Introduction to the Circuit Workout

A circuit workout is any workout that involves a sequence of short-duration, high-intensity exercises done one after the other, with little transition time between each exercise and little time between circuits.

Circuit workouts are commonly used for military training; however, they can be equally useful to the civilian exerciser. While lessening the intensity of a circuit workout may be bending the definition a bit, a beginner certainly may adjust the time at each exercise, and if really necessary, may apply some rest time between exercises; however, one should work towards going as fast as possible from one exercise to another to get the benefit of the circuit workout.


Circuit workouts are a guaranteed way to get high aerobic intensity into an exercise regimen. Plus, many circuit workout exercises are full-body, so they offer the metabolic and muscle-building benefits thereof.

Benefit of Circuit Workout

Furthermore, circuit workouts are a great way to bring practicality to one’s exercise regimen: they enhance physical and mental capacity to do a sequence of rigorous tasks. Accordingly, circuit workouts are a solution for those whose main psychological exercise barrier is boredom.

Even as circuit workouts are associated with the generally male-dominated military, researchers indicate that circuit workouts are the best way for both women and men to achieve lasting fitness results (Heavin and Colman 2004). This is not surprising, considering that circuit workouts elicit a rate of aerobic respiration/metabolism from the body that is right in the ideal zone for cardiovascular fitness.

The recommended rate is 40% to 85% the maximum oxygen consumption rate; circuit exercises elicit 39% to 51.5% of the maximum. (The maximum is achieved after a few minutes of high-intensity swimming or running. If the maximum is exceeded, the muscles begin anaerobic respiration) (Klika et al. 2013). Another fitness benefit is that the short time spent at one exercise generally allows use of heavier weights or greater resistance than would be used for a long set of one exercise.

This enhances the strength training effects and increases the efficiency of the workout (Chetlin 2002). This phenomenon probably also applies to traditional aerobic exercises like running—not having to keep it up as long encourages greater intensity (higher speed, greater incline, etc.).
A circuit workout should include exercises that target all basic body areas—legs, arms, abs, etc.—and also some full-body (targeting multiple muscles simultaneously) exercises.

Circuit Workout Exercises

According to WebMD, a normal circuit comprises an average of nine separate exercises, performed for periods of a minute or so or long enough to do 10 – 20 repetitions (depending on what makes sense for the given exercise). In general, 20 minutes seems to be a normal total time for the entire circuit workout, which based on the numbers above, would suggest an average of two circuits.

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However, the exerciser can be inventive, as long as the basic circuit concept is maintained. One can do more or fewer reps (or vary the time) of an exercise, vary the intensity of all or some exercises in the circuit, or change exercises within a given category.

Circuit Workout Equipment

The circuit workout does not inherently require gym membership or special equipment. However, some exercises do require special equipment or a certain environment. Weightlifting clearly requires weights; resistance exercises require elastic bands; cycling requires an exercise bike or a real bike; etc.

Western culture puts a premium on challenge in exercise (“No pain, no gain”), but eastern culture tends to view exercise as relaxing and rejuvenating. Clearly, this is a topic for debate; however, there is room for both views. The circuit workout can mix feel-good exercises with more “painful” ones; this is a good remedy for loss of motivation and burnout.


Rapid transition between contrasting exercises is not only a challenge for the body but also a challenge for the mind. People who are easily bored by working out may find the circuit workout to be the answer. In contrast, people who are resistant to high intensity or frenetic pace may find the circuit workout to be a challenge that really pushes them and improves their confidence in other areas of life.

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