Time is a very important thing. I'm sure you've all heard the sayings -- time is money; time is of the essence, you can't turn back time, and so forth.
Time spent during your workout is just as important. I don't have much time to train so I don't like wasting time during training. As far as I'm concerned, conventional strength training wastes a lot of time.
Conventional strength training dogma requires you to perform many sets of low reps with a lot of rest between sets. I don't like this approach. I get bored training this way, and it's not taxing enough for me. Supersetting is better but still not enough to keep my heart rate up and my body primed for performance. However, I still want to build lots of muscle and a ton of strength. So what do I do?
Circuit weight training isn't new. Some systems, like PHA and kettlebell programs, have been around for decades. Circuit training conducted in gyms has also been around for years. What I did was borrow from each training approach and modify it for my strength training. I don't think I've invented anything new by doing so, but I thought other readers would benefit from my approach.
Conventional circuit training (CCT) has you doing one exercise after another without rest periods and for a set time at each station. Aerobic exercises like skipping, step-ups, and star jumps are added into the circuit for cardio benefits. Compound and isolation movements are included and machines are frequently used. You do as many reps as possible on each exercise until it's time to move along. CCT is good for gymnasiums and group sessions and increases cardio output and muscular endurance. It can build some muscle and burn fat. It is best suited to beginners and regular health enthusiasts.
Peripheral heart action (PHA) has you doing a number of weight training exercises in a row, with no rest between exercises and minimal rest between circuits. Isolation and compound movements are included and many weight training movements are used, which may or may not be done on machines. Exercises are grouped together and high repetitions are used to increase the heart rate, hence the name. It is best suited to bodybuilders and gymnasiums, and is good for muscle endurance and definition.
Strength circuits (SC) has you doing compound movements using barbells, dumbbells, and odd objects for low reps and heavy weights one after another, with minimal rest between circuits. Heavy compound movements for the legs, back, chest, and shoulders are interspersed with heavy isolation movements for the neck, grip, and abdominals. Odd object lifts are included at the end of each circuit. Strength circuits can be done in the gym or at home.
Let's elaborate . . .
Warm up thoroughly and do some stretches.
A sample workout might look like this:
1) Squat, 5 x 5
2) Weighted situp, 5 x 8
3) Bench press, 5 x 5
4) Neck harness, 5 x 6
5) Bent row, 5 x 5
6) Grip work
7) Sandbag walk, 3 x distance
The first two sets of each exercise (excluding the sandbag walk) are warmups. For your first circuit, do exercises 1 to 6 with about 60% of your working weights. Use the next minute while adding weight to your bar as a rest period.
Then do a second circuit with about 80% of your working weights.
Add weight again. Now do exercises 1 to 6 with all the weight you can handle for 3 circuits. Rest one to two minutes between circuits.
The beauty of interspersing the isolation exercises for the smaller muscle groups is that it allows you to recover somewhat between the big exercises. If you find the odd object lifts are too taxing at the end of each circuit, then do three circuits of exercises 1 to 6 and use the odd lift as a finisher.
If you want to do arm and calf work, do them at the end of the circuits. You don't want to pre-exhaust the arm and calf muscles before returning to the big exercises in the next circuit.
A good rule of thumb when putting a strength circuit workout together is to do a major lift for the legs and lower back, one for the upper body pushing muscles, and one for the upper body pulling muscles. Alternate these lifts with an exercise for the abs, neck, and grip as outlined above.
Sometimes odd object work lifts can clash with grip work, so use one of each that works different functions of the forearms and grip. Keep the reps lower for the big lifts and higher for the smaller ones.
A strength circuit like the example above should only take you half an hour at most to complete. There is no wasted time, and your body stays humming like a Spartan warrior for the duration of the workout. Even though you're doing big lifts back to back, the design of the workout provides enough rest between muscle groups and alternates intensity levels, much like sprint training or fartlek running. I have found this type of training to be beneficial for strength and muscle gains. It also keeps your heart rate up without taxing the anaerobic system -- a win-win situation.
The only drawback may be the amount of equipment you need to complete the circuit. One way of getting around this problem is to use the same weight and equipment for upper body work, e.g. barbell bench presses and rows, or dumbbell one arm presses and rows. Another way is to group exercises like chins and dips together. You're probably need a separate bar for squats or deadlifts, but most of you can manage that. Just use your imagination and improvisation skills, and you'll come up with something workable.
Strength circuits are for strength athletes. They build strength, muscle, wind, and functional power. There is no downtime until the end. They are interesting to construct and fun to do. You know you've had a real workout.
So what are you waiting for -- time is of the essence!
Enjoy Your Lifting!