I used to cringe at the word “circuit”. It put me in mind of people mindlessly moving from one piece of exercise equipment to another, sheep like, without ever quite knowing why they were doing what they were doing. From leg curl to seated bicep curl to shoulder rotation to pec dec, it seemed to me the exercise equivalent of mashed potatoes – bland and uninspired. I spent years, literally years, looking down on workout routines like circuits as ineffective for anything more than a chance for a good sit down and I avoided them like the plague. My perceptions weren’t helped when some of the more popular exercise and diet programs focused on performing circuits as a way for their clients to lose weight fast. A branded workout routine that was the same for everyone was just the thing I wasn’t interested in.
I’ve come to three major conclusions in my two decades in the iron game; Number one, bigger isn’t always better. Gaining and maintaining an extra 30-40 lbs. of muscle mass is a full-time endeavour, by the time you reach your mid-thirties all that bulk becomes more of a liability than anything else. Stick to the benefits of building great relative strength, your heart, joints and stomach will thank you. Number two, there are a million of different ways to get strong and build muscle, if you try and do them all you will end up very frustrated with your lack of progress. Stick to one type of training for the majority of what you do and you will reap the benefits. Finally, number three, I was dead wrong about circuits. If done properly circuits build muscle, increase endurance, burn fat and give your heart slightly more than tickle in the process. I’m happy to admit I was wrong.
Kettlebell Circuit Benefits
Time – Those of you with an overabundance of time on your hands need not think about this aspect of training. But for those with a full-time job, children, house maintenance, extra-curricular commitments (the list goes on and on), a few spare minutes can be hard to come by. That’s where circuits come in. All you really need is about 20-30 minutes daily to really make a noticeable impact on your physique. You don’t even need to work out every day, four to five times a week would do it, and at five times per week that would be 125 minutes or just over two hours. Considering there are 168 hours in a seven day week it should be possible (despite other pressing commitments) to squeeze in that two hours. The beauty also is that it will be an extremely productive couple of hours. I might also throw in here a case for building a home gym as noting will save you more time and money than just popping down to you basement or out to your garage in order to have a workout.
Building Muscle – If your diet is dialled in then the type of workout routine you’re doing is the second biggest factor in building muscle, and circuits are a great way to provide the stimulus for that muscle growth. Six to ten repetitions for four to five sets with a somewhat heavy weight is a good place to start. Keep rest periods timed so that the amount of stimulation you’re providing to your muscles is constant. Since kettlebells generally weigh a fixed amount keeping track of rest times between sets is an effective way to ensure continued muscle stimulus. Remember too that at rest, muscle will continue fat burning because it’s metabolically active, so building muscle is an important part of the weight loss formula.
Increased Endurance and Conditioning – Circuits provide can not only the physical benefits associated with strength training, but also the benefits associated with any type of cardiovascular training. With limited rest periods and full-body standing movements you’ll be huffing and puffing like a freight train in short order. Your heart will be working overtime and your lungs will be operating at maximum capacity for the duration of the circuit. If you consider that most people do cardio for about a half hour at a time on the treadmill or elliptical machine, then this type of circuit is the equivalent of these purely cardiovascular workout but with the added benefit of muscle building thrown in for good measure.
Weight Loss – When we talk about “weight loss” we’re actually referring to fat loss. Since circuits do build muscle, and increase conditioning, it is a given that they will burn fat as well. I have found that the greatest “trick” to fat loss while training, along with a proper diet, is timing. Training first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, except for some water and maybe green tea, is a great way to melt off the fat. Since your body has no blood glucose or stored glycogen to use as fuel it will go directly to your fat stores for energy. Also, if it’s a really intense workout that raises your heart rate substantially, your body will still be burning fat long after the workout itself is complete.
The beauty with circuit workout routines is that they can be made as complicated or as simple as you need them to be. The following are a couple of examples, but you can create one tailored specifically to your goals.
Workout Routine #1 – Strength and Muscle Builder
A-1 Two Kettlebell Clean and Press
A-2 One Kettlebell Goblet Squat
B-1 Kettlebell Renegade Row
B-2 Two Kettlebell Swing
A-1 Two Kettlebell Snatch
A-2 Two Kettlebell Front Squat
B-1 Two Kettlebell Clean
B-2 Alternating Kettlebell Swings
A-1 Two Kettlebell Floor Press
A-2 Two Kettlebell Deadlift
B-1 Wide Grip Chins with Kettlebell
B-2 One-Arm Kettlebell Swings
For this routine you could perform A-1 and A-2 for five sets of five reps with one minutes rest in between each exercise with weights that are approximately 70% of your maximum. For example, on Monday you would perform the Two Kettlebell Clean and Press, wait one minute and perform the One Kettlebell Goblet Squat, wait one minute more and perform the Two Kettlebell Clean and Press, etc. until the five sets are complete. At this point you would move on to the following two exercises and perform them in the same manner. The beauty with this routine is that each session is only about 25 minutes long and hits all the major muscles with compound movements.
Workout Routine #2 – Conditioning and Fat Loss
Two Kettlebell Swing 10X10
Turkish Get-Ups 3×1
One Arm Kettlebell Snatches 10×10
Alternating Kettlebell Swings 10×10
Turkish Get-Ups 3×1
One Kettlebell Clean and Press
This routine looks fairly simple in its design, but the trick is in the rest periods. For example, in the first week you would perform your exercises with two minutes of rest in between sets. The second week you would have one minute and forty five seconds of rest, the third week one minute and thirty seconds, etc. until you were down to one minute or even forty five seconds of rest in between sets. By manipulating rest periods the exercises get increasingly harder making you work harder and therefore increasing both conditioning and fat loss.
Weight loss programs or strength building programs need not be complicated, and kettlebells circuits proves this right. So hit the gym and get to it!