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How to create a great exercise circuit


Posted by Joe Bauer of All Around Joe under Fitness & Training on 18 April 2013 at 11:00 PM

There are many factors that come into play when creating a good circuit-training workout day. The first question you have to ask is: what is the goal of the circuit? Some goals that we’ll cover in this article are endurance/conditioning, hypertrophy, strength, and explosiveness.

One handed handstand


running all round joeWhen programming a workout with the goal of endurance, your main concern is getting your body to continuously be moving for longer than 2 minutes. From the 2 minute mark on, your body will be using the oxygen energy system as the main energy source.

What this means is you’ll want to choose exercises and weights that will allow you to keep moving for longer periods of time. I believe that a true endurance/conditioning workout circuit should be 20-60 minutes long. This duration will give your body a good amount of time using the oxygen energy system, so you’ll create base endurance, and burn a significant amount of calories.

Here are three Examples of Endurance Circuits which use a variety of exercises to create a great endurance circuit.

Hypertrophy Circuits

The goal of a hypertrophy circuit is to create muscle growth.  Muscle growth is created when reaching exercise failure within the 8-12 rep scheme.  So, when creating a Hypertrophy workout circuit, we always have that rep range in mind.

pull ups by all round joeSome great Hypertrophy circuit body part groupings are:

  • Opposing muscle group circuits (ex. Biceps/triceps, chest/back, quads/hammies)
  • Full body circuits (usually for people looking for results in less time)
  • Same muscle group circuits (these tend to work better with larger muscle groups)

Now if you want to really geek out, you can consider “rest time per muscle group”.  The ideal amount of rest time for Hypertrophy is 30-90 seconds rest.  When doing a circuit you’re not going to have any rest as a whole, but you will have working and non-working muscle groups at all times.   A good example of this is in opposing muscle group, or full body circuits.  

  • You start off with bench press, and it takes you 30 seconds to complete 12 reps.
  • You go straight to doing squats which take you 30 seconds to complete.  
  • Then you go straight to pull-ups which take you 30 seconds to complete.  
  • Now you haven’t done bench press for 60 seconds.  So, you have the option of going back to bench press, or doing one more exercise before going back to bench press. 

Here are 3 Examples of Hypertrophy Training Circuits which are designed for muscle gain.

Strength Circuits

Strength circuits are a little trickier when putting together.  This is because the time needed for your muscles to recover during a strength set is much longer than Endurance or Hypertrophy sets.  When training for strength you ideally want 3-5 minutes of rest between sets of the same muscle group.  And the reps are in the 1-5 range.  

Back squatting for strength training

What this means is you have to plan some rest in your strength circuits, and things like Super Sets or Giant Sets work a little better.  However there are some hybrid strength circuits that are fun to do from time to time.  

Here are 3 Examples of Strength Training Circuits to give you an idea of how to structure your own circuits for strength training.

Explosiveness Circuits

Like the strength section above, if you want to build true explosive power, you’ll want to rest 3-5 minutes between sets, and do only 1-5 reps per set.  But you can add explosive movements to your circuit training to make them more fun, and get some of the explosive power benefits.  

Some great explosive exercises to add to your workout circuits are:

  • Snatches from all round joebox jumps
  • jump rope double unders
  • squat jumps
  • clapping push-ups
  • hand release pull-ups
  • jumping lunges
  • ice skaters
  • wall ball shots
  • cleans, snatches
  • push presses
  • jerks
  • sprints   

When planning on including explosive movements in your workout circuits, it’s important to program at least one non-explosive movement in-between explosive movements.  Without this programming rule, it’s not uncommon for an explosive movement to turn into a sloppy mess, and put you in the path of an injury.

Here are 3 Examples of Explosiveness Circuits which can help you create you own too!

In conclusion

There are many options for creating great workout circuits, and you can mix and match them based on your goals. The most important thing to always come back to is, be thoughtful and safe during your movements. Make sure to never compromise form to go faster or longer.