Circuit Training For Weight Loss

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Circuit training for weight loss is a great way to burn fat in short time frames. You will find there are many aspects to circuit training for weight loss. I will talk about each aspect so you have all the information you need before making your choice.

What is Circuit Training?

As Coach Lauren mentions above, the “circuit” in circuit training comes from the fact that you do a sequence of exercises back to back to back, and then you repeat the sequence.

And then again.

You cycle through the planned sequence of exercises, or circuit, multiple times.

That’s circuit training.

Generally, you hit each major muscle group during one full circuit. You may do a lower body for one exercise. Then the upper body the next.

You’ll find all sorts of different circuit training sequences. Here are some things most will have in common:

  • Several different exercises. A normal circuit will have five to ten different movements per circuit. You’ll often hear these referred to as “stations.” Overhead press station, squat station, etc.
  • Little to no rest in between. The goal of circuit training is to keep your heart rate up. Ideally, if you’re physically able, you go from one exercise to another without stopping. Maybe you rest after the whole circuit. Maybe.
  • Rinse and repeat. Generally, you’ll run through your circuit a few times. Three rounds are common.

Make sense?

The point here is to work different parts of your body with different exercises, and then while those parts are recovering, you’re working on your other movements! This helps build cardiovascular health, while also improving muscular endurance and strength.

Plus you’ll burn calories!

As we lay out in our article, Cardio vs Interval Training vs. Weight Training, research supports that doing strength training circuits is great for weight loss and overall health.

More importantly, for somebody with limited time, doing a strength training circuit is more effective at building strength and burning fat than an equivalent amount of cardio.

In other words, if you are trying to lose weight, you should be doing circuit training.

Our Beginner Bodyweight Circuit would be a great place to begin, and you can download a worksheet to help you get started right here:

Why Should I do circuit training?

Generally, you’ll hear exercise divided into strength training or aerobic exercise (cardio).

What’s the difference, you wonder?

  • Strength training. Strength training is also referred to as anaerobic exercise, which would be a short burst of energy for movement. Think of a push-up or pull-up. These exercises help build and tone muscle.
  • Aerobic Exercise. “Aerobic” means “needs oxygen.” Your heart rate increases to get oxygen where your body needs it, thus the word “cardio.” Running, biking, or jumping jacks would be examples of aerobic exercise.

The thing about a circuit is, you actually do both categories. Presses and lunges fall into strength training. Jumping jacks are cardio.

And since you aren’t stopping much in between stations, you’ll need more oxygen, and voila. Even more cardio.

With circuit training, you build muscle and burn fat WHILE building stamina.

As Michael Scott would say, “that’s a win, win, win.”

There’s some debate on what kind of exercise is better for weight loss: aerobic or anaerobic.

My thoughts?

If you’re limited on time and only can pick one, I would pick strength training: when you strength train, you break your muscles down, and your body needs to work extra hard over the next 24-48 hours to rebuild those muscles (with increased calories burned).

We work with our 1-on-1 Coaching Clients to create programs that combine both strength and cardio in a fun way – it really comes down to a program that you actually WANT to do.

Let us build you a workout program that’s ACTUALLY fun!

Before and after your circuit training: Warm up and stretch

No matter which circuit you pick, I want you to start with one important thing:

Warm-up!

I cover why you should always warm up in an article found right here. It doesn’t have to be much though, give it about five minutes to get your muscles active and your heart rate up.

This will help you do exercises properly and help prevent injury. You can run in place, do air punches and kicks, or some jumping jacks.

Here is NF Senior Coach Staci (you might know her incredible story) showing you many beginner options you can use to warm up as well:

Did I just tell you to prepare for circuit training, with a circuit?!

