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 Kettlebell training from the frontrotation 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.

Workout Routines

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

Monday
A-1 Two Kettlebell Clean and Press
A-2 One Kettlebell Goblet Squat
B-1 Kettlebell Renegade Row
B-2 Two Kettlebell Swing

Wednesday
A-1 Two Kettlebell Snatch
A-2 Two Kettlebell Front Squat
B-1 Two Kettlebell Clean
B-2 Alternating Kettlebell Swings

Friday
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

Monday
Two Kettlebell Swing 10X10
Turkish Get-Ups 3×1

Tuesday
One Arm Kettlebell Snatches 10×10
Windmills 3×1

Thursday
Alternating Kettlebell Swings 10×10
Turkish Get-Ups 3×1

Friday
One Kettlebell Clean and Press
Windmills 3×1

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!

There was a time not so long ago in the fitness industry when “cardio”, or aerobic training, was all the rage. When one of the first questions people at the gym would ask is Kettlebell cardio Workout“what type of cardio do you do?” Cardio was elevated to god-like supremacy by experts in the field as the ultimate way to lose belly fat and get the body you had always dreamed of. Aerobics classes at local YMCA’s were full of overweight people earnestly trying to lose weight while trying to follow an overly enthusiastic instructor in neon spandex gyrating at the front of the room.

Cardio’s close relative, the high carbohydrate diet, was often part of the formula as well. Unfortunately, what the industry didn’t realize at the time was that cardio training plus a high carbohydrate diet were a couple of the most ineffective paths to weight loss. It’s not to say it couldn’t be done, it was by many people. However, this trend completely, and incorrectly, ignored the role of weight training and muscle building as part of the weight loss equation. Had people been thinking and not simply following the latest trend, they would have incorporated both cardiovascular exercise and strength training into their weight loss programs, therefore setting themselves up for greater success.

Thankfully for all, recent times have demonstrated a shift towards more productive methods for losing weight. The pendulum seems to have finally shifted back towards the center as the fitness industry corrects itself for years of spreading half-truths and where the focus is rightfully back on losing weight with weight rather than avoiding it like the plague.

The Truth behind Weight Loss

At the time, who could have predicted that the truth about losing weight actually revolved around building muscle? Some might have, but the idea never gained traction and certainly wasn’t promoted widely. There are four simple truths that now favour weight training as the prime method for fat loss rather than strictly aerobic training:

1. Body fat is not metabolically active. During aerobic activity, if glucose is limited as an energy source, the body will burn body fat as its preferred source of energy. However, once the activity stops the body will no longer be in a fat-burning mode, so fat loss rapidly diminishes.

2. Muscle is very metabolically active. It requires a lot of energy during the day to maintain itself; its engine is always running, as it were. Logically then, this means that even while you’re not exercising your body will be a fat-burning machine, 24/7.

3. Points one and two are subject to a specific change in diet, namely a move towards a diet more focused on healthy fats, lean proteins and leafy green vegetables and a move away from an overabundance of carbohydrates such as potatoes, rice, bread, etc.

4. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is the king when it comes to fat loss. So much so that aerobic training can’t even compete. HIIT makes you work harder in a shorter period of time, that’s good for efficiency and great for fat loss.

These four points in conjunction form the basis for the design of more effective weight loss programs. The final factor for our purposes is the growth in popularity of the kettlebell.

The Kettlebell Advantage

Kettlebells are the Swiss Army knife of the strength training world. They are arguably the most versatile tool out there for building strength, muscular endurance and improving cardiovascular fitness. Four our purposes we’re going to outline how you can use kettlebells, in combination with the aforementioned change in diet, to produce some truly incredible physical results.

The Workout Routine

When it comes to workout routines I’ve always believed that simple is best. During my training I want to be able to focus on the effort I’m putting out and not worrying about all the other extemporaneous factors like counting time under tension or looking for a spotter. Thankfully, there’s one kettlebell exercise that, when made the main focus for your workout, will give you results like no other, enter the kettlebell swing.

