Circuit Training Guide + 48 Circuit Training Exercises To Try Out

There are a handful of different approaches to strength training. For example, there’s powerlifting, performing drop sets, and muscle group isolation training.

While each of these resistance training methodologies has its merits, circuit training remains one of the oldest, yet still popular, methods of strength training.

Depending on your age and how long you’ve been working out, you’re probably at least somewhat familiar with circuit training, which involves moving from exercise to exercise with little to no rest in between each move.

In a circuit training workout, you typically rotate through a bunch of exercises that strengthen different muscles of the body, such that the entire lineup of exercises together gives you a total-body workout.

In this complete guide to circuit training, we will cover the important basics of circuit training, including the benefits, how to get started, exercises to try out, and tips for effective workouts.

We will cover: 

  • What Is Circuit Training?
  • How to Do Circuit Training
  • 6 Benefits of Circuit Training
  • 48 Circuit Training Exercises To Try Out

Let’s get started!

People do squats as part of a circuit training workout.

What Is Circuit Training?

Circuit training is a form of exercise that essentially combines cardio and strength training into one workout by stringing together various resistance training and cardio moves without resting in between each exercise.

Most circuit training workouts are considered total-body workouts because they include enough exercises that individually target one or more of the major muscles in the body.

Then, by completing the entire circuit of exercises, you will work all the major muscles, which means you got a full-body workout.

Circuit training is an efficient approach to strength training in terms of the time you need to invest to get a total-body workout.

Transitioning between exercises quickly with very little rest has also been shown to offer additional fitness benefits beyond just what you’d experience if you performed each exercise in isolation or with plenty of rest.

In this way, it can be said that in terms of the benefits of a circuit training workout as a whole is greater than the sum of the individual exercises.

Because there is very little rest between exercises other than moving from one station to the next or just resetting your body for the next exercise, it is a time-efficient workout.

You can usually get a full-body workout in 30-40 minutes.

Moreover, without rest in between each exercise, there’s no chance for your heart rate to come down.

This means that circuit training gives you a cardiovascular and metabolic workout as much as it does a strengthening one.

People doing lunges.

How to Do Circuit Training

Circuit training simply involves rotating through a bunch of different exercises without resting in between each one.

Usually, you select either a consistent number of repetitions or a set amount of time to perform each exercise before moving on to the next station.

For example, you might perform each exercise for 30 seconds or 60 seconds, or you might decide to do 15 reps per move.

However, it is certainly acceptable to have different numbers of reps for different exercises.

The time-based approach is popular, though, because circuit training is frequently used as the strength training approach in group settings.

By having a consistent amount of time for each exercise, the entire group can transition at the same time in a circuit.

For example, if there is an exercise class with 15 participants and 15 “stations” in the circuit, everyone will be at their own station performing one of the exercises, and then when the allotted time is over, say 45 seconds, everyone can rotate to the next station to the left.

This ensures there’s equipment for everyone and fosters a team feeling.

A person doing a deadlift.

Even if you’re doing circuit training on your own, it can be helpful to set a timer and perform each exercise for the same amount of time because it helps ensure consistency and keeps you on task.

There isn’t a set number of exercises you have to have in your workout, although most total-body circuit training workouts will include at least 10-12 exercises, if not 15 or so, in order to actually target all of the major muscles in the body.

However, although it’s certainly more typical to do a total-body workout, it’s also worth mentioning that there are absolutely no rules that this has to be the case. 

For instance, you can focus on the lower body only or just do a workout with exercises for the core.

Circuit training merely refers to the style of training—the sequencing together of a rotation of exercises that you perform in a row without resting in between. 

People doing Russian Twists.

You can do mini-circuit workouts that all target the same muscle groups but through a different motion as a way to overload or exhaust the muscle group. 

For example, you could do a workout with three sets of 6 lower-body exercises: sumo squats, forward lunges, reverse lunges, goblet squats, step-ups, and single-leg squats.

