Circuit Training Exercises and Circuit Weight Training Workout Routines | Not Your Average Fitness Tips

Circuit Training Exercises and Circuit Weight Training Workout Routines

A circuit training workout is great way to get a time efficient workout that offers the potential for muscle gain and fat loss.  However, I’ve recently been using circuit training exercises to improve my endurance and cardiovascular health.  Circuit training involves moving from one exercise to the next with little to no rest.  I prefer to incorporate circuit weight training routines at the end of my workout in order to increase my heart rate and lose some fat in the process.

One of the great features of circuit training is that you can incorporate any number of exercises into your routine.  Below is a list of circuit training exercises that I currently use or have used in the past along with a few sample circuit weight training routines that you can add to your workout.

Circuit Training Exercises

Because I workout at home, I divide my circuit training exercises into three different categories: barbell, dumbbell, and bodyweight.  This allows me to avoid changing weights so that I may quickly move from one exercise to another without rest.  For the barbell exercises, I use a 65lb barbell.  While this weight isn’t heavy enough for all the exercises I perform, it provides some resistance and helps add to my primary goal of improving cardiovascular endurance.  With dumbbells, I simply use 12lb weights.  Again, this isn’t nearly enough for certain exercises listed below, but it allows me to perform fast reps, in contrast to the slow, heavy weight training I do as part of my core strength training routine.  I also keep a set of 45lb dumbbells for the exercises that are really too easy with 12lb weights.  Bodyweight exercises are also great to add to a circuit training routine as you don’t need any equipment.  I’ve listed the muscles worked in parentheses.

Barbell Exercises:
Clean and Press (full body)
Deadlifts (full body)
Bent Over Row (back)
Upright Row (shoulders)
Closed Grip Bench Press (triceps, chest)
Curls (biceps)
Front Squats (legs)

Dumbbell Exercises:
Chest Flies (chest)
Incline Press (upper chest)
Side Raise (shoulders)
Front Lateral Raise (shoulders)
Rear Lateral Raise (shoulders)
One Arm Row (back)
Curls: generally seated simultaneous curls, but you could do standing, individual, etc. (biceps)
Triceps Kickback (triceps)
Goblet Squats (legs)
Lunges (legs)
Calf Raises (legs)
Renegade Rows (abs)

Bodyweight Exercises:
Pull ups (back, arms)
Dips (chest, triceps)
Inverted Row (back, arms)
Pushups: any variety including regular, decline, closed grip (arms)
Burpees (full body)
Any number of leg exercises including squats, lunges, calf raises, jumping, etc.
Planks (abs)

If you don’t have any equipment, then Craig Ballantyne of Turbulence Training has put together a great bodyweight circuit:

Circuit Weight Training Workout Routines

As you can see from above, there’s a broad range of exercises that you can incorporate into a simple circuit training workout.  I’ve been known to do as many as 15-20 of these exercises in a row without stopping.  I like the variety it adds to the end of my workout and each exercise hits my muscles in a slightly different manner.  I simply do 10 reps per exercise and just do 1 circuit.  I try to avoid hitting the same muscles in back to back exercises.

However, circuit weight training routines can be much shorter than 15-20 exercises.  For example, legendary MMA fighter Randy Couture’s circuit training routine consists of bent over rows, upright rows, military presses, good mornings, lunges, squat push presses, and deadlifts.  He does 8 reps per exercise and repeats 3-5 times with 1 minute of rest between circuits.

Randy Couture Circuit Training

If you’d like another perspective on circuit training, check out my friend Kelly’s post at Fitness Overhaul.

Create Your Own Circuit

There are an endless number of circuit training exercises that you can include in your workout routine.  Try grouping some of your favorites from above to form your own circuit weight training routine.  Perform a high intensity set or two at the end of your regular strength training routine for a nice cardio workout that will help burn fat and preserve muscle.

