What is circuit training?

What is circuit training?

Circuit training is a quick and effective way to boost your cardio fitness and strengthen all of your muscles. Find out where it comes from and what its main advantages are.

What is a circuit?

Circuit training is a training method that involves performing a set of pre-programmed exercises one after another. It's also known as interval training. There are a few seconds of rest between exercises, but people who train regularly won't need this recovery time other than to move to the next workout station. Once you've finished the circuit, you go back to the start and repeat the whole sequence. You'll do between two and twenty of each circuit depending on how long it takes to perform the circuit, how fit you are and how long the workout is.

The important thing is to adapt each set of exercises on the basis of your own endurance, resistance and strength.

Where does circuit training come from?

The original circuit-training programme was developed in the 1950s by two Brits, R.E. Morgan and G.T. Anderson. The University of Leeds scientists published articles about circuit training, although the method had already existed for some time and was used in particular by gymnastics coaches.

Morgan and Anderson decided that each circuit should consist of between 9 and 12 exercises, or stations. And every exercise should be done for a given time, usually between 15 and 45 seconds. The circuit should be repeated between 2 and 20 times, depending on the individual's abilities. A full circuit-training workout should take 30 to 60 minutes.

What is the aim of circuit training?

The main aims are to improve the athlete's endurance and strength. But over time, coaches have paired this type of training with different purposes: it's just as suitable for beginners and amateurs who want to get fit as it is for professional and high-level athletes. A circuit session involves using all of the body's muscles to give you a comprehensive workout.

The technique is recommended both for people who want to lose weight quickly (because of the intense effort required to complete the session) and for people who want to gain weight (which can be done by pairing it with a particular diet). 

Where can you do circuit training?

Anybody can do circuit training, as long as there's no medical reason why not. This means that you can do it anywhere that you have enough space to perform each movement and set up your stations. You can do circuits at home or wherever you feel comfortable.

If you want the support of a coach and access to the right equipment, you're best off training at a gym. But since it's a case of improving your general fitness, you don't need to resort to loads of specialist equipment.

What are the benefits of a circuit-style strength workout?

Besides the obvious physical advantages of circuit training (improved fitness, weight loss, muscle gain, etc.), this type of workout brings undeniable well-being benefits.

For your body, circuit training tones and strengthens the muscles while quickly burning large amounts of fat. When done frequently, it helps you to keep fit and maintain your ideal weight. As time goes by, you'll be able to increase the number of circuits or exercises, which will improve your endurance even more.

And for your mind, exercise is the key to well-being. With its pre-programmed set of exercises, a circuit workout gives you a great boost. You'll feel incredibly proud of yourself each time you manage to keep going to the end of a set and, the more you train, the more satisfaction you'll gain. This is great for your mental health. All the same, listen to your body and choose exercises that are suitable for you. Don't be afraid to adapt them. A good exercise is one that you can do, and that you can do without injuring yourself.

How can you get into circuit training?

The first thing to do is to learn about the different types of exercises. The easiest way to do this is to spend a couple of days at a gym with a coach, who will be much better at teaching you to perform the exercises correctly than an online video would be, although if you're unable to get to a gym, then internet is the next best thing.

A coach will be able to advise on the most suitable movements for your body and for your fitness levels (as well as advising on what to eat if you're aiming to bulk up). For an extra boost, you might want to train as part of a group, but if you're more comfortable working out alone, that's fine too. The most important thing is to complete a full circuit within the set time and to perform the movements correctly.

Before you get started, here are two tips:
- set a specific goal (why do you want to do circuit training? What do you want to get out of it? The more specific your goal is, the longer your motivation will last)
- if you're training at home, consider kitting yourself out with the right fitness equipment.

Which strength exercises should you do for a home workout?

Here are a few of the most popular exercises to do during circuit training: press-ups, crunches, pull-ups, squats, sit-ups, burpees, planks, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, and skipping.
It's up to you to mix and match them as you see fit but, if you don't have a coach to guide you, it's worth taking a look at one of the many apps or websites out there to help get you started. 

What makes a good circuit? 

There's no right or wrong circuit training programme. It all depends on how you use the training method because, ultimately, it's all about adapting the programme and exercises to your needs and abilities. For example, if you're already really fit, then you obviously won't be stopping after just a few minutes. Conversely, if you don't exercise regularly, you should start gently so that you don't put yourself off and, above all, so that you don't get injured.

You can adapt the length of the workout, the intensity of the movements, and the movements themselves based on your strength, resistance and flexibility.

So, there isn't any one specific good circuit workout, but there is such a thing as a bad circuit workout: anything that causes injury or that puts you off from coming back.

Boxing circuits, full-body circuits, abs circuits, upper-body circuits, hiit circuits, cross-training circuits, combat circuits, and more.

There are all sorts of different circuit-training programmes. What makes them different from one another is the exercises performed at each station. For example, during a boxing circuits workout, you'll do a range of boxing kicks and punches using a punching bag, whereas for abs or full-body circuits... well, you get the idea. Some circuit training is even done on gym fitness equipment.

The names might vary slightly from one gym to another, but the concept remains the same. It's a training method that maximises the time-to-effort ratio through repeated movements targeting different areas of the body.

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The decathlon advice team

Sport, fitness and well-being: we share our tips and advice with you.