Try Circuit Training for an Effective Exercise

Exercise instructor standing by young woman performing situps
Denis Felix/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Circuit training is an efficient, challenging form of conditioning that develops strength, aerobic and anaerobic endurance, flexibility and coordination all in one workout. It is one of the few forms of fitness training that has been shown to effectively develop both strength and cardiovascular fitness in the same exercise session.

The term "circuit training" describes the way a workout is structured rather than the type of exercise performed. It typically consists of a series of exercises or workout stations completed in succession with minimal rest periods in between. Circuit routines allow the athlete or coach to create an endless number of workouts and add variety to routine training programs.

While circuit routines are similar to interval training routines, there are some major differences. For example, circuits incorporate a wide variety of exercises of shorter durations in one session. Interval training tends to focus on one single exercise (typically an endurance exercise, such as running, cycling, swimming, rowing, etc.) during a session. The intensity of the exercise varies throughout the workout session.

A well-designed circuit provides a balanced workout that targets all the muscle groups and builds cardiovascular endurance. Circuit routines can also be designed to correct the muscle imbalance that often occurs in one-sport athletes who perform the same types of exercises day after day. It can also provide a high-intensity, skills-training session, or a high calorie-burning workout in a short amount of time. Circuits also provide the perfect cross-training complement for any athlete.

Circuit training is ideal for both advanced athletes and beginners because it can be scaled to the ability of each individual athlete. Circuit routines are fast, effective and fun.

How to Design a Circuit Training Routine

Circuit routines typically consist of about 10 exercises performed for 60 seconds each with 15 seconds of rest in between. Athletes perform one, two or three sets of the circuit based on their fitness levels and goals.

Completing a variety of resistance exercises and high-intensity cardiovascular exercises in quick succession can improve both strength and endurance. For those short on time, completing three to four 20-minute sessions per week is an effective way to develop and maintain all-around fitness. Use these guidelines to create your own circuit workout:

  • Create your circuit with eight to 12 exercises or stations that target the entire body.
  • Perform each exercise for 30 to 90 seconds, allowing yourself 15 to 30 seconds of rest between each station.
  • To focus on muscular strength, increase the resistance of the exercises and the rest time in between stations. This will allow your muscles to fully recover in between each exercise.
  • To focus more on cardiovascular endurance, decrease the intensity of the exercise at each station, increase the length of time spent at each station and shorten the amount of rest between stations to keep your heart rate continuously elevated.

Health and Safety Tips

  • Circuit training is safe enough to do two to four times per week. Because it incorporates such intense strength training exercises, allows at least 48 hours between sessions that work for the same muscle groups.
  • Use weights, resistance bands and other equipment that will allow you to perform exercises for the entire length of time while still providing a challenge.
  • As your fitness ability improves, increase the difficulty of the exercise by either increasing the exercise time, increasing the weights or resistance used, adding more difficult exercises or decreasing the amount of time you rest between stations.

Why Circuit Training Doesn't Always Work

While circuit training is beneficial for most athletes, it's not the solution to all of your training needs. Circuit training can improve cardiovascular fitness and strength, particularly in exercise beginners. It is not a substitute for aerobic endurance training or improving aerobic capacity.

Endurance training programs are still more effective at developing aerobic fitness than circuit training programs. Clearly elite endurance athletes, such as cyclists or runners, still need to train specifically for their sport in order to achieve maximal endurance and aerobic capacity.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Wilke J, Kaiser S, Niederer D, et al. Effects of high-intensity functional circuit training on motor function and sport motivation in healthy, inactive adults. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2019;29(1):144-153. doi:10.1111/sms.13313

  2. Feito Y, Heinrich KM, Butcher SJ, Poston WSC. High-Intensity Functional Training (HIFT): Definition and Research Implications for Improved FitnessSports (Basel). 2018;6(3):76. doi:10.3390/sports6030076

  3. Cardozo DC, DE Salles BF, Mannarino P, et al. The Effect of Exercise Order in Circuit Training on Muscular Strength and Functional Fitness in Older WomenInt J Exerc Sci. 2019;12(4):657-665.

  4. Mayorga-Vega D, Viciana J, Cocca A. Effects of a Circuit Training Program on Muscular and Cardiovascular Endurance and their Maintenance in SchoolchildrenJ Hum Kinet. 2013;37(1):153-160. doi:10.2478/hukin-2013-0036

  5. McGlory C, Devries MC, Phillips SM. Skeletal muscle and resistance exercise training; the role of protein synthesis in recovery and remodelingJ Appl Physiol (1985). 2017;122(3):541-548. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00613.2016

  6. Shaw BS, Shaw I. Compatibility of concurrent aerobic and resistance training on maximal aerobic capacity in sedentary malesCardiovasc J Afr. 2009;20(2):104-106.

Additional Reading
  • Chiara M, Chamari K, Chaouachi M, Chaouachi A, Koubaa D, Feki Y, Millet GP, Amri M. Effects of intra-session concurrent endurance and strength training sequence on aerobic performance and capacity. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2005 Aug; 39 (8):555-60.
  • Fleck SJ and Kraemer WJ. (2004) Designing Resistance Training Programs: 3rd Edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
  • Gettman LR, Pollock ML. Circuit weight training: a critical review of its physiological benefits. The Physician and Sports Medicine. 1981 9:44-60.
  • Glowacki SP, Martin SE, Maurer A, Baek W, Green JS, Crouse SF. Effects of resistance, endurance, and concurrent exercise on training outcomes in men. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2004 Dec; 36 (12):2119-27.