Circuits vs. Cardio

I, like many other gym dwellers, am not a fan of traditional cardio. Treadmills, ellipticals, stairmasters, and bikes just do not strike me as appealing. When it comes to cardio, I like to be as efficient as possible and get a lot done in a shorter amount of time. Circuits are a prime way of doing that. Aside from being more fun than an monotonous run on a treadmill, they are more efficient than standard cardio. When designed correctly and performed the right way, this type of training can be vital to the success of your routine.

Let’s put a standard circuit into focus: Pushups, Pullups, Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press, Alternating Hammer Curls, Dips, and Squats. Instead of counting, let’s put a 45 second time-frame on each exercise. So what that means is you are completing as many repetitions of each exercise as you possibly can for 45 seconds and then moving on to the next exercise until you have completed all 6. By completing these reps at a brisk, but controlled tempo, you will be accelerating your heart rate to a pretty high level for four and a half minutes. Your body is able to maintain a high working tempo because as one muscle nears fatigue, you switch to the next. Allow yourself minimal rest between circuits (30 seconds a the most) and jump back into it 3 more times. That keeps your heart rate at a high level for 18 minutes, while only allowing for 2 minutes of rest for the duration of the 4 total circuits. This is an excellent way to increase your cardiovascular capacity. In many cases, you will find yourself out of breath before your muscles are actually fatigued.

On top of this being a great alternative to cardio, you can’t forget that you are also conditioning your muscles through these resistance exercises. Talk about killing two birds with one stone! That’s the ideal efficiency we are looking for. We maximize efforts in as little time as needed and that is how we pack a power-punch of a workout into our busy lifestyles.

So we’re about 20 minutes into a workout and we’re looking for more. What do we add next?

Well, following a resistance circuit, I like to follow with either a tri-set of 3 resistance exercises, and add a plyometric movement to really spike the heart rate to near maximal, or go with a tri-set of all plyometric movements. Here I’m going to highlight the all-plyo movements:

Side box jumps, speed skaters, tuck jumps. Let’s do these for 30 seconds each and complete 3 sets (again, minimal to 30 seconds max rest between). This will take approximately another 6 minutes to complete. So in about 26 minutes, you’ve probably pushed yourself harder than you would have on an elliptical, you’ve got a nice pump running through your muscles, and I’d be willing to bet that you weren’t nearly as bored as you would have been staring at a screen on the treadmill. But who knows, maybe they were showing your favorite episode of Oprah above the cardio section.

Of course there are an infinite number of different combinations to alter you circuits and extend them beyond 26 minutes, but this basic routine is a good place to start. And aside from your hard work in the gym, you body is going to continue burning calories long after you leave due to a process called EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption).

Time to get shredded!


Josh & Alessandra are Connecticut natives who moved to San Diego to pursue their passion of spreading the healthy lifestyle through fitness and wellness. Both graduated from Central Connecticut State University however it wasn't until both resided on the West Coast when they decided to join forces not only as a power couple but as business partners. Using their combined knowledge and experience, they have made it their mission to continue changing lives one client at a time.