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10 Sugar-Busting Workout Circuits

Strength training (also known as resistance training or weight training) is an important component of a successful exercise program. Muscle is what burns fat, so the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism and the more calories you burn doing everything, even sitting down reading this!

A strength training circuit (also referred to as circuit training) is a workout consisting of a handful of strength training exercises that you perform with minimal rest between exercises. After you complete the group of (typically) five or six exercises, you take a short break and then repeat the circuit. You may even be able to complete three or four circuits if you're feeling tough.

Circuit training combines the best benefits of both strength training and cardiovascular exercise. A high-intensity (lots of heavy breathing!) strength circuit burns calories, raises your metabolism, increases your strength and bone density, tones your muscles, and improves your core stability and balance. Not bad for 20 minutes' worth of effort!

Remember: To ensure your safety, get a medical checkup before you begin an exercise program.

The basic movements

Six types of fundamental movements make up a majority of the exercises in a strength training circuit:

  • Triple-extension movements are multi-joint leg exercises like squats, lunges, and step-ups. Triple-extension exercises work all the muscles of the thighs and hips.

  • Pushing movements strengthen the chest, shoulders, and arms. Examples are push-ups, bench presses, and chest flies.

  • Pulling movements work the back, shoulders, neck, and arms. Examples are rows, chin-ups, pull-downs, and reverse flies. Pulling exercises are essential for correct posture.

  • Core exercises focus on the midsection — waist, trunk, and pelvis. A strong core is essential for spinal stability and the prevention of back injuries. Examples of core exercises are crunches, sit-ups, planks, twists, and back extensions.

  • Overhead movements like the overhead press and the lateral raise are for the shoulders and arms.

  • Posterior chain movements target the muscles behind you, including your hamstrings, glutes, and spinal erectors (your lower back muscles). You target the posterior chain with exercises like dead lifts, bridges, and hip extensions.

The workouts

This section outlines ten sample circuit training workouts using the six fundamental movements. Each workout is different, but you'll see the pattern of using variations of all the basic moves in each one.

These workouts are designed to be easy to do at home, with minimal equipment. You need some dumbbells, some exercise tubing, a Swiss ball (an inflated exercise ball that looks like a beach ball), and a stopwatch. (Most smartphones have some kind of stopwatch app built in, so you don't have to buy a separate one.) If you'd like to try these workouts at a gym, you'll probably have access to a greater variety of equipment like medicine balls, suspension straps, and kettlebells that you can use to supplement the basic tools.

Be sure to spend a few minutes warming up before you start a hard workout. Performing a proper warm-up loosens muscles, lubricates joints, and increases your nervous system's reactions. A few minutes of walking, marching in place, or doing jumping jacks should suffice. After each workout, stretch your three or four tightest muscles for 30 seconds, two times each. Don't forget to breathe!

Workout circuit #1

This is an easy circuit to start you off. Perform one set of 15 to 20 repetitions of each of these exercises, resting for one minute in between exercises:

  1. Squats

  2. Rest one minute

  3. Push-ups on your knees

  4. Rest one minute

  5. Standing row with tubing

  6. Rest one minute

  7. Hamstring bridges

  8. Rest one minute

  9. Overhead press with dumbbells

  10. Rest one minute

  11. U crunches

If one circuit is too easy, do two or three!

Workout circuit #2

Perform each exercise for 45 seconds and then rest one minute before performing the next exercise.

  1. Lunges (alternate legs)

  2. Rest one minute

  3. Overhead press with dumbbells

  4. Rest one minute

  5. Single-arm rows (45 seconds each arm)

  6. Rest one minute

  7. Planks

  8. Rest one minute

  9. Bicep curls

Rest two minutes at the end of the circuit and then do the whole thing again.

Workout circuit #3

In this circuit, you perform 30 seconds of jumping jacks before every strength exercise:

  1. 30 seconds of jumping jacks

  2. 20 squats

  3. Rest one minute

  4. 30 seconds of jumping jacks

  5. 15 push-ups on your knees

  6. Rest one minute

  7. 30 seconds of jumping jacks

  8. 20 standing tubing rows

  9. Rest one minute

  10. 30 seconds of jumping jacks

  11. 30 seconds of U crunches

  12. Rest one minute

  13. 30 seconds of jumping jacks

  14. 20 bridges (no break here — get up)

  15. 30 seconds of jumping jacks

  16. 30 seconds of bicep curls

If you feel up to it, rest about two minutes and try the circuit again.

