L2 Fitness Blog

The Lost Art of Circuit Training

Share this post:

Basically, the point of this article is to tell you that if your workouts consist of circuits then you’re wrong, you’re never going to be strong, you’re a wimp, and you need to pull your big girl/boy pants up and lift some real, heavy weight! After all, haven’t you heard cardio will burn off all your muscle?

Okay, but in all seriousness, when the anti-circuit movement first arose in the fitness community, I was all for it. For the first time, women were being encouraged to lift some heavy weight, get strong and build muscle instead of being told they should only do cardio and light-weight circuits with the infamous pink dumbbells in order to get skinny and take up as little space as possible – because heavy weights build bulky muscle!

Just like any fitness trend, though, the anti-circuit movement flung to the extreme opposite end of the spectrum. That girl in the corner of the gym with her mat and dumbbells doing a circuit she found on Pinterest was being belittled by the girls on the main gym floor because she must be new to this, doesn’t she know circuits are dumb? What she really needs is to come hang with the real fitness crowd and learn how to deadlilft some heavy a$$ weight!

It’s Time To Change Your Perspective On Circuit Training

A point that seems to have been lost in this shift of perspective is that circuit training doesn’t have to be lifting pink dumbbells for 30 reps, ankle-weighted glute kickbacks and neck-cranking crunches. Circuits can me structured in various intelligent ways and, if done right, can contribute great results towards any goal in a time-efficient manner.

Circuit training also doesn’t have to mean zero rest, running from one exercise to the next for AMRUP (As Many Rounds Until you Puke). If you’re structuring a circuit primarily as a form of conditioning, short rest intervals can definitely serve as a humbling yet effective method. However, if you’re interested in lifting heavy weight, getting stronger and/or building as much muscle as possible, alternating between 2 or more exercises in a circuit can be a great time-saver while still getting all required sets and reps done at an appropriate intensity for your goals.

A semi-reasonable argument against circuit training for strength, performance or muscle building is that the faster-paced, shorter rest environment of a circuit-style workout forces you to use less weight or achieve fewer reps, ultimately lowering total volume and potentially being less effective overall.

Sure, if you’re attempting a legs-only circuit where you’re alternating directly between barbell squats, deadlifts, leg press, lunges and hip thrusts… eventually something is going to give in and your total work for that session would be less than had you done straight sets and rested longer. However, unless you’re structuring your workout around accumulating metabolites and completely fatiguing a given group of muscles, there are more intelligent ways to structure circuits that could spare your fatigue levels and overall performance in the same way doing straight sets would – ultimately getting the same work done in less time OR more work done in the same amount of time.

My Favorite Circuits

Okay, so now that you’re a little more open to the idea of incorporating circuits into your training regimen, here are a few of my favorite example templates for structuring circuits in a way that will spare you the cost of performance decline as much as possible.

Full body day

Could be done all as one circuit or cut in half into 2 smaller circuits done for prescribed number of sets, likely 2-5 sets

  • Lower body – hip dominant (Deadlift, hip thrust, bridge, back extension, RDL)
  • Upper body – pull (Row, pull down, pull up)
  • Core or corrective (Dead bug, plank, mobility drill)
  • Lower body – knee dominant (Squat, split squat, lunge, leg press)
  • Upper body – push (Bench press, incline press, push up, overhead press)
  • Core or corrective (Pallof press, shoulder taps, mobility drill)

Lower body day

Could be done all as one circuit or in supersets – 2 exercises at a time for prescribed number of sets

  • Hip dominant
  • Core or corrective
  • Knee dominant
  • Core or corrective
  • Single leg variation (Split squat, single leg/staggered stance RDL, hip thrust or bridge)
  • Core or corrective

Upper body day

Could be done all as one circuit or broken into 2-3 smaller circuits – 2-4 exercises at a time for prescribed number of sets

  • Horizontal push (Flat bench press, push up)
  • Vertical pull (pull up, pull down)
  • Core or corrective
  • Vertical or incline push (incline press, landmine press, overhead press)
  • Horizontal pull (row variation)
  • Core or corrective
  • 1-2 accessory movements (arm curl, arm extension, lateral raise, fly)

There are many ways to structure the above circuits, further specifying it to your goals. Rep range, number of sets, tempo and rest between exercises and between rounds of the circuit can be tailored to your current level of fitness and the primary adaptation you’re looking for.

In conclusion, circuit training isn’t the muscle-wasting bad guy we have been persuaded to believe. Building muscle, increasing strength, improving performance and fat loss are all possible with an appropriately programmed circuit.

Share this post:

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *