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Circuit Training For an Intense Full Body Workout You Won’t Forget

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Has your normal exercise routine hit a plateau? Maybe you are just looking for a way to change things up, or bring some variation to your workouts. With minimal equipment, there is a workout you can start doing that will combine, strength, cardio, upper body and lower body work, in a high intensity style workout that is sure to challenge you while building strength and blasting calories. It’s called full body circuit training.

In this post, we will break down what circuit training is, why it will benefit you, and how you can make your own customized full body circuit training workout plan.

  • What Is Circuit Training
  • Circuit Training Workouts
  • Circuit Training Exercises
  • Lower Body Station
  • Lower Body Circuit Training With Weights
  • Upper Body Station
  • Upper Body Circuit Training With Weights
  • Core Station
  • Ab Circuit Training With Weights
  • Cardio Station
  • Full Body Station
  • Circuit Training Benefits
  • Hitting Multiple Muscle Groups
  • Improve Cardiovascular Fitness
  • Improve Raw Power
  • Staying Engaged
  • Boost Metabolism
  • Improve Muscular Endurance
  • Circuit Training vs HIIT: Increase Intensity During Circuit Training
  • Decrease the Rest Time Between Stations
  • Add More Exercises or Stations to the Circuit
  • Slightly Increase the Weight Used
  • Slightly Increase the Number of Reps
  • Add Compound Movement Exercises
  • Slow Down Each Rep for More Time Under Tension
  • Warm Up Before Starting Circuit Training
  • How Long Are Rest Periods During a Circuit Training Workout?
  • Circuit Training For Beginners: What Not to Do
  • Don’t Use Too Much Weight
  • Resting for Too Long Between Stations
  • Rushing Through the Circuit
  • Sample Full Body Circuit Training Routine

What Is Circuit Training

You might have already heard of circuit training as an exercise or workout, but are not quite sure what it is. While a circuit training workout itself can take on many different forms and variations, any workout that is considered as a “circuit” has a basic structure.Circuit training is a group of related exercises that are divided into separate stations. You will move from station to station, completing each set of exercises. This is all done with little or not rest in between each station.

The stations as a whole is what is called the circuit. Our full body style circuit training workout plan will focus on combining strength with aerobic training, hitting individual muscle groups at each station for these circuit training workouts.

In fact, the circuit training definition is “a workout technique involving a series of exercises performed in rotation with minimal rest, often using different pieces of apparatus”.

Circuit Training Workouts

As mentioned earlier, a circuit is made up of different stations. Here are some common stations that can be set up, all for different muscle groups, to make up a circuit:

Lower Body Station
Upper Body Station
Cardio Station
Full Body Station

The idea will be to pick one circuit training exercise from each station and form your circuit. Remember, there should be little to no rest in between each station in the circuit, which keeps the workout at a high intensity.

Next, we’ll outline what circuit training exercises to use at each station.

Circuit Training Exercises

Lower Body Station
Walking lunges
Lateral jump squats
Calf raises
Plyo box jump

Lower Body Circuit Training With Weights

Dead lift with dumbbells
Squat with dumbbells
Two-arm kettlebell swing
Upper Body Station
Classic push-up
Incline Push-up
Chest throw with medicine ball
Wide grip push-up

Upper Body Circuit Training With Weights

Dumbbell shoulder press
Dumbbell lateral raise
Overhead dumbbell triceps extension
Dumbbell biceps curl
Core Station
Bicycle crunches
Laying leg raises
Hanging leg raise
Seated ab crunch

Ab Circuit Training With Weights

Renegade row
Over-head dumbbell crunch
Kneeling cable crunch
Cardio Station
High knees
Jumping lunge
Jumping jack
Mountain climber

Full Body Station
Jumping Rope
Classic plank

Circuit Training Benefits

Hitting Multiple Muscle Groups
A normal workout may consist of going to the gym and only working one particular muscle group per day. This also probably won’t include much cardio either. The benefit and challenge of circuit training is that within the circuit, you will be getting reps in on muscle groups throughout your entire body, plus you’ll be adding in a cardio station.

Improve Cardiovascular Fitness

Unless you get in a short run or HIIT session before or after your workout for the day, chances are you won’t be working in cardio to your everyday routine. Running two miles on the treadmill takes time away from your normal workout and so forth. A full body circuit training plan will already include the cardio workout.

This way you will be sure to not only be hitting your muscle groups, but also improving your cardio vascular fitness.

Improve Raw Power

What do we mean by improving raw power? Strength can be defined as the amount of weight you can lift as a one rep max, power is generating a large amount of force in a short period of time.

When building your circuit training, and incorporating weights, you will be working fast and building power.

Staying Engaged

It’s easy to get into a weekly routine at the gym, performing the same workouts over and over. This can get boring. It can even affect your motivation. By incorporating circuit training, you can break up the boredom and add some elements to your workout that your body may not be used to.

Boost Metabolism

Increasing heart rate will in turn boost metabolism. How do we increase heart rate? Well, exercise, that’s how. But, during a circuit training workout, you want to work hard enough that you are breathing hard, but not bent over with hands on knees gasping for breath.

By working at a pace that keeps you breathing hard, you’re increasing the demand on your cardiovascular system for more blood and oxygen. You are also increasing the demand by your body for energy to continue to perform. Where does the energy come from? Mostly carbohydrate stores, but once those stores are depleted, the energy will come from burning fat. This is why using circuit training for weight loss is so effective.