The beauty of the swing is that it’s a very simple movement to learn and perform, yet works so many muscles at one time; glutes, hamstrings, hips, lats, abs, shoulders, pecs and grip. It’s your one-stop shop for losing weight fast. There are dozens of “how-to” videos on youtube.com, so I suggest you go there for directions on form. Below are a couple of good instructional Youtube links:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-LvhjWh1vA

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TAYZ9gKZaI0

Regarding routines, again, it need not be complicated. I would suggest four days a weeks starting out; Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Each of those days perform 20 sets of 20 reps of the swing. Rest between a minute to two minutes between sets. If you’re using a kettlebell that’s approximately 70% of the max weight you can handle you’ll be breaking a pretty good sweat by the end of your workout. Do this for six weeks, back off the starches and carbohydrates, and I guarantee that the pounds will melt off. Good luck!

There’s a scam afoot my friends, and if you’re currently a card carrying gym member I have some bad news for you, you’ve already been had. But really, are you to blame? The North American commercial gym industry spends millions yearly to entice earnest, well-meaning people such as yourself through their doors. How could anyone
Home gym personal trainerrightly refuse? Just a quick glance through any gym brochure will yield numerous offers which are just too enticing to ignore; free personal training sessions, supplement discounts in the official gym store, free smoothies at the official gym smoothie bar, free tanning sessions, spa discounts, free gym towels and bags, discounted rates for referring a friend, body transformation challenges for prize money, the list goes on and on! It’s little wonder that collectively commercial gyms make hundreds of millions of dollars yearly, and all on the backs of regular people just trying to improve their overall health.

If you’ve been “swindled” by one of these franchised, commercial enterprises, please don’t be hard on yourself, just know there are alternatives. Alternatives that provide more bang for the buck than any gym ever could. Alternatives that allow you to be strong, healthy and fit, without becoming a hostage to commercial enterprise. Alternatives that require little or no time, money or space, and allow you to live your life free from perpetual bondage. Alternatives that can actually be found in the comfort of your own home. Yes, it’s true; everything that you could ever ask for from a commercial gym is available in your own home. Let’s skip the gym tonight and look at why you should consider dumping the membership and start flying solo as your own personal trainer. I promise you’ll be happy you did.

Money

I have yet to meet anyone who wouldn’t like to save a few dollars, especially considering the economy over the last few years. I’m going to strongly suggest that money handed over to commercial gyms is a waste of your hard-earned money. At first glance costs may not seem that high, but let’s break it down and see how much you could be saving.

Depending on the type of facility you attend prices will vary, but a good average is probably about $1000.00/year. That’s not to mention gas if you have to drive there, maybe another $200.00 per year. What about the fancy workout gear and sneakers you bought? Let’s add another $200.00 for the year, and this isn’t even taking into account any supplements you might decide to indulge in. So, our grand total for the year is $1400.00. Now, $1400.00 isn’t necessarily a bank-breaking amount, but here’s the thing, what if you maintain your membership for 5 years? You’re looking at a minimum of $7000.00! As far as investments go a retirement savings plan would probably yield better returns.

It just doesn’t make sense to give away that much of your money for the “privilege” of using exercise equipment and showers. For me, the choice is easy; spend a smaller amount upfront, maybe $1500.00, and create a small home gym. Take a look at some of the economically smart home gym alternatives below:

Cardiovascular Training

There’s a ton of variety when it comes to choosing a cardio machine, and it really just comes down to preference and price. Treadmills, Recumbent Stationary Bikes, Elliptical Machines, Stairclimbers, Stepmills, Versa Climbers, Treadclimbers, Stationary Bikes and Rowing Machines, the list goes on. I might suggest just going for a brisk walk or run instead, you’ll save the money and the fresh air does wonders. Losing weight doesn’t have to be complicated.

