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A Weights and Cardio Circuit Training Program

Lose Weight, Get Fit, Build Muscle with Circuit Training

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Updated June 25, 2009

Updated June 25, 2009

Even if some weight loss and fitness ideas in the exercise sciences have not been realized to the extent we all wished for, there is no doubt that the ultimate fat burning and fitness criterion is how much energy you expend in physical activity, whether organized activity or non-exercise activity. It all adds up and there is no doubt that building extra muscle to increase metabolism, and exercising at an intensity that increases post-exercise metabolism, all contribute to losing fat and enabling us to slim down and get fit.

Before you get into the detail, or at any time, it may be useful to check out our Ten Top Exercises for hints on form and technique.

What is Circuit Training?

This circuit training is a combination of high-intensity aerobics and resistance training designed to be easy to follow, give you a great workout, and target fat loss, muscle building and heart-lung fitness. An exercise "circuit" is one completion of all prescribed exercises in the program; the idea being that when one circuit is complete, you start at the first exercise again for another circuit. Traditionally, the time between exercises in circuit training is short, often with rapid movement to the next exercise. My program has only five exercises.

The Basic Program

If you follow the complete program of three circuits at the nominated intensity plus warmup and cool down, you should expend at least 600 kcalories (2500 kjoules) – not bad considering you get strength development and cardio at the same time in under an hour of activity. Starting out, you can choose to do only one or two circuits and then progress to three or more and adjust weights and repetitions upward to suit your fitness as you progress.

You could do this program four or five times in a week but my recommendation is to do no more than three sessions and supplement that with a at least one pure cardio session like treadmill, walking or running, plus at least one pure strength training day on the weights.

Combining weights and aerobics in circuits or interval training, or on alternate days, is not new. However, there is scientific evidence that it works to improve overall fitness and metabolism (Park 2003, LeMura 2006). Some similar programs make the mistake of using light weights or an intensity that is too low.

Equipment and Details

Time for each circuit: 15 minutes (approximately)
Equipment required: a step of 6 inches (15 centimetres), eg Reebok Step; two dumbbells.
Exercises: five – basic step aerobics, dumbbell overhead press, arm curl, weighted lunge, squat
Place of Activity: home, gym, park or open space
Number of circuits in a workout: three; but start with one or two and work up if necessary
Muscle groups targeted: shoulders, arms, back, legs, butt, abdominals

What You Do in This Circuit Program

  1. A complete circuit takes about 15 minutes total time, involves five exercises and requires one set of dumbbells and one step platform or equivalent of at least 6 inches (15 centimetres).

  2. The dumbbells should be of a weight so that the maximum number of repetitions of the upper body exercises, the overhead press and arm curl, is 10-12 repetitions, and not much more for one set. It's important that these weights are heavy enough to build strength and muscle. The lower body exercises, the weighted lunge and the squat, are done with the same dumbbells at the side allowing more flexibility.

  3. The circuit exercise variables – dumbbell weight, number of repetitions, number of circuits -- can be adjusted to get the kind of workout required depending on fitness and training goals.

  4. This circuit can be done at home, a gym or the park. You need a space sufficient to utilize a step platform or equivalent, a set of dumbbells and sufficient room for lunges and squats. Perhaps choose a time when it’s not so busy if you plan to do the circuit at gym.

  5. The exercises involving leg movement such as stepups and lunges are meant to raise the cardio intensity, while the standing weights exercises allow some comparative interval rest while focusing on muscle and strength development.

  6. The times set for each exercise include movement between exercises, interval rest and setup time for each. It’s a busy schedule on purpose.

  7. Ensure you are medically fit for this program before you commence. Ask your doctor for a clearance if you are unsure.

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