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Take a shortcut to fitness with circuit training

Get strength and cardio benefits in 30 minutes a day
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

We all know we should be exercising but haven’t always got much time to spare, have we? Maybe circuit training is the answer? It’s flexible, designed to work your whole body and you can do it almost anywhere.

What is circuit training?

Circuit training is a short burst of resistance exercise using moderate weights and frequent repetitions, followed quickly by other bursts of exercise targeting different muscle groups.

Because you switch between muscle groups, no rest is needed between exercises. This gets the heart rate up, which usually doesn't happen during resistance exercise. Sometimes, to get the heart rate up further, aerobics are sprinkled between resistance exercises.

"Circuit training is a mix of exercises set out in sequence. You do a particular amount of repetitions or spend a particular amount of time per exercise," says Ian Rushbury, UK personal fitness specialist at Virgin Active. "You do one complete round of three or four exercises, then repeat it."

Circuits are a flexible way to exercise as you can do them in a class, at the gym or even at home.

Fitness benefits

"It gives you a total body workout," says Ian, "You can design the circuit to get the blood flowing, get oxygen around your body and focus on different areas: your legs, upper body and core."

You have the perception of working with a weight but it’s also a cardio workout without pounding the treadmill.

Circuits burn fat and tone your body, as you use all of your muscle groups.

One gym company which solely focuses on the circuit method is Curves. The Curves 30-minute circuit workout exercises all major muscle groups and burns up to 500 calories.

I had a go at the circuit in Banbury in Oxfordshire. There are 12 different pieces of hydraulic equipment arranged in a circle. You use each for 30 seconds, jog on a special board for another 30 seconds, then move on to the next exercise. You go round the circuit twice and that’s your half-hour workout.

A recording tells you when to change machines or jog.

Manager Amy Clare says: "It’s mainly used by mums or busy women wanting to lose weight and tone up."

The fact that it’s all women and there are no mirrors appeals to those who may not be used to exercise and may be intimidated by regular gyms. The philosophy is: "You can never be too old, too unfit or too overweight for Curves."

Circuits for all

Although weight training has traditionally been a male pastime it can prove beneficial to women, who tend to lose muscle mass in their late 30s and 40s. This muscle is often replaced by fat. But you need muscle to cushion joints and help protect against osteoarthritis. You’ll also develop a trimmer, tighter appearance by toning up.

Most gyms offer circuit training for men and women.

Ian Rushbury says: "Circuits are for everyone: men and women, people who are short on time, and you can tailor your programme up and down to your particular level of fitness." You can use bigger weights the fitter you are or do more repetitions or maybe work at a particular exercise for two minutes rather than one minute before moving on depending on how fit you are.

Circuit training works because it's short and sweet.

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