A Simple, Full-Body Circuit Workout That's Great For Building Muscle and Overall Fitness
Why circuit training is the multitasking of fitness, and how you can start doing it.
I love circuit training. I’ve had a soft spot for circuit workouts since they helped me lose a bit of weight in my late 20s. Over time, I’ve experimented with my own circuit workouts, looking to simplify them into workouts I can do at home without a lot of equipment.
That’s the genesis of this workout, which I came up with earlier in the year. My wife and I have been doing more strength training together, and we were looking for a workout that was both quick and straightforward. Since then, I’ve been doing this workout from time to time, and sharing it with my friends. Jen has also tested this workout, and attests to its quality.
Before I get into the workout, let’s talk about what circuit training is, and why it’s beneficial.
What is Circuit Training?
I’ve seen different definitions of circuit training out there, but it’s basically this: any workout routine where you rotate among exercises quickly, challenging both your muscles and cardiovascular system. Some people specifically say it should be six to 10 exercises, but I believe you can do circuits with less than that, as long as you choose compound exercises that work different muscle groups and do enough sets to challenge yourself.
Why is Circuit Training Beneficial?
Circuit training is like fitness multitasking, and I’m not just talking about working multiple muscle groups. Just look at these benefits.
It’s fast. Lighting fast. You can knock out an effective workout in 30 minutes. If you’re a busy person, circuit training was made for you.
You may lose weight. If you’re concerned about your weight, circuit training may be an effective workout method for you. Research has found that circuit training “effectively reduces body weight and body mass index in adults with overweight and obesity.”
It’s not just a strength workout—it’s cardio, too. Studies have shown that circuit training can improve your cardiovascular health. This research showed that it improved people’s performance on a treadmill, for example.
But it’s also anaerobic! This means circuit training could improve your performance in activities that require bursts of energy, like heavy weightlifting or sprinting. This is especially true if you up the weights on your circuit, and make them high intensity.
It could help you as you age. A study in Spain looked at the effects of circuit training on a group of older adults, aged 65-75. The group in the study that did circuit training for a period of 12 weeks saw an increase in lean body mass (the difference between your overall weight and the amount of weight you have in fat), as well as other measures of quality of life, like putting on a shirt or standing up from a seated position.
It could lower your blood pressure. One more study to go: this one looked at the effects of circuit training on both blood pressure and other cardiovascular markers, like cholesterol. Interestingly, it found that low intensity circuits were more effective in lowering the top number on your blood pressure (systolic), where higher intensity circuits were more effective in lowering the bottom number (diastolic).
The bottom line: circuit training rocks.
This circuit workout should take you about 30 minutes…if you make it through four circuits. I don’t say that to be ominous, but rather to urge you to adjust your effort. If you’re new to circuits or strength training in general, there’s nothing wrong with limiting yourself to two or three easy circuits to start off.
To complete the workout, you’ll need at least a set of dumbbells. If you’d like to do the pullups—the best upper-body exercise, in my opinion—you’ll need a pullup bar. You’ll also need a bench for the dumbbell press and the step ups. If a bench feels too high for you to do step ups, could use an aerobic step or any sort of step that’s large enough to safely get your entire body up there.
Here’s the circuit, with YouTube links for each exercise:
Dumbbell Goblet Squats: 8-10 reps
Dumbbell Press OR Floor Press: 8-10 reps
Dumbbell Stiff-Legged Deadlift: 8-10 reps
Pullups OR Dumbbell Bent-Over Rows: 8-10 reps
(Bodyweight) Step Ups OR (Bodyweight) Reverse Lunges: 10 reps per leg
Arnold Presses: 8-10 reps
Notes on the Workout
The beauty of this circuit is that it’s flexible. You could do it with as little as one set of dumbbells. Or you can use multiple dumbbells if you want to change the weight for certain exercises. If you’re able to do the pullups, I think it makes the workout more challenging.
You can also do as many circuits as you want, but you’ll want to try to minimize the rest between each exercise. Rest 1-2 minutes between each circuit. Again, based on the people who have done this circuits, four circuits are the target and should take about thirty minutes.
I do recommend you use a weight that is challenging to you, if possible. While it’s safer to go lighter if you’re just starting out, if you go too light, the workout may not be as effective. Try a few different weights and see what works for you.
And if you have feedback on the workout, please leave a comment or send me an email and let me know your thoughts. As with any workout that I create, I reserve the right to tweak it over time (and probably will!).