Strength Training – For home gym purposes, I strongly believe there is no better choice than the kettlebell. It is the MacGyver of the strength training world. It’s versatile, relatively inexpensive and takes up less than a square foot of space when stored. As a matter of fact, you could easily build a complete home gym centered on the kettlebell for under $300.00. Not to mention that cardio done with a kettlebell can easily rival any benefits offered from a cardio machine.

Flexibility Training

If stretching plays a regular part in your routine then just having a basic yoga mat will be fine. If you’re looking at stretching under tension you could pick up some elastic tubing to create the tension for you. Also, a stability ball of some size can be a benefit if you incorporate those types of movements into your workout routines.

Exercise Videos – Both the benefit and problem with exercise videos is variety. There are literally hundreds on the market, from videos made by laypersons all the way up the fitness food chain to celebrity trainers. It’s a tough call as TV marketing would have you think each one is the next best thing.

My advice here is simple; look for videos that require hard work, offer a variety of exercises and programs, with a specified time commitment required. A video that meets these requirements will force you out of your comfort zone and push you to excel, keep you from getting bored or stagnant, and give you a “finish line” to aim for so you can keep motivated. But the beauty is that for a very small investment of under $100.00 you can literally transform yourself in a relatively short period, without ever leaving the comfort of your TV room.

Time

The beauty of having a home gym is that you’re in control of your schedule. It never closes and is always there when you need it. It provides the ultimate in flexibility and convenience. This is especially true if your life is busy and you have a lot of commitments. For working parents who find it difficult to take the time to get out to a commercial facility, a home gym makes perfect sense.

Sometimes, it’s really just a matter of grabbing a quick 20 minute workout while the kids are napping, or getting home from work and doing a few kettlebell exercises in between supper and the kids’ soccer practice. The point is that it’s there when you need it. Whether it’s after work, at four in the morning or at midnight, with a home gym the excuses for not being able to find the time really do melt away.

Productivity

Unfortunately, there are a large number of gym-goers out there that believe that a home gym won’t provide them with the results they’re looking for. What everyone needs to realize is that there are only a small number of factors that actually lead to progress; hard work, progressive resistance on an intelligent workout routine, a proper diet plan and a regular time commitment. It’s very basic stuff, but let’s dig a little deeper:

Hard Work

If you want to succeed you’ll need to break a sweat and put it some effort, accept and embrace this fact. But the beauty is that hard work isn’t location dependent  If you’re motivated then giving 100% in your training will happen regardless of where it’s taking place.

Progressive Resistance

No matter your goals; strength, endurance, flexibility, they all require that you push yourself a little bit more each time you train. Resistance can be manipulated several ways including weight lifted, speed of lift, time under tension, rest periods, etc. Again, all these factors are simply dependent on a smart workout routine, perfectly doable in your own home gym.

Proper Diet Plan

This one’s a no-brainer and is also goal dependent. Suffice it to say you do the majority of your eating at home, not at the gym, so this has no bearing on where you train, but a solid diet plan is a must.

Regular Time Commitment

You’ve got to exercise regularly, “use it or lose it” as the expression goes. Three to four times per week works for most, but there’s room for variation here again dependent on your goals. The benefits of a home gym are obvious when you figure that you might have to leave the house three, four or five times a week to hit the gym. When also you consider the time it takes to change, pack your stuff, drive there, grab your towel, show your membership, dump your stuff in a locker, workout, shower, drive home, unpack, the idea of throwing on a pair of sweats and grabbing a workout in your own home gym becomes pretty appealing, especially if you’re doing it periodically throughout the week.

The beauty with these factors is that they can be implemented anywhere with the most basic equipment. They’re not specific to commercial gyms or fitness facilities. A home gym can provide all of these factors without all the added fluff that comes along with costly memberships. Not to mention you know have the keys that any personal trainer working in a commercial facility would have.

When it comes to efficiency, effective use of time and money saving, home gyms really are the ticket. They’re inexpensive to set up, don’t have to take up much space and can provide all the benefits of a commercial gym without all the distractions. I hope you’ll consider working out at home and becoming your own personal trainer.