This will give you a killer lower-body workout for the quads, glutes, and hamstrings, but it’s not a total-body circuit training workout because there aren’t any exercises that really target the back, arms, chest, or core.

After you finish the entire circuit, you might rest for 1-2 minutes before doing another 1-2 full rounds.

The number of cycles you do and whether or not you choose to rest before restarting the circuit depend on factors such as your fitness levels, goals, and time.

Beginners usually benefit from taking a brief rest before restarting, while advanced athletes looking for a more challenging cardio workout will omit a recovery period.

4 people doing push ups.

6 Benefits of Circuit Training

There are quite a few benefits of circuit training, including the following: 

#1: It Is Flexible

One of the perks of circuit training as a style of workout is that it’s highly customizable and flexible.

You can adjust each of the factors in the FITT principles of exercise programming—frequency, intensity, time, and type—to customize your workout to exactly what you want it to be on any given day.

You can select the number and type of exercises you want to do, how long you’ll do each exercise, how many rounds you will do, and the load or intensity you will do. 

This makes circuit training an extremely versatile training tool for workout programming and design.

A group doing burpees.

#2: It Is Appropriate for All Levels

From beginners to advanced athletes, circuit training can be beneficial and adapted for all fitness levels, marking it a good option for group settings with diverse abilities.

#3: It Increases Muscular Strength and Endurance

Studies show that circuit training is an effective method for increasing muscular strength in both the upper and lower body.

When you perform each exercise for a greater number of reps or a longer period of time, you will also increase your muscular endurance.

#4: It Can Promote Weight Loss

Circuit training keeps your heart rate elevated, which enables you to burn more calories during the workout because you’re maintaining a higher intensity.

This can result in greater weight loss over time.

People running on treadmills.

#5: It Can Improve Aerobic Fitness and Cardiovascular Health

Because you’re not resting between exercises, circuit training keeps your heart rate elevated throughout the duration of your workout. 

This improves your aerobic fitness, endurance, and heart health.

Additionally, if you include cardio exercise in your circuits—such as running, rowing, cycling, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, and jump rope—you’ll get even more of an aerobic workout.

#6: It Is Fun

Circuit training can be more fun and engaging than regular strength training, so if you find lifting weights to be boring, the fast pace of circuit training may be more appealing.

People doing pull ups.

48 Circuit Training Exercises To Try Out

There are no rules about the types of exercises you can do in a circuit training workout. 

Choose exercises that meet your goals and that you can perform safely and properly for the entire duration or number of reps you plan to do.

You can also do a circuit using the resistance training machines (often called “circuit training machines”) in your gym.

Here are some ideas for good circuit training exercises.

You can pick and choose the exercises that will work best for your workout based on your goals, available equipment, and fitness level.

12 Ideas for Upper-Body Exercises 

Push-ups, pull-ups, chest presses, chest flies, reverse flies, lat pull-downs, bicep curls, tricep extensions, tricep dips, overhead presses, lateral raises, and front raises.

People on stationary bikes.

12 Ideas for Lower-Body Exercises 

Squat variations, lunge variations, deadlifts, calf raises, step-ups, leg extensions, leg curls, glute bridges, squat holds, Bulgarian split squats, hip abduction, and hip adduction.

12 Ideas for Abs and Back Exercises

Plank variations, V-ups, bicycle crunches, stability ball crunches, stability ball tucks, Supermans, bird dogs, dead bugs, reverse crunches, leg lifts, medicine ball chops, and Russian twists.

12 Ideas for Cardio Circuit Training Exercises 

Treadmill running, rowing, stationary cycling, jumping rope, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, jump squats, burpees, jumping lunges, box jumps, sprinting in place, and side-to-side hops.

If you are striving for a total-body workout, pick 8-12 of the exercises above (or any of your choosing), choose an amount of time (30-60 seconds), and rotate between your selected exercises two or three times through for a fantastic circuit training workout.

Looking for an even more intense workout? Try out our Tabata Sprints For Runners.

A group class at the gym.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, and contributes to several fitness, health, and running websites and publications. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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