Workout circuit #4

In this circuit, you perform 12 squats after every exercise, with just a few breaths to recover in between. This one is hard because of the lack of rest!

  1. 30 seconds of standing tubing rows

  2. 12 squats

  3. 30 seconds of push-ups on your knees

  4. 12 squats

  5. 30 seconds of seated twists

  6. 12 squats

  7. 30 seconds of overhead presses

  8. 12 squats

  9. 30 seconds of Romanian dead lifts

  10. 1012 squats

If you're really feeling brave, rest a few minutes after you finish one circuit and see whether you can finish a second one.

Workout circuit #5

This circuit uses back-to-back sets of 30-second work intervals. Be ready to huff and puff!

  1. 30 seconds of dumbbell squats

  2. 30 seconds of step-ups onto a bench or stable chair

  3. One minute rest

  4. 30 seconds of push-ups

  5. 30 seconds of standing tubing rows

  6. One minute rest

  7. 30 seconds of sit-ups

  8. 30 seconds of seated medicine ball twists

  9. One minute rest

  10. 30 seconds of bridges

  11. 30 seconds of overhead presses

  12. 30 seconds of jumping jacks

  13. 30 seconds of mountain climbers — get in the push-up position, pull one knee up toward your shoulder, keep your weight on your arms, and switch your legs back and forth

After you finish the circuit, rest for about two minutes and repeat it. Try to do it three times!

Workout circuit #6

This circuit uses combination movements — exercises that combine two or more movements together.

  1. Lunge curls: While holding a dumbbell in each hand, do a lunge and then add a bicep curl when you come back up to the standing position. Do 10 reps on each leg.

  2. Rest one minute

  3. 60 seconds of bridges while squeezing a pillow or volleyball between your knees (works the inner thighs)

  4. Squat presses: Holding dumbbells up near your shoulders, execute a squat. As you come up into the standing position, drive the dumbbells up to the overhead position. Do 10 to 15 reps.

  5. Rest one minute

  6. 60 seconds of U crunches

  7. Squat row: Set up the tubing like you would for standing tubing rows. Holding on to the tubing handles, add a squat in between every row. Do 20 reps.

Rest two minutes and then repeat the circuit.

Workout circuit #7

This is an arms and abs circuit.

  1. 30 seconds of side plank on one side

  2. 45 seconds of single-arm rows on one side

  3. 30 seconds of side plank on the other side

  4. 45 seconds of single-arm rows on the other side

  5. 30 seconds of U crunches

  6. 45 seconds of curl and overhead press with dumbbells

  7. 30 seconds of seated twists

  8. 45 seconds of lying triceps extension with dumbbells

  9. 30 seconds of plank

Rest one or two minutes and then repeat the circuit. Aim for three or four circuits total.

Workout circuit #8

This circuit stacks opposite movements back-to-back.

  1. 20 squats

  2. 20 Romanian dead lifts with dumbbells

  3. Rest one minute

  4. 20 push-ups on your knees

  5. 20 standing tubing rows

  6. Rest one minute

  7. 20 bridges

  8. 20 U crunches

  9. Rest one minute

  10. 20 bicep curls (try them standing on one leg, 10 on each leg)

  11. 20 lying triceps extensions with dumbbells

Rest one minute and then repeat twice for a total of three circuits.

Workout circuit #9

This circuit features alternating standing and lying exercises.

  1. 10 lunges on each leg, alternating sides

  2. 20 bridges (try them on one leg if using two is too easy)

  3. 20 squats

  4. 20 lying triceps extensions

  5. Rest one minute

  6. 20 overhead presses

  7. 45 seconds seated twists

  8. 20 standing tubing rows

  9. 45 seconds plank

Rest one minute and then repeat the circuit.

Workout circuit #10

This is a speed circuit — you should perform the repetitions as fast as you can with good form.

  1. 15 seconds speed squats

  2. 15 seconds rest

  3. 15 seconds fast overhead presses

  4. 15 seconds rest

  5. 15 seconds standing tubing rows, fast

  6. 15 seconds rest

  7. 15 seconds fast push-ups on your knees

  8. 15 seconds rest

  9. 15 seconds quick seated twists

  10. 15 seconds rest

  11. 15 seconds fast bicep curls with dumbbells

Rest one minute and then repeat.

If you don't feel like you can execute the repetitions safely at a high speed, try 15 normal-speed reps instead of 15 seconds of fast reps.

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