Whatever your fitness goals are, circuit training can help. That’s because it’s such a simple, open-ended concept that it can be applied to most types of sessions, whether it’s a high-intensity fat-burning bodyweight blast, or a strength workout that includes several rounds of heavyweight moves.
The only real rule of circuit training is that you perform a round of exercises in a row. Generally you’ll do several rounds of those exercises and work in defined periods, broken down by reps or time.
The most common kind of circuit training involves working at a decent intensity doing either bodyweight moves or exercises with light weights, so you can keep the pace high and ramp up your heart rate. This results in both strength and cardiovascular benefits from the workout, and you can also line up a mix of exercises that ensure you’re hitting muscles all over the body in one session.
That all-encompassing approach makes circuit training especially good for beginners who aren’t dedicating individual gym sessions to sculpting different areas of the body according to a carefully defined training schedule. With circuit training, you can work the entire body and improve your cardio fitness – all in a workout that can be as short as 15 minutes.
Below you’ll find all manner of circuit training workouts that will help you hit many different kinds of fitness goal, but to get you started we’ve got a three-move workout finisher and a 15-minute bodyweight session that will burn a load of calories, as well as different types of circuit formats to keep things interesting.
Battle Ropes Circuit
Try this three-part high-intensity battle rope circuit as a fat-loss finisher after your main workout to reap the rewards. Do each move for 30 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds, then repeat for five rounds. Record the number of reps you do for each of the three moves in each round so you can track your progress in future sessions.
1A Plank wave
Start in a three-point plank, holding the rope in one hand. Do one-arm plank waves for 15 seconds, then switch hands. Keep your abs engaged for full-body stability so you can “wave” as hard as possible.
1B Burpee slam
Stand tall and do two double-handed rope slams as hard and as powerfully as you can, then drop down and do a burpee. As you land from the jump, squat down and pick up the rope to do another two slams. Make the slams as hard as you can, like you are doing a med ball slam. There should be triple extension through the ankles, hips and knees to generate maximum power.
1C Alternating wave
Stand tall, holding a rope in each hand, and raise and lower each one in an alternating pattern.
15-Minute Bodyweight Fat-Loss Circuit
Having a kit-free go-to circuit means you can lose fat anywhere, any time. Trainer Anthony Bingham has you covered with this simple three-exercise workout. Do each move for 30 seconds, rest for a minute, and repeat five times to get a full-body fat loss workout in less than 15 minutes.
“For an added test, alternate between narrow and wide stance,” says Bingham. “Explode out of each squat so your feet come off the floor.”
2 Plank pike
“Get into a plank, resting on your forearms. Lower your hips to the floor, then crunch your abs to move your hips as high as possible in a pike position.”
3 Tuck burpee
“Go chest to floor. On the jump section drive your knees up as if trying to tuck them in to your chest. Use your hands to measure the consistency of your tuck height – and push your limits!”
Types Of Circuit Training
AMRAP (As Many Reps/Rounds As Possible)
This high-intensity form of circuit training involves completing as many reps of an exercises, or rounds of exercises, as you can within a set time. It’s a great way to ensure you don’t start to slack during your circuits, especially if you don’t have a lot of time to work with. Try it during your next lunch workout session and you’ll be surprised how much harder you work with that time limit hanging over you, especially once you have a target score from a previous workout to shoot for.
Like AMRAP, this workout method involves working as hard as you can until you’re done, taking whatever rest you deem necessary. You set yourself one or more rounds of a circuit to complete, and then time how long it takes for you to do it. Your final time is your score. This is a good workout method for seeing your fitness progress over time, because going back to the same workout and seeing how much faster you can complete it will provide lots of motivation.
There are two main approaches to ladder workouts, and which way you go will be dictated by whether you want to start easy and finish hard, or vice versa. With an ascending ladder you start with one rep of each of your exercises, then do two reps of each, and so on until you hit your predetermined maximum. Whether that’s five, ten or 100, the workout will get harder as you go. With a descending ladder workout you start with the highest number and take one rep off each round, so it gets easier as it goes on. And if both sound good to you and you have the time, you can go up and down your ladder in one workout.
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.