnout and boredom that many people fall into when they begin a cardio regimen.
This might be the most powerful thing of all about circuit training—it’s a routine that makes it easy to stick to. You’ll see the payoff once you begin, and minutes never fly by faster than when you’re going from station to station during an intense circuit.