36 Responses to “Circuit Training Exercises and Circuit Weight Training Workout Routines”

  • I think creating your own routines is excellent way to develop both body and mind. You need understand why we do these things rather than mindlessly just follow a program which might not suit you.
    it could injury or just slow down results
    raymond

  • Dave,
    First off, thanks for the shout out! Greatly appreciated. Those are all some great workouts, whether individually or if you do them all at once. Not many people would be able to 15-20 all at once like you. Your a wild man!

    After doing these circuits and training like you do, doesn’t it just boggle your mind as to why so many people walk on a treadmill for hours at a time as their cardio? These are such a better option and there are so many different variations that you can do and never get bored!
    Kelly

  • Raymond,
    I definitely agree that designing your own workout is the best way to go. You can certainly use other routines as a guide, but you should do your own thing based on your body, equipment available, time, etc.

    Kelly,
    Doing 15-20 exercises in a row isn’t as bad as it sounds…just take away the rest time between a more normal 5-6 exercise circuit and it’s the same thing. I absolutely agree on cardio…I do a HIIT routine when I’m trying to lose a lot of fat, but otherwise I stick with circuits at the end of my workouts or a kick boxing routine. No treadmill for me!

    Dave

  • My “go-to” circuit exercise these days is alternating 1 minute of kettlebell swings with 2 minutes jumping rope. Excellent tactic for people who are time-strapped and need to go from exercise to exercise.

  • Dave,

    I’m a big fan of circuit training. I use my adjustable dumbbells at home to do this. This way, even when I want to switch up the amount of weight, it’s fast and there is minimal rest time in between sets.

    Alykhan

  • Circuit training is definitely my go-to exercise when I’m either pressed for time, or out of town. It’s just so effective.

    -Drew

  • Darrin,
    Definitely an efficient circuit and probably leaves you winded.

    Alykhan,
    Adjustable dumbbells are a great purchase…I haven’t shelled out the money yet so I’m still working with DBs that I manually adjust, aside from the set of 12lb DBs I have.

    Drew,
    Agree with you on the effectiveness of circuits. It’s a nice quick substitute for a full workout.

    Dave

  • 15-20 exercises in a row is great man! And I love the exercises you have listed. Circuit training I’m coming to find out is what works best for me personally, to create the best looking physique – and are going to reap benefits for anyone! Awesome awesome stuff.

  • Very useful post. I first learned about circuit training in Pe class.

    In Vince Gironda’s book unleashing the Wild physique he writes that he used circuits to get actors in top shape for movies. And fast!

    Here is what he used:

    9 exercises done for 12 reps each.

    Here is the daily breakdown:

    Day 1 – 1 circuit, 2x per day
    Day 2 – 2 circuits, 2x per day
    Day 3 – 3 circuits, 2x per day
    Day 4 – 4 circuits, 2x per day
    Day 5 – 5 circuits, 2x per day
    Day 6 – 4 circuits, 2x per day

    Day 7 – 4 circuits, 1x per day
    Day 8 – 4 circuits, 1x per day
    Day 9 – 4 circuits, 1x per day
    Day 10 – 4 circuits, 1x per day

    I think this schedule could be applied to any circuit routine – barbell, db, bodyweight, etc.

    Good stuff!

    Yavor

  • Craig,
    Certainly agree that anyone can benefit from circuit training…it’s a great way to combine strength training, fat loss, and cardio.

    Yavor,
    That is one intense circuit training workout routine. A routine like this highlights that circuit training exercises can be made challenging for anybody. Mixing up the routine to include barbell, dumbbell, and bodyweight exercises can keep your body surprised as well to provide further gains.

    Dave

  • I do not know what I was performing prior to kettlebells, possibly losing heaps of time and not getting as in shape as I could possibly have been.

  • Connie,
    Kettlebells are a great way to perform circuits.
    Dave

  • I used to be a huge fella. I tried everything there was out there as I had the most stubborn body you could get. It was not till I started to incorporate circuit training into my life that I saw real results, now I have my abs coming though. This article is spot on.

    If you take it serious, no matter what your goals are then you can dominate that fat right away with circuit training.

  • Lucca,
    Glad to hear circuit training worked well for you. It’s definitely a great way to burn some fat.
    Dave

  • Toni:

    Dave,

    I know circuit training is a way to combine cardio with resistance training but does it replace real cardio – like for heart health?

