Go to any mainstream gym in Orange County and you're likely to see the same thing: hordes of folks on the cardio equipment or in the group aerobics classes all sweating like crazy in an effort to burn the stubborn body fat that doesn't seem to go away.
Ironically, the form of exercise that many of these people with fat-loss in mind ignore—resistance training—is actually one of the most important factors of raising the metabolism (which is the real key to effective, plateau-busting fat-loss). When using a sufficient amount of weight, resistance training is responsible for building lean tissue that in turn increases your body's resting energy requirements (otherwise known as your metabolism) simply because muscle requires a lot more activity from your body to maintain it than fat does.
The issue I hear from a lot of people is that they don't have the time to dedicate to both resistance training AND cardio—that would require them to be in the gym for multiple hours per day, which is unreasonable for most people.
I would argue that if presented with the need to pick one form of exercise over the other, you should actually pick resistance training as your preferred form of exercise because it is simply more effective at raising your metabolism than cardio alone. Obviously, the ideal situation would allow you to perform both forms of exercise however.
The Beauty of Circuit Training
This is where circuit training truly shines. Circuit training provides the benefits of both resistance training AND cardio training simultaneously, while still allowing you to get in and out of the gym in your normal time. In fact, depending on what kind of workout you choose to do, it may even shorten the amount of time you're in the gym!
The premise behind circuit training is straight forward. You pick 6-8 exercises and perform them one after another, with very little (or no) rest between exercises, and only resting after finishing an entire round. This circuit is then repeated 1-3 more times, depending on your level of fitness and time constraints.
Because this style of training involves quickly moving from one exercise to another with no rest, your heart rate will get elevated to levels comparable to high intensity cardio exercise, which has been shown to provide metabolism-boosting effects even hours after the exercise has been completed. Add this benefit to the fact that you will be building muscle and strength by using resistance and you can understand the true power of circuit training.
Which types of exercises you choose to do is up to you, although it's best to pick a variety that will allow you to train the entire body in one session. One of the main methods for accomplishing this is to pick 3-4 exercises for the upper body and 3-4 exercises for the lower body, and simply alternate between an upper body exercise and a lower body exercise until the entire circuit has been completed.
The other main way to accomplish this is to pick a single exercise for each major movement or muscle group. An example would be a "horizontal pushing" exercise like a chest press, a "horizontal pulling" exercise like a row, a "vertical pushing" exercise like a shoulder press, a "vertical pulling" exercise like an upright row, a "knee dominant" exercise like body-weight squats, a "hip dominant" exercise like Romanian deadlifts, and a "core" or "stability" exercise such as an ab plank.
You also have a few ways to accomplish the exercises themselves. You can either aim for a target number of repetitions per set (e.g. 15 repetitions per exercise), or you can simply perform each exercise for a target amount of time—anywhere between 30-60 seconds per exercise is probably best. Rest periods after each full round can range from 30 to 90 seconds, depending on your level of endurance.
Use Circuit Training Anywhere
Circuit training is not only effective—it's also extremely versatile. You can perform this type of exercise using any equipment you want (such as barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, bands, etc.) or even just your own body weight. This means that you don't have to be dependent on a gym for your exercise, so if you're on a trip and only have 15 minutes to spare in your hotel room, you could still get a workout in using your body-weight.
Consistency is the real key to success, so finding ways to workout that allow you to stay on track even when you're busy (which for most people is all the time) is going to make the difference between a lifetime of roller-coaster-like results and a lifetime of enjoying that lean, toned physique you deserve.
About the Author
As a local fitness and nutrition expert in the Costa Mesa/Newport Beach area, Certified Trainer, Strength Coach and Sports Nutrition Specialist Ben Ballinger helps people break mental and physical barriers every day by teaching them the power of positive thinking and mental discipline.
As a specialist in bringing out the "Inner Athlete" in his clients, who include female ex-athletes looking to regain their youthful body and athletic ability, young adult men looking to build strength and muscle and first-time female fitness competitors, Ben believes in scientifically-sound, field-proven methods of achieving optimal health, physique and performance.
For more information on Ben and his training and nutrition philosophy, visit his website at www.BallingerAthleticPerformance.com, or for information on his Costa Mesa-based strength and conditioning facility Training Ground OC, and how you can learn to unleash YOUR Inner Athlete, visit www.TrainingGroundOC.com.