Get 3 Workouts in 1 with Circuit Training

Even if you're the most dedicated fitness buff, you're going to cut corners if you're too busy for separate cardio, strength, and flexibility workouts. Total fitness doesn't have to take a lot of time though, if you take a lesson from multi-taskers.  With circuit training, you get a power-packed total-body routine that combines weights, cardio and flexibility into one short workout.

What is circuit training?  Circuit training is a program of exercise stations.  Each station targets either specific muscles or muscle groups with a different weight machine, resistance or cardio activity.  Participants move from station to station at a fast pace with little to no rest time between stations.  The constant movement challenges the mind and body, wards off boredom and keeps your muscles guessing.  How long you workout depends on how many times you repeat the circuit. 

Why does it work?  Because you're constantly moving and challenging your body to use different muscles, you keep your heart rate high (for cardio training), yet make it pump blood and oxygen to different parts of the body.  This increases your body's metabolic needs.  Studies show that circuit training burns more calories for a longer period of time than strength or cardio training alone.  That's why circuit training is billed as a fat buster.

How do you create a circuit?  Most gyms offer circuit training classes and programs.  Popular programs have participants move from weight machines to cardio equipment to squats, lunges and free weights. There is no exact recipe for success except to keep changing what you do and move as fast as you can.  Once you get used to one circuit - change activities to avoid reaching a fitness plateau.

Try this routine at the gym:

Pick two different cardio machines (for example, treadmill and elliptical trainer), 5 weight machines (three upper body, two lower body), an exercise ball, and 3-5 pound dumbbells.  If possible, pre-set the weight machines to your individual settings to minimize time you're not actively exercising. 

  • Start with 5 minutes of warm-up walking on the treadmill

  • Move to mat for one-set of 10 lunges with dumbbells.

  • 5 minutes elliptical trainer

  • One set of 10 reps each on one upper body and one lower body weight machine

  • 5 minutes treadmill

  • 1 set of 15 crunches on exercise ball

  • 1 set of ten squats with dumbbells

  • 5 minutes elliptical trainer

  • 1 set of 10 reps each on different upper body and lower body weight machines

  • 5 minutes on treadmill

  • 1 set of push-ups on exercise ball

  • 1 set of 10 reps on last upper body weight machine

  • 5 minutes on elliptical trainer

This adds up to about 30 minutes of exercise.  Repeat circuit once or twice. Finish with a cool-down session of five minutes on the treadmill and stretch.

You can create an at-home or outdoor circuit training program with jump ropes, resistance bands, hand weights, jogging in place or any series of mat exercises that force you to change it up and move it.Don't do circuit training two days in a row.  As with all strength training programs, allow muscles to rest at least one day between workouts to reduce risks for injury.