Circuit Basics

Imagine a typical workout in which you pyramid sets of bench presses or squats, relaxing for two or three minutes between each progressively shorter set. That’s a slow jam mixed with brief bursts of heavy metal. Now imagine a workout in which you never stop as you rush from one seemingly random exercise to the next, eight in all, each for at least 10 reps. And when you finish those eight you start all over again. And then again and again. It’s a 140-beats-per-minute trance mix, constant movement, forever up-tempo, relentless.

Circuit training is that trance mix. It’s nothing like your typical workout, and, depending on your goals, that may be a great thing. A circuit usually consists of six to 10 exercises that together cover a wide area: upper half, lower half, or full body. Exercises are usually performed for at least 10 reps, and they’re selected to maximize the aerobic effect. So compound lifts, like squats, are superior to isolation lifts, like leg extensions. And some, like burpees, may be done only to elevate the heart rate.