Creative Circuit Training – Experimenting With Fat Loss Workouts

June 22, 2009

There are dozens, if not hundreds of circuit training routines that are effective at helping you drop body fat. I was doing my daily cruising of the Internet and found an outline of a routine by Nick Nilsson, author of “Metabolic Surge”, that reminded me of the large variety of effective circuit training routines. I’ll give you an outline of the routine he recommends as well as a few others that I’ve recommended in the past. Use these as a reference when constructing your own ideal fat burning circuit.

circuit training routines

[I couldn't find a good circuit training photo that I liked. When in doubt, I just default to sharp-looking photos that have nothing to do with the topic.]

No Such Thing As an Ideal Circuit Training Routine

To put it in the most basic form, the idea of circuit training is to challenge your muscles while building a bit of aerobic capacity at the same time. Circuits can be done with weights, machines, your body weight, mixing cardio exercise and machines, mixing cardio and weights, etc. The bottom line is that you are providing resistance to your muscles in a way that “feels” like a cardio workout at some point. You can do circuits in a way that is more geared towards resistance and less cardio -or- you can make it feel closer to cardio with less focus on resistance training.

I Like to Perform Circuits In A Way That Targets Fat Loss

I mainly do circuits in a way that targets fat loss, but this is by no means the only way to do circuit training. My method is to separate the main part of my lifting from body weight circuits. I like to lift 3-4 times per week and do Body Weight Circuits as a way to get in a brief fat burning workout when I don’t want to trek to the gym.

You Can Do Circuits With Nothing But Weights As Well

I used to think that doing a circuit training routine with weights was pure madness and an unrealistic way to train in the gym. It is pretty much impossible to use 6-10 pieces of equipment in a busy gym. My mind was changed about a year and 1/2 ago, when a reader of this site e-mailed me an outstanding circuit training routine that could be done with just one barbell using the same weight for all of the exercises. I posted this routine on my site shortly after that: A Circuit Training Routine That Actually Makes Sense!

HIIT – Similar Concept to Circuit Training

Some people don’t consider sprint intervals on a treadmill or running stairs to be circuit training, but I do. The outcome and feel of this type of exercise is very similar to doing a circuit. The main difference is that you don’t typically get the whole body resistance training of other types of circuits. One of the first posts I wrote on this blog was about HIIT on a treadmill: An Aerobic Workout Program That Forces Your Body to Burn Fat. I also have a popular 3 page outline of my favorite HIIT and steady state cardio combo here: Low Body Fat Percentage Cardio.

Nick Nilsson’s “Weights + Cardio Fat Loss Circuit”

Nick has a routine that combines HIIT with circuit training. He isn’t the first to do this, but reading his routine reminded me of how effective these types of routines can be at dropping weight while maintaining muscle mass. The downside of this routine is that it won’t be easy in every gym…it will probably work best in a home gym.

An Outline of Nick’s Circuit Training Routine

You will be performing 40 seconds of cardio (treadmill, exercise bike, stairmaster, jump rope, etc)…followed by one set of weights with no rest in between. You continue in this manner without rest for the entire workout. Workouts last 30-40 minutes with no rest in between sets. The idea is to get an entire cardio workout done in the same amount of time as it takes to do a typical weight training routine. The benefits of doing this without rest is similar to doing a typical HIIT routine (more calories burned than normal cardio, large release of HGH, a metabolism boost, etc.)

Here is What A Sample Routine Looks Like

Here is a sample routine taken directly from Metabolic Surge:

Back: Bent Over Barbell Rows or Seated Cable Rows – 6 sets of 6-8 reps. Be sure to keep your lower back arched and tight when performing either of these exercises.

Chest: Flat Barbell or Dumbbell Bench Press – 6 sets of 6-8 reps. Don’t bounce the bar off your chest as you lower it down. As well, don’t bang the dumbbells together at the top.

Biceps: Standing Barbell Curls or Dumbbell Curls – 4 sets of 6-8 reps. Squeeze your biceps hard at the top and don’t swing the weight. Use a shoulder-width grip on the bar for best biceps contraction.

Calves: Standing Calf Raises or Seated Calf Raises – 4 sets of 10-12 reps. Perform this movement under control. Don’t bounce out of the bottom and be sure to give your calves a good squeeze at the top.

Cardio: Take no rest as you move between 40 seconds of cardio work and your weight training sets. Have everything set up and ready to go with your exercises as much as possible. If you are in a crowded gym and must wait for equipment or are unable to pre-set, just do the best you can.

No “Holy Grail” When it Comes to Circuit Training Routines

Part of the reason I wanted to write this post was to let people know that there really isn’t an ideal circuit training routine. So many variables can be adjusted depending upon your goals. A lot of what you do will be decided by what equipment you have available as well.

Note: As always, I encourage comments and questions. Let us know of any special tweaks you have found to improve the results you have achieved with your circuits or HIIT routines. I look at comments as an extension to the post…often times more valuable than the post itself!

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Rusty Moore

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

DR June 29, 2009 at 1:34 pm

I agree with Rafi Bar-Lev that this would be a good circuit for people that workout @ home.

But, unless you train at off-off-peak hours at your gym, that circuit would be impossible to perform.

At my gym, I have had to explain the concepts of supersets, giant sets, trisets, split-sets, interval training, etc over & over.

I think most of them are learning, but there are still those members who will watch you bounce back & forth between 2 pieces of equipment for a few minutes and STILL start stripping the weight off of the piece of equipment you just left…ARRRGGGHHHH

On another note – Rusty, do you know how that workout fit into the overall scheme of the program?

I found the bodypart selection a little odd, but considering we don’t know the overall context…

Josh June 29, 2009 at 5:24 pm

Rusty, I couldn’t agree with you more. Great post! I do don’t anything but circuit training… it keeps me lean year-round and it’s always loads of fun to do. I find that I have to keep the routines varied though, or else I suffer from stagnant workouts.

I actually own both Turbulence Training and Metabolic Surge and can personally vouch for their effectiveness. Very intense training though!

Barbara December 26, 2009 at 2:21 am

I think while the exercise type should certainly be stressed, there really needs to be an increased focus on the diet. Many people simply eat to much to lose weight and they don’t even realize it. They think they can just hop on a treadmill and just melt the pounds away when it isn’t quiet that simple.

Phillip March 30, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Due to my hectic business travel schedule, I’m typically forced to circuit train in a hotel fitness area. I circuit train with free weights if they are available, but have no issue using machines if necessary. If I’m not feeling up for trudging down to the gym or am short on time, I will do body weight exercises in my room.

Finally I have a go-to item that always comes with me on business trips: my jump rope. I think it single-handedly has cut off more of my weight than any other exercise.

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