    Should I not be doing tabata after my weights if I’m doing circuit training? The reason that I ask is b/c I DO NOT need to lean out anymore. I am lean enough at this point.

    I’m focusing on building strength – particularly in my chest, arms, shoulders and back (lower body strength is fairly decent due to all the running I did over the summer). However, I still need to do some cardio for heart health though. That’s why tabata fits the bill b/c it’s quick and super effective but I don’t want to do too much cardio b/c that will completely negate my sole purpose which is to build some much-needed muscle.

    Can you clarify this for me? Thanks in advance. Sorry for all the questions but I’m still finding my way when it comes to weights.

  • Toni,
    I’m not a doctor, but I believe most studies on heart health stress the importance of being active and elevating your heart rate for a period of time. My view is that if circuit training elevates your heart rate (and it should) then it can replace traditional cardio. What I might recommend is performing high intensity circuit training followed by steady state cardio rather than Tabata. The circuit training will elevate your heart rate and release fatty acids while the steady state cardio will keep your heart rate elevated and burn the fatty acids. Don’t go crazy with steady state since you’re already lean…10-15 minutes at the end of a workout would be good for the heart and good for a cool down as well. Maybe 1 day per week you could do Tabata if you want to keep your leg strength up. Otherwise, you could consider incorporating some more weight training exercises involving your legs to maintain strength. Make sense?
    Dave

  • Toni:

    Makes perfect sense, thanks. By steady state cardio, could that include walking around my basement at a decent pace b/c I have no gym machines like a treadmill?

  • Toni,
    Any type of walking would be fine. You could go outside as well…assuming there’s no rain or it’s not too cold. A simple aerobics DVD should work too assuming it doesn’t get too intense.
    Dave

  • Toni:

    Dave,

    I have a few more questions regarding weight training.

    1. How can you accurately tell what you weigh? Since I started to focus on weight training a few weeks ago, my weight has swung in either direction on average of about four lbs. Again, I’m not really focusing on the number per say but I do want to gauge if I’ve gained either muscle or fat. Will the swings in either direction eventually even out? My body fat % is still the same b/c I’ve checked it. And I doubt I’ve gained any muscle at this point but I just don’t know.

    2. Also, is it possible to already start to see some progress b/c I’m such a newbie? I was brushing my hair this morning and when my arm was raised in a half-bent position, I seriously saw some real bicep development!! Not huge but huge for me.

    3. And is it normal to fall into bed completely exhausted on the days that you lift? I am sleeping like a baby on those days. I totally need those days off in between just to rest/recover. The DOMS has been really bad too. My arms and shoulders have never been so darn sore, lol. My legs are achy but not as bad b/c they are more conditioned, I’m guessing.

    Thanks in advance.

  • Toni,
    All good questions.

    1. You’ll have to be consistent about WHEN you weigh yourself. For example, you might want to weigh yourself first thing every Friday morning. Assuming your schedule is consistent (let’s say you lift Thursday night), then you can start tracking overall week to week changes.

    2. If you’re new to weight training, you can quickly see results. It helps that you’re already lean too since your body is primed to add muscle. You’ll be able to see the muscle better too because it’s not blurred by fat.

    3. Lifting can be exhausting and your body certainly needs recover time. Sleep is the optimal time for your muscles to grow. DOMS should go away after a few workout sessions. If you’re still experiencing it after another week, you might be training too hard.

    Good job so far!
    Dave

  • Toni:

    I never believed people (mostly guys) when they said that performing deadlifts work the abs as well. I thought it was wishful thinking. But honest to God, my core is killing me as if I’d done a ten-minute front plank! I used to do them with my kettlebells but I think the weight was too light for me to really feel it in my core.

    Also, have you seen those dumbbells sets that they sell that come in their own case? I was thinking of getting it so I don’t have to run out a purchase higher weights when I progress to the next level; you just put on higher weighted plates and lock the pin on at the end. The fact that it comes in their own carrying case is nice and safer too; I’m always worried about one of the DB falling out of the closet and injuring one of the kids. I just don’t have a lot of space to store my ever-growing collection of DB’s. Is it a good investment?

