Life changing circuits 101!

Life changing circuits? Sound a bit bold?

Circuits have the power to eviscerate unwanted body fat; tone, shape and yes, even build lean muscle. The can spike your growth hormone levels (that’s the body’s fountain of youth) and a cascade of other positive, feel good hormones and endorphins that control everything from mood to energy levels and vitality. They can balance blood sugar levels and increase the glucose and insulin sensitivity of your body tissues. They can completely transform the body both in appearance and overall physical health.

That sounds pretty life changing to me!

The best part is that anyone can do them. They take no more than an hour to complete and you only need to do them 3 times per week. You don’t even need additional cardio training (though you can). Circuits are an all in one!

A well designed full body circuit solves another common problem – boredom! They are fast paced, action packed and can incorporate almost endless variety.

There are many ways to develop a great full body circuit but I’ll show you one of my favorite formats. It can be regressed or advanced to accommodate or challenge ANY fitness level / skill level. If you’re just starting out use the Level 1 format below as a comfortable place to start. If you’re at an advanced fitness level, start with Level 2 or you may even work your way up to level 3, which would put you on par with a professional athlete in terms of your level of conditioning.


Disclaimer: The type of exercise discussed herein is for informational purposes only and may not be suitable not for everyone. If you’re a beginner, or if you have a pre-existing medical condition that precludes operating at an elevated heart rate, or prohibits certain types of resistance training exercises, please discuss and approve the exercise techniques discussed with your physician before attempting.


Here’s how I lay out of my favourite level 1 full body circuits in terms of format:

Level 1 (beginner)

Circuit 1
1. Compound quadriceps and glute exercise – 1set x 12 to 15 reps
2. Hamstring exercise – 1set x 12 to 15 reps
(Perform a single set of 1&2 back to back then rest. Repeat for a total of 3 times / revolutions then proceed to circuit 2)

Circuit 2
1. Back exercise – 1 set x 12 – 15 reps
2. Chest exercise – 1 set x 12 – 15 reps
3. Abs exercise – 1 set x 12 – 15 reps
(Perform a single set of 1,2&3 back to back then rest. Repeat for a total of 3 times / revolutions then proceed to circuit 3)

Circuit 3
1. Shoulder exercise – 1 set x 12 – 15 reps
2. Biceps exercise – 1 set x 12 – 15 reps
3. Triceps exercise – 1 set x 12 – 15 reps
(Perform a single set of 1,2&3 back to back then rest. Repeat for a total of 3 times / revolutions)

The exercises are done in descending order, 1 exercise / set at a time, back to back. In the circuit 1 example above, 1 set of the compound quadriceps and glute exercise are performed followed immediately by 1 set of the hamstring exercise. Then rest. Repeat that for a total of 3 revolutions.

As with ALL LEVELS of this circuit format, try to select compound exercises vs isolation exercises. For example a squatting or lunging leg exercise is preferable to a leg press exercise. A bicep curl (both arms working) standing on a bosu is preferable to a seated single arm bicep curl, etc. These compound, multi-joint exercises recruit more muscles to assist and stabilize so they expend far more calories and are also far more effective at building functional strength, coordination and balance. Also try to add in the odd exercise that incorporates lateral movement and rotation so that you’re gaining strength and function in more than one plane of motion.

There are several ways to progress and regress this Level 1 circuit for your particular fitness level. During your first few workouts, you may want to reduce the total number of times through each circuit to 2 or even 1 (vs the 3 stated in the examples above and below). You can also regress / advance this program by altering your rest intervals and by increasing or decreasing the amount of weight you use.

You can vary the exercises selected for greater variety and to challenge the body in different ranges and planes of motion. For example, for your first compound quadriceps and glute exercise you may select a bosu squat. For the second revolution through you may select a walking lunge and for the third revolution you may select a lateral lunge, though these are just examples.

Here’s an example of a Level 1 circuit WITH some examples of exercises you could use. I’ve changed the exercise for each muscle group in each revolution for ultimate variety. However, you can use the same exercise for the same muscle group each of the 3 revolutions through the circuit as well. It’s completely up to you. Ensure you are selecting exercises that are suitable for your fitness level and for any injuries / physical limitations you may have.

Level_01

Again, the exercises are done in descending order, 1 exercise / set at a time, back to back. In the Circuit 1 example above, in the first revolution 1 set of the bosu squats are performed followed immediately by 1 set of the ball leg curl. 12 – 15 reps each. Then rest. I’ve used a walking lunge and TRX leg curl for revolution 2. In the 3rd revolution of circuit 1 I’ve used a lateral lunge with the hamstring machine. Again, all exercises in each revolution done back to back, 1 set each with no rest between the 2 paired exercises. Then move on to the next circuit.

Once you’re able to comfortably complete the above Level 1 example doing all 3 circuits with 3 revolutions total through each circuit, you’re ready to move to Level 2. Level 2 uses the exact same format, however we can begin to incorporate and imbed some metabolic conditioning drills into the circuits to fire up your heart rate and caloric expenditure.


