Design the perfect circuit workout

Want serious results? Circuit training is the way forward!

What is a circuit workout?

Circuit training is a system of body conditioning or resistance
training involving several different stations of exercises with little to
no rest between stations. Circuit training routines may be all
cardio, all resistance exercises or a combination of both.
An exercise "circuit" is one completion of all prescribed exercises
in the programme. Depending on the moves you choose, it’s a
pretty tough workout, but hey if you want it you’ve gotta work for it

What are the benefits of circuit training?

I LOVE circuit training, simply because you get all the benefits of muscle building and toning along with an intense cardio workout. And for those of you that get bored plodding along on a treadmill or cross trainer, circuit training can fix that, too. The exercise options
are endless!


It’s pretty much impossible to get bored during a circuit workout! You’re moving so quickly from one exercise to the next that your mind simply doesn't have time to wander – if you’ve got time to think about what colour you might paint your nails that evening then you’re just not working hard enough! Circuits are also the BEST way to maximise your workout time. Pressed for time? Do 3 rounds of a 5-minute HIIT circuit for a quick 15-minute body blast! Got longer? Do as many rounds as you can until you collapse in a sweaty heap on the floor!


If you’ve ever been to one of my Celebrity Circuits classes then
you’ll know that the workouts are very much circuit based, and I
make it my mission to switch up the exercises each week to make sure I’m keeping things interesting for my bootcampers, also to keep challenging their bodies.


So how do you design a circuit workout?


There’s loads of different ways you can do it! You can base it on:



  1. Specific muscle groups (I love to throw in a good abs circuit
    at the end of my class #absonfire) 
  2. A piece of equipment (the kettlebell is both my best friend
    and my worst enemy when it comes to circuits!)
  3. Exercise type e.g. all cardio circuit, all bodyweight circuit. I’ve
    even been mean enough to prescribe an all burpees circuit to my bootcampers in the past! 
  4. A complete mix of exercises! This one is my personal favourite – after all, variety is the spice of life! I’m a huge fan of mixing upper and lower body moves together, along with abs and cardio moves because I feel that circuit training routines which include both resistance AND aerobic
    exercises are the most effective way to increase your muscular strength and cardio-respiratory fitness.

Here are some examples for each of these:


  1. Specific muscle group/s e.g. triceps circuit
    Tricep extensions with sumo squat, tricep kickbacks in static lunge, tricep dips. Doing it this way also gives you a nice little superset, which is
    where you exercise the same muscle groups back to back without rest. Ouch! Remember, if it burns you’re getting closer.
  2. A piece of equipment e.g. kettlebell circuit – time to swing
    some bell! Kettlebell swings, Goblet squat, One-armed press, Russian Twists
  3. Exercise type e.g. killer cardio circuit – time to torch that fat! Plank jacks, high knees, burpees, skipping rope 
  4. A complete mix of exercises! Personally I like to design my circuits this way, and incorporate both upper body and lower body exercises, abs and cardio moves. When I’m in the gym I make the most of the equipment available, however when I’m running my outdoor bootcamp classes, exercises tend to be more bodyweight based.


Work it baby, work it!

Here’s how I would design the perfect circuit for my outdoor bootcamp class:


  1. Decide on workout time e.g. 30 minutes 
  2. Decide on number of exercises to include – in this example I’m going to go for 8 exercises in total – 2 x lower body, 2 x upper body, 2 x abs and 2 x cardio exercises 
  3. Choose exercises and order they will be performed in e.g. Push-ups (upper body); walking lunges (lower body); elevated plank hold (abs); sprint lap (cardio); triceps dips (upper body); bench step ups (lower body); bicycle crunches (abs); burpees (cardio) 
  4. Decide on interval timings and rest time between circuits. In this example I am going to use 1-minute intervals and then take two minutes rest in between circuits. So my bootcampers will perform the exercises back to back for 8 minutes and then recover. This means I will complete the circuit 3 times in 30-mins.

Final Thoughts

In the above examples I’ve used timed intervals, however another way to do it would be to count repetitions for each exercise.
Both methods have their advantages.

Counting reps is cool because it means you can challenge yourself to increase the weight each time - perfect if you're using dumbbells
as part of your circuit. So at the start of the month you might be doing 12 reps at 4kgs for lateral raises, whereas 3 weeks later it feels easy so you start doing 12 reps of 5kgs – nice!

On the other hand, timed intervals rather than counting reps means you get to challenge yourself to do more and more reps (i.e. go faster!) each time - great if you're performing bodyweight exercises or cardio moves.
I tend to use timed intervals in my bootcamps as it means everyone can work at their pace - the more advanced participants are challenged to push harder, while the beginners don't get left behind. That’s the beauty of circuit training – it’s just as effective for beginners as it is for more advanced gym goers – all you need to do is tweak it to match your individual fitness levels and goals. And you don’t even need any equipment – just get creative with it and come up with an amazing workout that you can anywhere in the world – the world is your gym chicks, so get to work!