Monday, April 21, 2008

Methods of Training for Improving Fitness - Part Two

As discussed in Part 1, there are many ways to become fit and circuit training is a great way to become stronger and better conditioned. Let's take a look at Circuit Training and how to implement it.

Circuit Training

Developed in England in the early 1950’s, Circuit Training is one of the more well-known and popular methods of exercise. The original philosophy of Circuit Training was developed to allow large groups to participate in an exercise program in a timely manner. A traditional circuit, if you will, is an assortment of exercises; usually bodyweight calisthenics, dumbbell or barbell movements along with jumping and bounding activities which are arranged so that the participant can perform a select exercise or activity for a specific amount of time - usually 60 seconds - before moving on to the next station. During the exercising period, the participant would be instructed to perform as many repetitions as possible within the allotted time frame. Upon completion of the exercise, the individual would then move to the next “station”, as it is referred to, as quickly as possible before starting the next exercise or activity. Some circuits include running or jogging activities as a station and for this, various lifting stations are arranged a specific distance apart to encourage the participant to “travel” to the next resistance station. In fact, many parks or recreation centers today have a version of this type of circuit called the “Fitness Trail” which you may be familiar with. In case you’re not, a Fitness Trail is a group of exercises set up along a predetermined running or walking path using movements such as pull-ups, dips, crunches, bodyweight squats, balancing and other callisthenic type movements. Since its inception, many variations of circuit training have become available to fitness enthusiasts and offer many benefits to improving one’s level of fitness.

Currently, many health clubs and commercial style gyms have their equipment arranged sequentially in rows, often referring to these as “circuits” for trainees to exercise their entire body. Generally, these rows utilize machine-based strength training equipment (usually selectorized to speed things up), consisting of approximately 10-15 different movements. Typically, a circuit should be arranged so that you exercise the largest body parts first and continue in a descending order based on the relative size of the muscle groups. For example, the hips should be trained first followed by the legs (quadriceps and hamstrings) before moving on to the upper body where exercises for the chest, shoulders, upper back, and arms are performed. The circuit would then finish up with movements to strengthen the abdominals and lower back, with additional work going to the neck, calves and forearms if desired.

Keeping in mind that no two circuits are alike or need to be, a circuit may contain any number of exercise stations or movements and can be modified in a countless number of ways. Also, a circuit need not be restricted to machines only, nor does it have to involve many different exercises as you will see.

The following circuit is what would be considered a “standard circuit” and would be performed for one set of each movement for a prescribed number of repetitions or time to complete each exercise. Keep in mind that this just a “cookie cutter” example. I highly recommend that you individualize your fitness program based on your goals and personal preferences.

Leg Press
Hip Abduction
Leg Extension
Leg Curl
Chest Press
Chest Fly
Lat Pulldown
Seated Row
Shoulder Press
Lateral Raise
Tricep Extension
Bicep Curl
Back Extension
Abdominal Crunch
Standing Calf Raise

Listed below are a few examples of “customized” circuits that could be followed. Whether you choose to do one or two cycles for a desired number of repetitions or for a specific time on each exercise, it is important to keep moving. Remember, a cycle is defined as “going through the entire circuit from start to finish.”

Dumbbell Deadlift
Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Dumbbell Shrug
Dumbbell Bicep Curl
Abdominal Crunch

Based on the fact that a circuit consists of exercises to stress the muscular and cardiovascular systems, then the sky’s the limit for developing workout routines. Listed below is what can be referred to as “non-traditional” pieces of equipment that will enable you to work all of the major muscle groups. Because there are only three exercises in this particular circuit the movements can be done for three or four cycles for a preferred number of repetitions or designated time using the guidelines listed previously.

Sandbag Squat
Kettlebell Overhead Press
Stone Deadlift

Circuit Training’s objective is simple – to provide an efficient and productive means of exercise to train the entire body in a single workout. By the very nature of the activity, increases in muscular strength and cardiovascular fitness can be obtained. Circuit workouts are great for, but not limited to beginners, young children as well as seniors. - Fred Fornicola