THE NERD FITNESS ADVANCED WARM-UP:

  • Jump rope: 2-3 minutes 
  • Jumping jacks: 25 reps
  • Bodyweight squats: 20 reps
  • Lunges: 5 reps each leg.
  • Hip extensions: 10 reps each side
  • Hip rotations: 5 each leg
  • Forward leg swings: 10 each leg
  • Side leg swings: 10 each leg
  • Push-ups: 10-20 reps
  • Spider-man steps: 10 reps

Our goal isn’t to tire you out. Instead, we want to warm you up.

That’s step one.

Completing your chosen circuit training routine would be step two.

Below, you’ll find 15 workouts you can follow along with! And if you like our style of workouts, you might like our new app, Nerd Fitness Journey!

Our fun habit-building app helps you exercise more frequently, eat healthier, and level up your life (literally).

Right now, you can try it for free for a full week (no credit card required). Jump in below:

The Circuit

Inchworm Walkouts to Reverse Lunge With Arms Overhead

Inchworm Walkouts to Reverse Lunge With Arms Overhead

Start with feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Hinge at the hips, place your hands on the floor and walk forward to come to a high plank position. Hold for 5 seconds, walk back with the hands and return to a full standing position awhile reaching both arms overhead. Next, step backward into a reverse lunge with the right leg. Pull yourself forward with the left leg and then step immediately back with the left leg; return to standing. This is one repetition. Complete six to 10 repetitions (start at six and work up to 10).

Side Lunge to Single-leg Balance

Side Lunge to Single-leg Balance

Start with feet hip-width apart. Step the right foot to the right. As the right foot hits the ground (make sure the right foot is parallel to the left foot), push your weight back into your right hip. With your left hand, reach for your right foot. To return to standing, press your left foot into the ground to pull yourself up. At the top, contract your glutes to hold a single-leg balance for five to 10 seconds. Complete eight to 12 repetitions before alternating sides.

Squat to Push-up

Squat to Push-up

Start with feet shoulder-width apart. Push your hips back to lower into a squat. As you sink your weight back, bring both hands to the inside of your legs and place them on the floor. With your hands pressed into the floor, step back one foot at a time so that you are in a high-plank position. Brace your abdominals and keep your body straight as you lower yourself into a push-up. At the bottom of the movement, press both hands into the floor to return to the high-plank position. Step forward, one foot at a time, to return to standing position. Complete six to eight repetitions and work up to doing 12 to 15 reps.

Side Plank With Rotation

Side Plank With Rotation

(Note: This exercise is NOT recommended for individuals with shoulder or back pain.)

Begin by lying on your right side with both legs on top of one another. Place your right elbow directly under your right shoulder. Squeeze your legs together, contract your glutes and push your left hip up so that you are balanced on both feet and your right elbow (this is the starting position). Place your left hand behind your head and rotate your left elbow down toward the floor to rotate your trunk. Return to the starting position and repeat six to eight times and then switch sides. 

Transverse Lunge With Reach to Foot

Transverse Lunge With Reach to Foot

Begin standing with feet hip-width apart. With your right foot, step back and rotate your right hip so that when it lands your right foot is pointing in the 4 o’clock direction. Once your foot is on the floor, reach down for your right foot with your left hand while reaching for the sky with your right hand and rotating your trunk to your right. To return to standing, press your left foot into the floor and pull yourself back to the upright position. Complete eight to 10 reps on one side before switching sides; work up to completing 12 to 15 reps with each leg.

Body-weight Turkish Get-up (TGU)

Body-weight Turkish Get-up (TGU)

The best description for the TGU, as it’s commonly called, can be seen here. Instead of holding a weight, simply hold your arm extended and outstretched to receive the benefit of the exercise for your hips, obliques, spinal stabilizers and shoulders. Start with four to six reps on each side and work up to eight to 10.

Cardio Exercise

cardio

After you have completed the circuit, jump rope or perform jumping jacks for 45 seconds, rest for 15 seconds and repeat three times. Rest for 90 seconds before performing the next complete circuit (including cardio).

