Tuesday, 1 November 2011

How To Make Circuit Training Intervals Count

Circuit training - the ultimate ‘cover all’ fitness solution?
Quite possibly!  
Circuit training and forms of circuit training have been around for years, have been used for GPP for many a great athlete and weekend warrior a like. If you want to build a good base for fitness and strength in a short period of time then ‘circuit training’ may be the solution for you.  

What makes ‘Circuit Training’ so effective?

Circuit training is effectively a form of interval training, where you complete a certain amount of work versus a certain amount of rest repeatedly. Interval training has been proven to assist in the development of VO2MAX.

The circuit can be made up of as many stations (areas where you perform specific exercises) as you require or as few as required. The minimum requirement to make a ‘circuit training session’ would be 2 stations (where you could alternate between one upper body exercise and one lower body exercise or in any format you like or even specialize for a specific body part) and at the other end of the scale there is no limit to the amount of stations in a circuit.

Some circuit training enthusiasts like to train around a gym going from one machine to another, although it could be dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine balls, aerobic machines, free weights, sandbags or bodyweight exercises (there is no limit and that is the beauty of circuit training and it’s flexibility). In my experience 4-6 stations are adequate for a good fully body circuit session.  

Circuit Training Exercise Formats

Although there are no rules about setting up a circuit training format (you are the master), it makes sense to alternate body part groups to avoid total fatigue of muscle groups. I have found the following format to be very useful 1. Lower Body movement 2. Upper Body movement 3. Abdominal/Trunk movement 4. Full Body movement This would allow each body part to partially recover before returning to the same station (or similar station where you may perform a related exercise.

Exercise selection for Circuit Training

To reiterate, you can choose any exercise you like for circuits but here are a few ideas to get your mind in the right direction for setting up some stations, using bodyweight exercises only (as these use very little or no equipment)  

Lower Body

Hindu Squats
Frog Squats
Free Squats
Forward Lunge
Reverse or lateral lunge
Bulgarian squats
Single leg squats
Heel kicks
High knees  

Upper Body

Push ups (shoulder width)
Push ups (Wide or narrow)
Hand stand pushups
Table top bridge
Clapping pushups
Single arm or unbalanced pushups
Pull-ups or chins
Dips (on chairs or bench)  

Abdominal Exercises

Sit ups
Russian Twists
Alternate knee sit ups
Prone back raise
Side bends  
Fully Body

Jumping jacks
Star jumps
Tuck jumps
Running on the spot
Squat thrusts
Scissors (swapping front legs/alternating)  

How Long Should I do each Station in a Circuit?

If you are starting from a low level of fitness then each station could last 10-15 secs with 10-15 secs of rest, but to start with I would recommend the following format for circuit sessions.
Also, you can either do once round the exercise groups or 2-3 etc times depending on what time you have available or what you are aiming to achieve (circuit training is a great way to build strength and fitness simultaneously for athletes in winter training for other disciplines). I’ll let you decide how many times around a circuit you do before you take a break.

The following is a basic example where the volume build sup over a series of weeks.
Week 1                 20-20-20 (5 min rest between circuits)
Week 2                 20-20-20-20 (4 min rest between circuits)
Week 3                 20-20-30-20 (4 min rest between circuits)
Week 4                 20-30-30-20 (4 min rest between circuits)
Week 5                 20-30-30-A-20 (3min rest between circuits and 3 mins active rest after 3rd circuit( A))
Week 6                 20-30-A-30-A-20 (3min rest between 1st and 2nd circuits and 3 mins active rest after 2nd & 3rd circuit( A))
Week 7                 20-A-30-A-30-A-30 (3 mins active rest after 1ST,2nd & 3rd circuit( A))
Week 8                 30-30-30-30        (2 ½ min rest between circuits)
Week 9                 30-A-30-A-30-A-30-A (mins active rest after 1ST,2nd & 3rd & 4th circuits( A))
Active rest could take the form of many things such as indoor rowing, skipping, running, cycling (stationary is probably best), power walking etc
Once fitness has been built the active recovery can be pumped up to be as challenging as you dare! In the past when at a peak of circuit training and physical endurance we used to run up and down steps for recovery (yes, it was still called recovery)
Closing notes        
This article has been a brief example of one way to do circuit training, you can swap exercises on every round to build variety and depth into your program to make it more challenging and more enjoyable. Don’t stick to just one way, explore every avenue can with your training! Not only will this make it more fun you’ll enjoy it much more and you’ll be likely to stick to it and find out things about yourself you never knew before.

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