    Just wondering. Thanks.

  • Toni,
    Nice to see you’ve found a new way to work your core! As for dumbbells, are you referring to the adjustable dumbbells where you can quickly change weights? If so, I’ve read decent things about them…there can be some technical difficulties in the long run and the ones I know cost a lot of money. I always come close to buying them but hesitate. My dumbbells are manually adjustable where I screw plates on each side. It takes time between exercises to switch things up but I need that rest time anyway. If you’re looking at the manually adjustable ones, they should be much cheaper and may be worth the investment. Just be sure to make good use of them!
    Dave

  • Toni:

    Yeah, those are the ones I’m referring to. I didn’t know they sold manual ones, thanks for the heads up. I was thinking of telling my husband to get me those for my birthday this year. It’s something that would motivate me to try to progress to the next level.

    On the deadlift: I finally mustered the courage to join my dad at his gym for a few workouts with his guest pass. Anyway, I’d been toying with the idea of asking his trainer (who’s my age and in PHENOMENAL shape) to show me the correct form to execute a deadlift. But I always chickened out. I’m not the most outgoing person offline, lol. Anyhow, last week I was there again with my dad and after he finished their training session, I asked him to show me. I thought he would laugh at me given my physical appearance. Instead, he said to my dad, “You’ve got quite a girl here.” Then he walked me into the weight room (which was filled with about twenty men aged 30-45) and proceeded to show me. The men in the room were staring at me as I tried it. I was soooo embarrassed. As I walked away, I heard one of the men say – loud enough for me to hear – “that skinny broad has no business being in here.” My father’s trainer threw the guy a nasty look while I was fuming. The trainer apologized profusely for the guy’s comment but I just passed it off. If they only knew the courage it took for me to walk into ‘their territory’ – seriously. The stereotypes about women and weight lifting continue to astound me even at my age – geesh.

    Do I still have to work my core separately even though I do exercises like the deadlift that work the abs anyway? I know people who just do the deadlift and squats and have killer abs. Just wondering.

  • Toni,
    The weights sound like a good birthday gift…I’d go for it! Sorry to hear about the gym. The bodybuilder type gyms are just too old school sometimes which is why a lot of newer gyms focus more on your demographic. Trust me, I’d get laughed out of a gym as well because I don’t weigh 200lbs. Some bodybuilders just have that attitude…others are perfectly nice guys…kinda like anything in life, take the good with the bad. As for working your core, deadlifts, squats, shoulder presses can all strengthen it. I’ll bet the people you know with killer abs are really low body fat as well which is the more important part. It still might be good to end your workout with a 2-3 minute plank to really focus on the core. Any other ab training might just produce marginal results although if you have time, it doesn’t hurt.
    Dave

  • Toni:

    So…it’s not just a gender thing? Good to know that *anyone* under 200 lbs. would receive the same type of ‘welcome’, lol. It’s funny that you mention the newer gyms b/c I kid you not, yesterday I rec’d a flyer in the mail from Gold’s Gym and now they have a ‘Women’s Only Weight Room’. I got a good laugh out of that one.

    Yeah, the plank – I’m actually up to 2 minutes, 3 is a pipe dream for now. I’ll definitely keep doing that. I’m just trying to streamline my workouts b/c my time is really limited. Thanks!

  • Toni,
    Have you ever seen those Planet Fitness commercials?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3FGZvFZdVbk

    Sounds like you’re encountering the exact clientele they try to avoid. Great job on planks…if time is limited, then abs are something you could easily drop although finding 2-3 minutes during the day to drop and do a plank shouldn’t be too much to ask.

    Dave

  • Toni:

    One more question about my weight. Okay, so I weighed myself on Tuesday morning this past week upon waking and noted the amount. Still holding steady…which I expected.

    Anyway, the question is – everyone from my husband to my next-door neighbor to the cashier at the grocery store is saying I look better. How can this be if my weight is EXACTLY the same? Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy and flattered that people are noticing but to me, I look no different except for the bicep development when I flex my arm, lol. Am I holding water which I heard happens when you begin a weight training program so maybe that’s it? What do you think?

