How to Design the Perfect Circuit


Circuit training has long been known in the fitness industry as a great way to maximize your workout efficiency. There are countless exercises that could be a part of a great circuit, and several different ways in which those exercises could be programed. So how do you sift through all of that information to create the best circuit for your clients’ needs?

While this style of training has a lot to recommend it, figuring out how to set up an effective circuit workout can be intimidating at first. That’s why we pulled together six easy steps to help you build your perfect circuit.

Step 1: A work-to-rest ratio

Circuits are made up of work (exercise) for a determined period of time, followed directly by rest or active recovery. If you are new to exercise, using an aerobic circuit is a safe introduction to this type of workout. A work-to-rest ratio of 1:1 is appropriate for an aerobic circuit. This means that the work and recovery times are equal and somewhat steady state (as opposed to high intensity or vigorous). This could mean doing a particular exercise for two minutes, and then doing active recovery for two minutes. Active recovery could be anything from pacing slowly back and forth, slowing down the exercise you are doing, or changing to a different activity that will stabilize your heart rate. Compared to higher-intensity circuits, exercising for a longer interval (usually one minute or more in an aerobic circuit), the intensity of the exercise decreases and the heart rate should stay lower.
(The shorter the workout, the harder you should be pushing!) Anywhere from 10-45 minutes is ideal.

Example: Five stations of 1-minute each repeated for six circuits adds up to a 30-minute workout.

Step 2: Pick an upper-body exercise.
The trick with circuit training is to use whatever you have handy. If you’re at the gym, you have a wide range of options, but all you really need is your body. You can choose a different upper-body move each time through the circuit or simply repeat the same exercise every time if you want to keep things simple.

Circuit 1: Shoulder presses
Circuit 2: Bent-over rows
Circuit 3: Standing dumbbell curls
Circuit 4: Triceps dips
Circuit 5: Pushups
Circuit 6: Russian ab twists

Step 3:  Pick a lower-body exercise.
Just like you did with the upper body, choose exercises that will work each part of your lower body. You can change up the moves each time through the circuit or keep them the same.

Circuit 1: Walking lunges
Circuit 2: Sumo squats
Circuit 3: Calf raises
Circuit 4: Hamstring curls on a Swiss ball
Circuit 5: Deadlifts
Circuit 6: Supermans

Step 4: Pick a compound exercise.
Weight training is an excellent workout, but you’ll really get your heartrate up by adding in some total-body movements.

Circuit 1: Jumping lunges
Circuit 2: Mountain climbers
Circuit 3: Thrusters (squat to shoulder press)
Circuit 4: Cleans
Circuit 5:  Bench hop-overs
Circuit 6: Single-arm swing

Step 5: Choose a sprint for 1 minute.

Research shows that short, fast sprints are the most effective way to torch fat—especially around your midsection. Pick any type of cardio you like and go all out for 1 minute.

Circuit 1: Running
Circuit 2: Jumping rope
Circuit 3: Rowing
Circuit 4: Cycling
Circuit 5:  Up-hill jogging
Circuit 6: Stair climbing

Step 6: Rest for 1 minute.
You’ve earned it! Let your heartrate come down and then go back through the circuit as many times as you’d like!

Example: Get a drink and make sure your music is all set for the next round. We don’t recommend collapsing in a sweaty heap on the gym floor; we care too much to let you roll in grime.