Marta Montenegro: The Perfect Circuit Training Workout

The number one reason people do not work out is because of lack of time. When sleeping the recommended seven hours a day seems a splurge, who has the time to spend an hour in the gym?

This is why circuit training is great. You get a lot for a relatively small amount of time spent working out.

Circuit training (CT), which generally stands for doing six to eight exercises one after another with little or no rest in between, was seen among serious fitness trainees as an “easy/light” day. These days, numerous studies have proven that there is nothing girly or easy when doing circuit training.

In fact, if you want to get stronger, more toned and leaner it seems that CT is the way to go. It’s also perfect for very fit people to shake up their routine. A study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared the effects of high-resistance circuit training (HRC), 3-6 sets of 6 exercises, 6 reps, less than 35 seconds recovery versus traditional strength training (TS), same reps, sets, number of exercises but with 3-minute recovery.

Both groups worked out three times a week for eight weeks.

This is what they found:

a)    Both groups improved strength and muscle mass

b)    Circuit training elicited similar increases in muscle power as traditional heavy strength training

c)    The circuit training group reduced more fat that the traditional strength training group

d)    Circuit training showed a strong cardiovascular benefit, which resulted in transferable improvements in aerobic performance

The best part is that the CT group achieved all this in less time than TS group (around 30 percent less). If this is not a good enough reason to jump into the CT workout, what if I told you it augments the post-exercise calorie burn?

A study from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, showed that the exercise order does not make a difference when measuring the excess post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) between CT workout and TS. However, CT because of the lack or very short periods of rest increased the magnitude of the EPOC.

Translation: you burn more calories after working out.

Do it yourself

Now that you know that CT is the way to go when making the most of your precious exercise time, how do you know to put together perfect 10 circuit training?

Miami Heat and celebrity trainer, Allan Angeles, BS, CSCS, PES, CHEK Practitioner II, from The Sports Club LA, Miami, explains that “the important elements of a good circuit-training program is a combination of exercises, particularly compound moves, that will strengthen the anterior and posterior parts of the body, balance postural alignment, and challenge the nervous system.”

Since a good percentage of the population is sedentary, it is important to utilize certain exercises that will strengthen weak links. Angeles points out that “two of the most common mistakes that people make when doing circuit training program is not including functional exercises and over utilizing machines instead of free weights.”

For Angeles, “a circuit program consisting of 6 to 8 exercises will be sufficient enough to challenge and condition the body starting with the most neurologically demanding and ending with the least challenging.”

Three rotational circuit programs

Taking into consideration the basics elements of a solid circuit training program, Angeles put together three rotational programs which can be done using dumbbells, a cable column or tubing, and a Swiss ball. These programs can be done every other day at least once a week. You’ll need access to free weights, a Swiss-ball or bench, pulley machines or tubing fixed to a secure anchor.

Perform each exercise one after another for 2 up to 4 times. Keep rest to minimal or as you need it in between the exercises. Take a full 60 seconds at the end of the circuit to recovery for the next round. If you’re a beginner, start with just one circuit and rest as you need it.

Select a way that allows you to perform each move properly, avoiding momentum and challenge enough to make the last two reps difficult to perform. Go for 8 to 12 reps with each exercise.

Circuit program A

1. Front squat: Keep the dumbbells in shoulder press neutral position with arms flexed at 90 degree, like resting on your shoulders. Keep it at 90 degree and don’t let the arms fall. Descend, starting with your hips leading, into a squat. Rise up pushing through your heels.

2. Four-way shoulder press: Starting with your elbows tucked close to your sides, bring the dumbbells up with your arms 90 degrees and still elbows tight. Once the dumbbells are in this position, spread your arms out to the sides and press the weights all the way up. Reverse the move going back down.

3. Cable pull with rotation: In a staggered stance, pull towards your sides. You rotate but just the upper body not the hips. Use your other arm as guide. Switch sides.

4. Bent-over row

5. Pushup: Keep your body straight and maintain good form throughout.

6. Superman: Lie face down and, keeping your head aligned with your spine, lift your arms and legs up. Hold this position for two seconds for each rep.

Circuit Program B

1. Sumo deadlift: Use a wider stance than a conventional deadlift with your toes pointed more outward.

2. Cable push with rotation: Using the staggered stance face away from the machine so you are pushing the weight. Perform a push without turning your hips, again using your other arm as a guide. Switch sides.

3. Static lunge

4. Pullups: Use the assisted pull-up machine if you need to.

5. Tricep dips: Don’t go beyond 90 degree and keep the body close to the bench to avoid putting too much strain in your shoulders.

6. Reverse crunches on Swiss ball: Lie with your back on the physioball, hold on to a secure piece of equipment behind you and lift the legs in a 90 degree until they almost touch your chest and go back down without lifting the lower back from the ball.

Circuit Program C

1. Box step-up with overhead press: With dumbells in a shoulder press position and lift them up while the foot is anchored in the box, raise the other leg while lifting the weights up in a continuos move once you master the move. Do a step up to a box or bench with dumbbells and in a smooth motion do an overhead press to finish this move.

2. Cable twist: Grab a cable with both hands at shoulder level and rotate to the opposite side working the core.

3. Bicep curl: Do your curls standing.

4. Standing lateral raises

5. Side planks: Form a plank position with one side facing the floor. Support your body in a straight line with your supporting arm held at 90 degrees.

6. Crunches on Swiss ball

Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning, coach and master trainer who is an adjunct professor at Florida International University.  Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website, combines fitness, nutrition and health  tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.

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