Circuit Training: Fast, Flexible, and Fun

With circuit training, you can work many muscle groups in a short period of time and get an aerobic workout, too. Here is how circuit training works and how you can get started.

What Is It?

Circuit training consists of a series of exercises performed in a sequence. At the end of a circuit, you might repeat the circuit, or you might repeat each exercise 2 or 3 times before moving on to the next exercise within the circuit.

Circuit training can include a combination of aerobic and strength exercises. An example of the mix might include jogging, jumping rope, pushups, crunches, lunges, bench presses, and squats. The cycle can take anywhere from 30-40 minutes to complete. Ideally, circuit training is best completed 2-3 times per week to achieve the best results.

Circuit training improves muscle tone, muscle definition, and cardiovascular fitness—all while burning calories at the same time.

The Strength Training Component

Strength training, also called weight training, is often included in circuit training. With strength training, you perform 8-12 repetitions of a weight exercise followed by a brief period of rest before preforming another repetition.

The goal of strength training is to increase your physical strength. The benefits of strength training include stronger bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments as well as increased muscle mass.

Who Can Do Circuit Training?

If you have never exercised or are just getting started again after a break, circuit training is a good way to increase your lean body mass. As always, consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program, and then consult a trainer about developing a circuit.

Using All Your Muscles

You will use all your major muscle groups when you circuit train. A good circuit will include aerobic activity and specific exercises for each major muscle group. You can even focus on specific muscles that you would like to become more defined by spending more time on a particular circuit.

Equipment Is Optional

The necessary equipment for circuit training varies from weight machines or free weights to almost nothing. Push ups, tricep dips, crunches, and lunges do not require any equipment other than your own body.

You can do circuit training at home, at the gym, at parks, or wherever you exercise. Your city may even have fitness trails with circuit training stations located at regular intervals.

A Typical Program

It is best to work with a certified trainer when designing your circuit training program. A trainer can make sure you have a good balance of exercises that include all your major muscle groups. You can work with the trainer until you understand the routine and can perform it properly. For a veteran exerciser, this may mean just one or two sessions.

A typical program for beginners is to train twice a week for 30 minutes. Three other days should contain other activities such as walking or hiking. After a few weeks, beginners may want to increase the duration of the circuit by five minutes. The duration of the circuit training session should reach 40 minutes, three days per week. However, how often to train and how hard you will need to work depends on personal factors that you and your trainer should discuss to create a plan tailored for your needs.


American College of Sports Medicine
American Council on Exercise


Circuit training basics. American Council on Exercise website. Available at:
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Accessed April 11, 2017.
Comana F. Circuit training. American Council on Exercise website. Available at:
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Accessed April 11, 2017.
Strength training 101. American Council on Exercise website. Available at:
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Accessed April 11, 2017.
Last reviewed April 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 9/10/2013

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