How to Design the Perfect Circuit

Jump rope
Matt Hawthorne

Whether you’re crunched for time or simply need to shake up your current workout program, circuit training is your answer. Defined as performing one exercise after another with minimal to no rest in-between, circuit training is one of the most effective ways to maximize your workout time. And circuit training is just as effective for the beginning as it is for the advanced since it can all be scaled to challenge you according to your individual fitness level and goals.

A circuit can be made of machines, free weights, bodyweight exercises, or a combination of these elements. And, even though the cardiovascular effect of circuit training workouts is enhanced due to the minimal rest involved, you can also utilize cardio intervals to further enhance the caloric expenditure and fat-burning effects.

When designing your circuit, choose compound exercises, such as squats, pushups, and lunges whenver possible. These moves ensure that you’re truly maximizing your workout by hitting the most muscle groups as possible. Also, follow this four-part framework that provides a killer full-body workout while torching major calories. You can repeat the same four moves for the entire workout or keep the same framework while choosing new exercises each successive time:

The perfect circuit framework

Upper-body exercise
Lower-body exercise
Core exercise
Cardio interval

If you’re completely pressed for time and/or want to add even more intensity to your workout, combine the upper- and lower-body exercises. This more advanced three-part circuit framework is more demanding of the muscles and cardiovascular system.

The perfect quick circuit framework

Upper- and lower-body exercise
Core exercise
Cardio interval

The cardio intervals can be anything that raises your heart rate even further: jumping rope, burpees, running in place, box jumps, etc. Mix it up to add variety to the circuit. Here’s one example of a phenomenal 20-minute, three-part circuit workout to improve aerobic conditioning, burn fat, and build muscle.

The perfect 20-minute circuit

Do three rounds of the nine exercises, performing each exercise for 30 seconds with just 15 seconds rest in-between.

The workout
1. Squat with dumbbell overhead press
2. Plank with alternating dumbbell row
3. Jump rope
4. Alternating forward lunges with dumbbell side-raise
5. Bicycle crunches
6. Burpees
7. Alternating backward lunges with dumbbell biceps curl
8. Double crunch
9. Jump lunges

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