    Also, I read someone that you could develop loose skin if you follow a low-carb diet b/c carbohydrates plump up your skin supposedly. Is this plausible? I think that could’ve happened with me b/c I noticed some loose skin (not horrible, mind you) around my midsection after I lost some body fat this past summer. I was following a low-carb diet. I never had loose skin after either of my pregnancies – believe it or not. Just from losing body fat recently. Do you think if I added some muscle that my skin in that area might firm up? It’s only noticeable when I do a plank or pushup. Noone really sees me do those things but me, obviously. When I’m standing straight, my stomach looks pretty darn good, lol. Or is this completely false?

  • Toni,
    It’s all about where the weight is held. If your weight has stayed the same but you’ve increased muscle, that means your fat has decreased. More muscle + less fat = better looking body.
    The loose skin after weight loss is common. It takes your body a little time to adjust to its new leaner look. Adding muscle mass will definitely tighten up the skin. It doesn’t necessarily happen from low carb dieting; more just weight loss in general. Carbs will help you look more pumped up though as you retain more water. My muscles are generally flatter when I’m low carb which is why I like having re-feeding days.
    Dave

  • Toni:

    Could I seriously have increased muscle only a month in? Is that possible for someone with my body type? I checked my body fat and it’s hovering right above 16% whereas before it was right below 18%, if that makes any sense. So previously, higher end of 17%, now lower end of 17%.

    When I questioned my husband further about what he meant, he stated that my torso looked better – not skinny but more soft (not soft like fat but soft like a woman with curves) so maybe you’re right about gaining some muscle.

    So, carbs are not the enemy then? Come to think of it, since I added some back in, I do feel more energized. When I was low carbing it, I used to feel light-headed sometimes even though I weighed the same as now.

  • Toni,
    You definitely could have added muscle in a month, especially since your relatively new to the weight training game. The fastest gains always come in the beginning. While reducing carbs can help burn fat, I think they’re a vital part of muscle building. Plus, going too low carb for too long leads to reduction of muscle in my opinion. It’d stick with your current routine and see where it takes you.
    Dave

  • Toni:

    I really tend to agree with you that maybe I did make some gains the past few weeks.

    The other night, I carried my younger son upstairs b/c he’d fallen asleep on the sofa. He’s 43 lbs. – so a little more than a third of my bodyweight and I have to tell you, it was effortless. It felt great to not feel like such a weakling, for once.

    I don’t know why I was under the false impression that it would take forever and a day for someone like me with next to no real muscle to show some progress. I’m learning that it’s not just about the aesthetics of weight lifting – like seeing some biceps suddenly appear but it’s also about gaining strength in previously weak areas of your body that can be considered successes too.

  • Toni,
    You’re right, getting stronger isn’t necessarily about building bigger muscles. It’s about improving your weaknesses. Nice to hear you have no problems carrying your son; before you know it, you could be using a kettlebell that weighs as much as him!
    Dave

  • Joel:

    Dave, will you help me out making my abs?

  • Joel,
    Happy to help if I can. As a starting point, check out my Best Fitness Tips and read the Abs Training section:

    http://www.notyouraveragefitnesstips.com/fitness-tips

    Dave

  • Toni:

    Dave,
    As I gain more knowledge about weight training in general, I realize that the first few times I did a circuit training DVD at home (prior to starting the program I’m currently doing), I was using weights that were way too heavy for the fast pace of the routine. I beat myself up mentally for days afterwards over the fact that I couldn’t keep up the pace and not to mention that I could barely lift my arms over my head as I was seriously sore! I now know that you have adjust the weights accordingly for what you’re trying to accomplish. I mean, one wouldn’t do a Body Pump class and load the barbell with 100 lbs. as that would be counterproductive.
    ~Toni

  • Toni,
    Excellent points about using the right weight. Circuit training isn’t necessarily the best time to try to gain immense strength. It’s definitely more about fat burning and ramping up your heart rate.
    Dave

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