How to Use Circuits For Faster Fat Loss

Monday, November 10, 2008
Resistance training is typically approached in a straight set format.  Essentially, this means you do a predetermined number of reps of an exercise for or you perform as many reps as possible of an exercise and then rest anywhere from 30 seconds to five minutes before repeating this a certain number of times based on your goals. 

So, what’s wrong with that?  Well, though straight sets are simple to explain and an easy place to start, they are also an extremely inefficient way to order your exercises.  In most commercial gyms you’ll typically see someone perform three sets of 10 reps of an exercise - let’s say a biceps curl.  They crank out 10 reps, go to the water fountain, chat it up with their friends, watch a couple of highlights on ESPN, and then gingerly walk back to finally do their second set.  In the case of three sets of 10 biceps curls it takes many a gym-goer up to 15 minutes to complete one single exercise. That means you’d need at least an hour to go through only four exercises!

A much more effective and time-efficient approach to ordering your exercises is utilizing the alternating set format.  Here you’ll perform one exercise, rest for a short period of time, then perform another non-competing exercise, rest for a short period of time, and so on.  Alternating sets allow you to work different areas of your body when you'd otherwise be sitting on your butt waiting to start your next set.  Plus, by working another area of your body with a non-competing exercise you allow your body to recover from the previous exercise or exercises.  The result is more work accomplished in less time, the cornerstone of any sound fat loss program.  There are several ways to perform alternating sets outlined below:

1.) Supersets: Alternate between two different non-competing exercises (e.g. upper body and lower body such as push-ups and lunges)

2.) Trisets: Alternate between three different exercises (e.g. push, pull, and lower body such as push-ups, rows, and lunges)

3.) Circuits: Alternate between four or more different exercises

All of these are great training options, and I use all of them in my Boot Camps.  To show you why, that a look at one of my favorite circuits, the 50-10 Five Exercise Circuit.  In this circuit, you alternate between 50 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest for all five exercises, a total of five minutes (and what a five minutes it is!).  It's an easy plug and play workout format, and I've included what I feel is the strongest way to utilize it (examples in parentheses):

Exercise #1 - Double Leg (Squats)

Exercise #2 - Push (Push-ups)

Exercise #3 - Single Leg (Reverse Lunges)

Exercise #4 - Pull (Compound Rows)

Exercise #5 - Core (Bicycles)

You can do this once, and then do a different circuit, or you can do it up to four times for a 20-minute total body fat burning workout (make sure you work your way up to a 20-minute workout if you value getting out of bed the next morning!).

Basically, in the same 15 minutes that it took to get in three sets of biceps curls you could have done three sets of five different exercise for a total of 15 work sets!  Plus, the intensity on each exercise will be just as high as in the straight set format because in this five exercise circuit you will have full recovery with over four minutes before you return to any given exercise (just as you did with the straight set format described earlier).

The key to creating the optimal hormonal environment for fat loss is to perform each exercise with maximal intensity while separated by brief rest periods in order to accumulate a high volume of total body work in the shortest amount of time possible. Circuit training gives you the best of both worlds and is flat-out unmatched for maximizing fat loss and lean muscle gain.

I’ll be sharing some more great circuit training workouts from my boot camps in the weeks to come, so keep visiting!

Yours in health,
Mark Haner

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