Friday, August 15, 2014

Circuit Training and Aerobic Benefits

Do you circuit train?
Technically, a circuit is 10-15 exercises that address the major muscle groups. In strength training, the ACSM recommends 2-4 exercises per major muscle group with 2-3 minute recovery in between. Circuit training does this in a unique way - exercises are arranged to address different muscle groups, so they can be done successively, working some muscles while other muscles recover. 
I haven't trained using a circuit since Bally's was called Jack LaLanne 
and I taught aerobics better than Jane Fonda!
I love Jane! She's still amazing!
Even at my NY Sports Club, I've seen the circuit training section get smaller and smaller over the last few years. It's now shoved into a small corner of the gym:
NY Sports Club Circuit:
Only one person training on the circuit!
 I thought maybe it was a sign of the times that circuit training was no longer relevant ...until today!
Today I read a fascinating article by 
Wayne L. Westcott, PhD, 
"Circuit Strength Training"
in the ACSM's Certified Newsletter
I was so surprised and excited to see research showing that circuit training not only increases muscle strength (17-22.5%) and decreases body fat (3-3.6%), but it can improve aerobic capacity/ VO2Max (12-17%). This particular example had participants doing three sets of a circuit with 10 exercises - each exercise taking 30 seconds. The latter percentages shown are a bit higher because participants added 30 seconds of running between each circuit set. 
Based on the research presented,
it appears that aerobic conditioning improves when there's more exercises in a circuit, and they are done in a short amount of time. In other words, aerobic capacity will more likely increase if your doing a circuit with 12 versus 9 exercises, and spend about 30 seconds per exercise versus 45 seconds per exercise.
Wescott also reported research that compared 
a running program of 30 minutes, 3 days per week 
to a circuit training program of 20 minutes, 3 days per week. 
Both programs showed significant impacts on increasing aerobic capacity, and improved VO2 Max. The running program only outdid the circuit training program by a mere 0.9% (11.7% for the runners versus 10.8% for circuit trainers).
The best part of this is that you don't need 
to even go to a gym to get a circuit work out. 
Just train using exercises that work upper body and lower body and keep switching. For example do 30 seconds each of the following: Push ups, crunches, jump squats, leg ups or iron crosses, burpees, tricep pushup using a chair, mountain climbers, lunges (try side lunges for a change), jack knife push ups using a chair,  bridges (work those buns!), frog leg crunches, finish up with some planks and repeat two more times.
Want to add in some added aerobics for 30 seconds between sets? 
Add in high knees, jumping jacks, or simply jump rope.
So how can runners use this?
It's a great way to maintain aerobic capacity when we can't get a run in - like when your away on a business trip, during a summer vacation, or on rainy or snowy days. You can throw in a circuit workout to build strength and aerobic capacity on your off days, or when your maybe feeling tired and a run would be pushing it, but a quick 20 minute circuit workout would work. Or if you just only have time for a 20 minute workout.
Not a runner?
That's okay because according to Westcott, 3 to 4 months of circuit training has not only been linked to an increase in muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness, but also a reduction in blood pressure, total cholesterol, improved body composition, and psychological benefits (that's a no brainer  --> Look better + Feel better = Happier Me!)
So, next time you pass those machines shoved into the corner of your gym, 
or just feel like an alternate work out try Circuit Training and 
Train Smart Today!
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