Improve Muscular Endurance

Muscular endurance is when our muscles are repeatedly generating resistance. In other words, you can keep repeating an exercise without getting tired. You might be used to only performing for max effort for a short period of time (think lifting heavy at the gym for low reps).

Not only will this improve your overall fitness, you’re effectively using circuit training to lose weight too.

Circuit Training vs HIIT: Increase Intensity During Circuit Training

If you are very ambitious, or are just a glutton for punishment, you can choose to up the intensity of your circuit training workout plan.How to do this? Here are some ways that you can add some intensity to the workouts:

Decrease the Rest Time Between Stations

Decreasing the amount of time, you give your body to recover in between stations is a good way to increase the intensity of the circuit.

Doing this trains your body to become more efficient and stronger. Not only are you going to improve cardiovascular endurance, but you’ll improve muscular endurance as well. If your only rest is walking to the next station, try jogging to the next station and keep going.

Add More Exercises or Stations to the Circuit

It’s recommended for beginning any circuit training routine, that you choose one exercise at each of the four stations we outlined: lower body, upper body, full body and core. This will make up the circuit.

When you’re ready, try adding an additional exercise to one or more stations.

Slightly Increase the Weight Used

When choosing an exercise for each station, choose an exercise with weight and slightly increase the weight to add a little more challenge for your muscles.

Remember, even for a circuit training plan, we still can use a progressive overload principle in our training.

Click on the post below to read more about Progressive Overload

Slightly Increase the Number of Reps

If you don’t want to increase the weight, try increasing the number of reps at one or more station to push your body a little further.

Add Compound Movement Exercises

Compound movements are any exercise that incorporates more than one muscle group. The full body station will already be using compound movements, but you can add different compound exercises to the other stations.

For example, try adding a clean and jerk to your lower body station. Here is the proper way to perform a clean and jerk:

Slow Down Each Rep for More Time Under Tension

It might sound counterintuitive after talking about muscular endurance and cardio vascular endurance, but you can slow down and increase the intensity at the same time.

The way you can do this is increasing the time under tension. Time under tension is a technique used by weight lifters to slow down the movement you’re performing to increase the amount of time the muscle is under strain.

This helps to further breakdown the muscle. It also helps with form too, which can help you to avoid injury.

Warm Up Before Starting Circuit Training

Warming up before a workout like full body circuit training is essential to optimal performance and injury prevention. Mayo clinic says a proper warm-up will “prepare your cardiovascular system by raising your body temperature and increasing blood flow to your muscles.”

Not sure what to do for a warm-up? Take a look at this post all about dynamic stretching routine to get you ready.

How Long Are Rest Periods During a Circuit Training Workout?

Since you should be moving station to station, working different muscle groups you will be using that time to recovery from the previous station.For example, when completing the lower body station of the circuit, and then starting the upper body station, your lower body should be resting and recovering as you work the upper body muscle groups.

You might find yourself short of breath as you move from station to station, in this case, keep the rest period between stations very short, aim for 5 to 15 seconds rest. The idea is to keep your heart rate up as you move through the stations of the circuit.

Design the circuit to your liking and ability. Use these rest guidelines as a rule of thumb, as there are no hard and fast rules for circuit training rest periods.

Circuit Training For Beginners: What Not to Do

Remember that circuit training is designed to give you a full body workout in a short period of time. Maximizing calorie burn by keeping the intensity of the workout high, and working multiple muscle groups all in the same complete workout.

Here are a few things to avoid when starting your circuit training plan, that can derail your workout session.

Don’t Use Too Much Weight

As you move through the strength and power stations, using the weighted exercises, it’s recommended that you choose a weight that you can handle. You don’t want it so light that it’s not a challenge, but not so heavy that you aren’t able to finish out the reps.

Aim to choose a weight that is heavy enough that the last few reps are a challenge, but that you can complete.

Resting for Too Long Between Stations

We already covered some guidelines for resting in between each station. The reason rest is kept to a minimum as you move between different stations is two-fold. The point of the circuit training workout is to conserve time, while getting a full body and cardiovascular workout.

By letting your muscles fully recover, or having too much recovery time in between stations takes away some of the benefits of circuit training, like muscular endurance and the high intensity interval training aspect.

Also, by keeping your heart rate up during the circuit, you will improve cardiovascular fitness and burn more calories.

Rushing Through the Circuit

Hopefully, not confusing the issue, is to not rush through the exercises at each station of your circuit. We talked about time under tension and proper form earlier as good ways to increase workout intensity, but really, slowing down the exercise itself to insure proper form is always recommended.

If you’ve ever seen someone at the gym doing their reps as fast as possible, you can see how they most likely aren’t working the intended muscle. Bad form can lead to injury too.

Move through your circuit quickly, but remember that shouldn’t apply to rushing reps at each station. Slow down and make sure you are performing each exercise correctly, with proper form to ensure that the intended muscle groups are being worked.

Sample Full Body Circuit Training Routine

Lower Body Station

Lateral Jump Squats–20 reps
Rest 5-15 seconds or move to next station

Upper Body Station

Classic Push-up–20 reps
Rest 5-15 seconds or move to next station

Core Station

Renegade Row–10 reps each arm
Rest 5-15 seconds or move to next station

Cardio Station

High Knees–25 reps
Rest 5-15 seconds or move to next station

Full Body Station

Burpees–10 reps

Rest and repeat circuit 3 times

Use this sample circuit as a starting point to gauge your overall fitness. If this is too easy, add in the weighted options at each station. The you can use our suggestions to add to the intensity of the circuit to increase the challenge.

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