Start with two circuits every other day and allow two weeks for your body to get used to the movements. After the first two weeks, continue doing the workout every other day, adding one additional circuit each week, gradually working up to five circuits. After your reach five circuits, test yourself to see how many circuits you can complete in a specific amount of time (such as 15, 20 or 30 minutes).

Circuit training can provide the following benefits:

  1. The body burns 5 calories of energy to use 1 liter of oxygen. Circuit training can use most of the muscles in the body, which significantly increases oxygen consumption when compared to a mode of cardio exercise relying primarily on the lower body. Any mode of exercise that increases oxygen demand also increases energy expenditure, making it an effective strategy for weight loss.
  2. Exercising at a moderate-to-high intensity (where breathing is much faster than normal, and saying more than a couple of words at a time can be difficult) for more than 50 to 60 minutes at a time could actually lead to burning muscle instead of fat. At a higher intensity of exercise, the body will use primarily carbohydrate for fuel. Once this carbohydrate is depleted, the body uses the hormone cortisol to convert protein to fuel in a process called gluconeogenesis. When this happens, less protein is available to repair muscle tissue damaged during the exercise.
  3. Doing too much cardio training could actually increase levels of abdominal fat. During low-intensity exercise, cortisol helps mobilize free fatty acids for use as energy (fat takes longer to convert to energy than carbohydrate, which is why higher intensities rely on carbs for fuel). When cortisol levels are elevated, there are more free fatty acids in the bloodstream. The ones that aren’t used for energy can be redeposited in abdominal fat to be stored for later use.
  4. While resistance-training circuits can actually increase lean muscle mass throughout the entire body, most modes of cardio training involve primarily leg muscles. Resistance training exercises stimulate the type II, fast twitch muscle fibers responsible for improving strength and size. Increasing activation of the type II fibers can result in larger, more defined muscles throughout the entire body.
  5. Higher levels of lean muscle mass equate to a higher resting metabolism, which means the body will burn more calories while at rest. At rest, 1 pound of muscle can burn up to 7 calories of energy during a 24-hour period. Adding 5 to 7 pounds of lean muscle mass can increase resting metabolism up to 50 calories a day or 350 calories over the course of a week. Given that the body uses approximately 100 calories to walk a mile, this can be considered the equivalent of taking a 3.5-mile walk.

Is Circuit Training Good for Weight Loss?

Coach helping a mid adult man exercise with dumbbells

Exercise is the key to weight loss, as it helps you burn calories and fat to improve your physique. And while some exercise is better than none when it comes to losing weight, you’ll find that certain exercise methods, such as circuit training, may be more effective than others. Circuit training can help you maximize the amount of calories you burn during your workouts as well as throughout the rest of the day following the exercise session. Ask your doctor before starting a workout or weight loss plan.

Circuit Training Overview

Circuit training is an exercise method in which you perform six to 10 exercises in a row, with minimal rest between them. Once you complete all of the exercises, you can rest for two minutes before performing the circuit again. Typically, circuits will contain exercises that target a variety of different muscle groups so you can work on improving your overall fitness level. Circuit training can be useful for weight loss, but you may also use circuits to improve your strength, muscular endurance or muscle size.

In-Workout Calorie Expenditure

Circuit training may help you lose weight effectively because it maximizes calorie burning by keeping you active throughout your entire workout. Less-frequent rest periods mean you’re spending most of your time exercising and burning calories. Circuit training can also help you combine high-efficiency calorie burning activities, such as treadmill running, rowing, and weight training, into one workout without getting overly fatigued.

Post-Workout Metabolic Benefits

The quick pace of circuit training provides an intense experience that can be beneficial for weight loss due to the during-workout calorie burning. But the intensity reaps benefits even after you finish your workout. Research from the August 2005 issue of the “European Journal of Applied Physiology” indicates that circuit training workouts prompt a higher degree of post-exercise excess oxygen consumption, or EPOC, than traditional cardio workouts. EPOC refers to the metabolic boost your body retains in the hours and days after your workout, and it can be a significant source of additional calorie burn.

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