How to Build Your Own Circuit Workout

by | Updated: April 26th, 2017 | Read time: 3 minutes

A great way to kick your regular fitness routine up a notch is with a circuit workout routine. Designed to keep your heart rate up, this style of training maximizes calorie burn, muscle endurance and strength building.

The idea is simple: perform a series of exercises for a set period of time, rest and repeat.

Luckily, you don’t need to be a fitness pro to know how to write the perfect circuit workout. In just a few minutes you can write yourself a heat-pounding routine that will push you to your limits.

Ready to feel the burn? The following step-by-step guide will have you breaking a sweat in no time.

Woman on Mat Performing Circuit Training Routine |

1. Get the right equipment

The only piece of equipment you need for a circuit workout (unless you’re using equipment for the exercises) is a heart rate monitor or fitness tracker. For a circuit workout to be most effective, increasing strength, performance, endurance and power, your heart rate should stay between 70 and 90 percent MHR. The payoff is a big calorie burn; about 6 to 9 calories per minute (depending on bodyweight), according to Luis Berrios, of

A monitor allows you to keep track of your heart rate as you go, in addition to heart rate at rest, which should return to 60 percent MHR before starting again, explains Precor Master Coach Davide DeRemigis.

Luckily, there are a number of affordable fitness wearables that can track heart rate, in addition to other stats like calories burned. You can find basic options for as low as $45, according to a 2016 pricing analysis, with prices increasing depending on the brand and features.

2. Choose time and rest intervals

You choose your total workout time, while MHR dictates rest intervals. Choosing the right rest intervals is critical because if you’re muscles are still exhausted from the last round, you won’t get the most out of this round.

DeRemigis spells out the most effective work-to-rest ratios:

  • 70 to 80 percent MHR: 3-1 or 4-1
  • 80 to 90 percent MHR: 2-1 or 3-1

For example, if your total time is 20 to 25 minutes, and you plan to work at 80 percent MHR, you could do three rounds of 5 minutes of work, with 2 to 2.5 minutes of rest between each round.

3. Choose your focus

The best part about circuit workouts is that you can do whichever exercises you want. The important part is choosing a focus (upper body strength, full-body cardio) so you’re able to pick exercises that will maximize your success.

If your goal is total strength burnout of one area of the body, then choose exercises that focus on the largest muscles in that area of the body. For example, an upper body strength circuit might include:

  • Wide push-ups
  • Triceps dips
  • Bent over rows
  • Lateral raises
  • Triangle push-ups
  • Plank up downs
  • Shoulder press

On the other hand, you can choose exercises that touch on every major muscle group in the body—a full body workout. A lineup for that might include:

  • Jump squats
  • Push-ups
  • Weighted lunges
  • Plank leg raises
  • Hip thrusts
  • Burpees
  • Plank shoulder taps

The key is alternating these exercises so you can give max effort for each one.

4. Alternate exercises correctly

When I say “alternate,” I mean planning your workout so that exercises next to one another work different muscle groups. Instead of going from push-ups to bicep curls, you should go from push-ups to jump squats and then on to bicep curls. This provides max rest time for your muscles, without actually stopping the workout.

The easiest way to alternate exercises is to go back and forth between upper and lower body. That works best for a full body workout. When working on a specific area only, like upper body, you should follow a push/pull pattern, alternating exercises that use a push movement versus a pull movement.

An example of this would be moving from push-ups (push) to wide rows (pull). This pattern allows you to work opposing muscle groups back to back, providing the necessary rest.

Circuit workouts are a great way to deviate from your normal routine while maximizing effort. Use these tips to write your own circuit workouts, boosting strength, endurance, power and calorie burn.