Level 2 (intermediate)

Circuit 1
1. Compound quadriceps and glute exercise – 1set x 12 to 15 reps
2. Hamstring exercise – 1set x 12 to 15 reps
3. Metabolic conditioning drill x 20 – 30 seconds
(Perform a single set of 1,2&3 back to back then rest. Repeat 2 more times / revolutions without the metabolic drill (#3). Then proceed to circuit 2)

Circuit 2
1. Back exercise – 1 set x 12 – 15 reps
2. Chest exercise – 1 set x 12 – 15 reps
3. Abs exercise – 1 set x 12 – 15 reps
4. Metabolic conditioning drill x 20 – 30 seconds
(Perform a single set of 1,2,3&4 back to back then rest. Repeat 2 more times / revolutions without the metabolic conditioning drill (#4). Then proceed to circuit 3)

Circuit 3
1. Shoulder exercise – 1 set x 12 – 15 reps
2. Biceps exercise – 1 set x 12 – 15 reps
3. Triceps exercise – 1 set x 12 – 15 reps
4. Metabolic conditioning drill x 20 – 30 seconds
(Perform a single set of 1,2,3 &4 back to back then rest. Repeat 2 more times / revolutions without the metabolic conditioning drill (#4))

Now it’s important to introduce these metabolic conditioning drills gradually! 1 per circuit is a good starting point, for a total of 3 for the entire workout. You could then work gradually up to 5 or 6 metabolic conditioning drills per entire workout. Potentially you could work up to 1 metabolic drill per revolution (or a total of 9 metabolic conditioning drills for the entire workout) though this would take an advanced level of conditioning to perform.

Here’s an example of the Level 2 circuit WITH some example exercises. Again, the exercises are just examples – you can plug in any exercises you’d like! Just ensure the exercises you select are appropriate for your fitness level.

Level_02

Remember to add in the metabolic drills gradually over the course of several workouts, to tolerance.

Now, once you’ve added in 1 or 2 metabolic drills per circuit (or say 3 – 6 metabolic drills for the entire workout) if you STILL want to turn up the intensity, here’s a great way to take this circuit to the next level. This advancement will challenge everyone, even high level athletes.

Level 3 incorporates high / low interval cardio circuits to crank up intensity and caloric expenditure. I’ve discussed cardio interval training and its benefits in a previous e-newsletter in detail. That article is Burn Fat Fast. However the breakdown of how to incorporate within the circuits is outlined below.

Now, including cardio intervals into a circuit program like this should not be taken lightly! Don’t begin incorporating cardio intervals until you are well conditioned at a circuit style workout similar in intensity to the Level 2 circuit above. If you feel like you’re ready, I’ve outlined an example below of how to incorporate them. Begin with only a single (1) 2 minute high / low interval cardio session to start, incorporated after one of the circuits. Then progress to 2 (1, 2 minute high / low interval cardio session after 2 of the circuits) then finally to 3 (1, 2 minute high / low interval cardio session after each circuit).
Here’s how it could work:


Level 3 (advanced!)

Circuit 1
1. Compound quadriceps and glute exercise – 1set x 12 to 15 reps
2. Hamstring exercise – 1set x 12 to 15 reps
3. Metabolic conditioning drill x 20 – 30 seconds
(Perform 1,2&3 back to back then rest. Repeat 2 more times / revolutions without #3. Once completed all 3 revolutions, then proceed to cardio interval session – #4 directly below)

4. 2 minute cardio interval session. 30 seconds low intensity followed by 30 seconds high intensity. Repeat for a total of 2 times. (proceed to circuit 2)

Circuit 2
1. Back exercise – 1 set x 12 – 15 reps
2. Chest exercise – 1 set x 12 – 15 reps
3. Abs exercise – 1 set x 12 – 15 reps
4. Metabolic conditioning drill x 20 – 30 seconds
(Perform 1,2,3&4 back to back then rest. Repeat 2 more times / revolutions without #4. Once completed all 3 revolutions, then proceed to cardio interval session #5 directly below)

5. 2 minute cardio interval session. 30 seconds low intensity followed by 30 seconds high intensity. Repeat for a total of 2 times. (proceed to circuit 3)

Circuit 3
1. Shoulder exercise – 1 set x 12 – 15 reps
2. Biceps exercise – 1 set x 12 – 15 reps
3. Triceps exercise – 1 set x 12 – 15 reps
4. Metabolic conditioning drill x 20 – 30 seconds
(Perform 1,2,3&4 back to back then rest. Repeat 2 more times / revolutions without #4. Once completed all 3 revolutions, then proceed to cardio interval session #5 directly below)

5. 2 minute cardio interval session. 30 seconds low intensity followed by 30 seconds high intensity. Repeat for a total of 2 times.

Remember, start by incorporating only 1 high / low interval session per workout. I would probably incorporate that after circuit 1. Once you’re conditioned to that, then incorporate a second high / low interval session following Circuit 2, then finally when you’re ready include the 3rd high / low interval session after Circuit 3. Work these in gradually over the course of several workouts.

Here’s how the Level 3 circuit workout could lay out WITH exercises.

Level_03

If you can make it through Level 3 with all 3 cardio circuits in place, you’ll be up there with professional athletes when it comes to your level of conditioning.

That’s it! Start with Level 1 and work your way up gradually but consistently. There are a number of progressions within each Level so you should be able to make small progressions each week if you’re consistent, however train to your own tolerance and don’t over exert yourself. Especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions that preclude you from operating in a higher heart range.

Done properly these circuits don’t just burn calories during the workout. The caloric deficit created, the oxygen deficit created feed what’s known as the ‘afterburn effect’ which will have you burning body fat for hours after your workout has ended. (see my blog article on cardio circuits for more information on the ‘afterburn effect’.)

Take it slow at first and be consistent. Circuits are demanding but they are in my opinion the very best way to get the most out of your workouts in the shortest amount of time. They may change your life! ☺

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