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I'm doing the following circuit workout a couple times a week.

Exercise         Sets  Reps
Bench Press       3     12
One arm Row       3     12
Leg extension     3     12
Leg Curl          3     12
Lateral Raise     3     12
Triceps Kickback  3     12
Superman          3     12
Russian Twist     3     20
Crunch            3     20

But by week two I'm supposed to "add a second or third circuit of strength training exercises." This already takes about 40 minutes for me to complete going directly from one activity to the other. For three circuits, are they suggesting I'm spending 1.5+ hrs doing this?

Here's my current order:

  • Pair off exercises and do the second while I'm resting on the first
    • e.g. Do 12 reps of bench press, then 12 one arm row (for each arm), then do that two more times. After that move on to leg extension and leg curl.

But now I'm not sure if they mean I should do either of the following:

  • Do one of every exercise until you get to the end, then repeat 3 times and that is one circuit.
  • Do 3 back to back sets of each exercise. Once you've done all of them, that is one circuit.

A lot of instructions I've found online just say to start the whole process over from the beginning when adding circuits, but I'm just not sure what that process is.

  • Who are "they", and, where did you get the workout routine? – rrirower Jul 8 '15 at 15:12
  • @rrirower, It's an online site that my work wellness program has, but doesn't have public access. Also, I'm not sure there's a vehicle for following up with the content creators. My question is meant to be targeted to circuit training at large. A lot of others sites indicate the reps, sets, and number of circuits, but it's been hard to find out what the order of operations is. – KyleMit Jul 8 '15 at 15:28
  • add squats, cough cough – Eric Jul 8 '15 at 22:20
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A ‘traditional’ exercise circuit (in your terminology, ‘process’) comprises doing all of the exercises in the circuit (ie. the list you posted) once, and then repeating the circuit ‘n’ times. Done in that fashion, the exercises target strength building and muscular endurance. The time between exercises within the circuit is typically short. And, at the end of the circuit, you should take a ‘brief’ rest before starting the next circuit.

Having said that, there are variations of an exercise circuit. You can vary your approach to the circuit as long as you retain the same original (circuit) goals in mind. That is, moving through each exercise in an aerobic fashion. Thus, performing the circuit as you explained is ok, as long as you perform them with little to no rest in between.

As for your assertion that the time will increase, that may be because of your current approach and fitness/cardio capacity. Doing one circuit of 12 reps for the exercises you listed should not, in my opinion, take 40+ minutes. And, I would not pay too much attention to the “add a second or third circuit of strength training exercises" comment. You should add an additional circuit when you feel comfortable doing so.

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  • Thanks for the clarification. I was, in essence, doing 3 circuits of 12 reps because I was repping each pair 3 times before moving onto the next pair. So one lap through the circuit should only take 1/3 of that (~13 mins). – KyleMit Jul 8 '15 at 17:29
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When I approach a circuit in my training, I worry more about how one exercise will flow into the next, rather than specifically focusing on order the exercises on perhaps muscle groups. I also use circuits as a tool for conditioning rather than building strength specifically (in other words, I end a workout with a circuit rather than making my workout a circuit).

Supersets, which you seem to be using here, are a perfectly legitimate way to tackle your training. You can even get some of the conditioning benefits from supersetting by keeping your rest intervals short. How short will depend on your ability to recover between exercises and the amount of weight you're using.

When designing a circuit for myself, I try to limit the number of unique exercises to 4 - 5 movements, so that it's easier to keep track of where I'm at when I'm pushing myself as hard as I can aerobically. As I mentioned before, I also like to design them around how one exercise flows into the next. An example of one that I've used in the past:

  • Bent over row
  • Hang power clean
  • Military press
  • Front squat

With that circuit, I chose a weight that was limited by my military press in the 6-8 rep range and then started all movements with that many reps and then pyramided down to 1 rep per movement.

In the end, a circuit really depends on your creativity.

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