Circuit Training: performing a set number of exercises (~6-10) using various types of equipment with minimal rest in between lifts.

The benefits of circuit training are abundant (1, 2, 3). Some of the most intriguing benefits of circuit training came from a study done by Harber et al. in 2004. They reported increases in lean body mass and decreases in fat mass after only 10 weeks of circuit training 3 days per week. The results from this study suggest that circuit weight training can increase lean body mass, decrease fat mass, and increase strength while minimizing muscle hypertrophy. So, if you want to get leaner and stronger without getting “big,” all while saving time in the gym, you should think about adding circuit training to your weekly regimen.

Circuit training is quite simple. Pick ~6-10 exercises (if you lift weights 3 days per week, then you’d want an exercise for each muscle group, each time you work out) and put them in an “ideal” order. For example:

Circuit #1: Free Weights

*Know what your 12 RM (a weight with which you can perform 12 reps of the exercise, and no more) for each exercise is before you begin (if you don’t know what it is beforehand, do a set of each exercise to figure out how much weight you should be lifting).

Perform 8-10 reps of each exercise (in this situation, since you are doing this as a circuit, only performing 8-10 reps with your 12 RM is okay to start) and rest just enough between exercises to get set up for the next one. Once you get through the circuit of exercises, rest 2-3 minutes and repeat 2-4 times.

  1. Goblet squat (legs)
  2. Dumbbell bench press (chest)
  3. Dumbbell bent over row (back)
  4. Dumbbell step up (legs)
  5. Dumbbell shoulder press (shoulders)
  6. Dumbbell bicep curl (biceps)
  7. Dumbbell overhead tricep extension (triceps)

The order of these exercises are a perfect example of how to structure your own circuit. A leg exercise, followed by a chest (push) exercise, followed by a back (pull) exercise. Repeat that sequence one or two more times with lower body, pushing, and pulling exercises and you’re done. Feel free to change the specific exercises as you see fit. If you want to suffer more, and reduce the amount of weight you’ll lift each exercise, setting it up in a “less ideal” way would be performing a chest exercise followed by a tricep exercise followed by a shoulder exercise. By the time you do the tricep and finally the shoulder exercise, all of your “pushing” muscles for those movements will be fried. Spread them out, and you’ll find it is much easier and more enjoyable to get a hard workout in during a short period of time.

Circuit #2: Weight Machines

Perform the same type of workout as Circuit #1, but on weight machines instead of free weights. This makes it easier to have proper form and would be recommended for a beginner to perform before attempting circuit training with free weights. Structure the workout in the order described above as best you can. Also, try not to leave puddles of sweat behind for the person following you or jump in front of someone using the machines either – you don’t want that hanging on your conscience.


  1. Paoli, Antonio, et al. “Effects of high-intensity circuit training, low-intensity circuit training and endurance training on blood pressure and lipoproteins in middle-aged overweight men.” Lipids in health and disease 12.1 (2013): 1.
  1. Klika, Brett, and Chris Jordan. “High-intensity circuit training using body weight: Maximum results with minimal investment.” ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal 17.3 (2013): 8-13.
  1. Harber, Matthew P., et al. “Skeletal muscle and hormonal adaptations to circuit weight training in untrained men.” Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports 14.3 (2004): 176-185.