Circuit-Training Workout for Beginners

Maximize Your Workout with a Program That Combines Strength Training and Cardio

Whether you're short on time or you want something a little more interesting in your workouts, circuit training—where you combine both cardio and strength training in the same workout—is a great choice. This allows you to work on multiple areas of fitness rather than having separate workouts, making it an ideal way to squeeze in exercise if you have a busy schedule.

The idea behind these types of workouts is that you go from one exercise to the next with minimal to no rest between the moves. Because it incorporates very little rest time, the workout moves more quickly and efficiently than a regular workout. All that effort really pays off, though, with research showing improved benefits over other forms of training—a plus for beginners who are anxious to see the fruits of their labor. 

There are a number of ways to do circuit training. Some workouts focus on only cardio, some only on strength, and others combine both. In this workout, you'll be alternating a strength move with a cardio exercise.

The key to getting the most benefits is to work as hard as you can for the suggested reps or time. That means for the strength exercises, use heavy enough weights that the last rep feels very challenging. For the cardio exercises, try to get your heart rate somewhere between a level 6 and a level 8 or 9 on the perceived exertion scale of 1 to 10. Using the "talk test," that's somewhere between "I can still talk but I'm slightly breathless" (level 6) and "I can only keep this pace for a short period and having a conversation is out of the question" (level 9). 

Precautions

See your doctor if you have any sort of medical condition or injury to be sure it's safe for you to exercise.

Circuit Training How-tos

Whether you're new to exercise or new to circuit training, keep these tips in mind:

  • Warm up with at least 5 minutes of light cardio activity, such as marching in place or walking around the block or up and down the stairs.
  • This workout has two circuits, each with six alternating strength and cardio exercises that are performed one after the other. Do each exercise for the specified amount of time (or as long as you safely can) and then move on to the next exercise. Once you complete all exercises, that's considered one circuit.
  • Times are suggestions only. Modify according to your fitness level and perceived exertion.
  • Beginners: Complete Circuit I once using moderate weights or no weight at all if you're completely new to exercise. 
  • Intermediates: Complete both circuits once or twice.
  • Advanced: Complete both circuits three or more times. 

Circuit 1: Ball Squats

woman pushing an exercise ball against a wall
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Place an exercise ball behind your back and against the wall with your feet hip-width apart, abs in, and torso straight.

Walk your feet out so that you're leaning against the ball. If this feels shaky, hold onto a wall or do the exercise without the ball.

Bend your knees and lower until knees are at 90 degrees. If you have knee problems or this is challenging, only go down as far as you can.

Press into your heels to stand up. 

Repeat for 30 to 60 seconds and hold weights for added intensity. 

Jumping Rope

Woman jumping rope

 

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For this cardio exercise, you'll need a jump rope. If you don't have one or don't have space for one, you can just jump up and down and move your arms in a similar motion.

Jump with both feet together jumping only an inch or so off the floor. Land on the balls of your feet with your knees soft.

Repeat for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

If you're new to jumping rope, try doing 10 jumps in a row and then march in place to rest. Keep doing that for the length of the exercise, going as long as you can each time.

Lunges

Toning those thighs

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Stand in ​a split stance (with one leg about three feet in front of the other), right foot in front. Your feet should be far enough apart that if you bent both knees your front knee would not drift too far over your toes.

Holding weights for intensity if desired, bend both knees and lower to the floor into a lunge. Try going as low as you can or until your knees are at 90-degree angles.

The back knee doesn't have to touch the floor.

Press into your front heel to stand up and repeat for 30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat for 30 seconds.  

Walk or Jog in Place

Runners running fast in a career Marathon for the city.

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For your next cardio move, you'll either march or jog in place. If you need something more low impact, stick with marching. Try circling your arms to add intensity or walk briskly around the house.

If you're okay with impact, try jogging in place and pressing your arms overhead. Every 15 seconds, switch so that you're jogging with high knees, meaning you're bringing your knees up to hip level if you can.

Repeat for 30 to 60 seconds.

Pushups

Young man exercing push ups

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Get into a pushup position. This can be on your knees or on your toes. Make sure your hands are just wider than your shoulders.

With your back flat and your abs braced, bend your elbows into a pushup. Go as low as you can or until your chest hits the floor. Try not to lead with your chin.

If you need a modification, try wall pushups.

Repeat for 30 seconds, rest briefly, and then try for another 30 seconds.

Squats with Front Kick

Deep squat on one leg

 

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Stand with your feet together.

Bring your right knee up and extend your leg in a front kick (don't lock your knee).

Lower down into a low squat (knees behind toes) and then kick with your left leg.

Repeat (right kick, squat, left kick) for one to three minutes.         

Repeat this circuit one to three times.

Circuit 2: Squat With an Overhead Press

Cross Training Pregnant Woman Overhead Squat Exercise

 

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Stand with your feet hip-distance apart and hold weights just over your shoulders.

Bend your knees, sending your hips straight back into a squat. Go as low as you can and press through the heels to stand up.

As you stand up, press the weights overhead.

Lower the weights and repeat for 30 to 60 seconds.        

Side-to-Side Jump

Woman using exercising ladder in park

 

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Place a small object that you can jump over on the floor. Make sure it's something that won't trip you up; a resistance band makes a good marker.

Stand on one side of the marker and then jump over it with both feet at the same time, landing with the knees soft.

Continue jumping over the band for 30 seconds. Rest if you need to and continue for 30 more seconds.

If this is too challenging, try stepping over the band or jumping with just one foot at a time, which is easier.

Dips

Woman in sportswear performing tricep dips

 

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Sit on a chair or bench with your hands just outside of your hips and your knees bent (easier) or your legs extended straight out (harder).

Slide your butt just off of the front of the chair. Lift up onto your hands, and keeping your hips very close to the chair, bend your elbows, lowering them down until they're at about 90 degrees. 

Press back up and repeat for 60 seconds.

Rest halfway through if you need to.

Lunge with Biceps Curls

Outdoor Workout on Track with a trainer

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Stand in a split stance with one leg in front and the other in back. Hold weights in each hand and bend your knees into a lunge.

As you lunge, curl the weights up into a biceps curl. Stand, lower the weights, and repeat for 30 seconds on each side.

Marching Bridges

Woman in bridge position on yoga mat.

 

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Lie on the floor face up with your knees bent, feet close to your glutes (butt).

Push up into a bridge position: Lift your hips toward the ceiling while squeezing your glutes, so that your body is in a straight line.

Hold that position and take one foot a few inches off the floor. Lower and repeat on the other side. Continue marching for 30 to 60 seconds.

Repeat this circuit one to three times.

Finish by spending a few minutes stretching to improve flexibility and promote relaxation and stress relief. One easy move that stretches your hips, spine, and chest is the reclining spinal twist: While lying on your back, drop both of your bent knees over to the right and send your gaze over to the left. Hold for five to 10 breaths, then drop your knees to the left and send your gaze to the right for another five to 10 breaths.

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